Friday, July 22, 2011

I've Got Your Number

At the beginning of this year, I left my position as VP and CIO at a Fortune 500 company and I knew I would be out on my own for a while. The challenge was what phone number to put on my brand spanking new business card. In the past I might have added a second phone line for the house and deemed it for use as the "business" number. But who even wants one land line any more? As we become increasingly mobile, cell phones are the way to go. But I didn't want to give out my personal cell phone number nor did I want to carry (or pay for) two cell phones.

Then it struck me. I had played around with Google Voice for years and it offered capabilities which just might solve my problem.

Back in 2006 some friends told me about this cool pseudo telephone service called GrandCentral. You obtained a phone number from them and mapped it to one or more "real" phone numbers. You had complete control over what happened when someone called based on factors like the calling number, time of day and day of the week.

Timing is everything. When I finally decided to explore it, I discovered they had stopped taking new customers. The mystery was solved when Google announced the acquisition and limited introduction of the service, now branded Google Voice. Like GMail and Google Plus, you had to get an invitation from someone who already had the service. Of course, I managed to wrangle an invitation.

Over the next few years, Google added more capabilities and integrated it to other parts of their suite including the address book. Now it was possible to select a name from the contact list and have Google Voice call you, at the phone number of your choice, then call the other party and bridge the calls. In effect it acted like a secretary who got the person you wanted on the line for you. The best part was the cost. There was none. Both calls were initiated by the service, one to you and the other to the person you were calling.

Another cool feature I explored in depth was the voice mail service. The service allowed you to  record your own greeting. So what, you say? Most voice mail systems allow for that. But Google Voice let you create multiple greetings and associate them with individual contacts or groups of contacts. You could have as many different voice mail greetings as you want. I made a unique one for each member of my family and one for people with whom I never want to speak. That one says, "I'm sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service."

Finally, you can have Google Voice screen your calls. Contacts in my "family" group, for example, ring through. But callers from any number not in my contact list will be asked to identify themselves. Google then calls me on the phone number(s) as configured for that time and day, announces the party on the line and tells me to press 1 to accept the call.

Decision made. My new business card sports my Google Voice number.

Now I have complete control over where incoming calls ring. Last year when Google added "phone" to GMail they made the PC another instrument which can be associated to your number. My PC is my office phone. Most of my calls are placed by choosing the name from my contact list and clicking dial. When I am out of the house, my number rings on my cell. I have added some other rules, for instance, after 11PM, all calls (except "family") do not ring any phones but instead go immediately into voice mail.

My Google Voice number is the only phone number I will ever have to give out. When I land in my new job I can map my number to the office phone and have it ring there on weekdays. If I buy that summer house on the lake and put in a land line, I can have my number ring there on weekends. If I get a new cell phone I can disassociate the old number and map to the new one. It is infinitely flexible.

I still have one invite left if you want to get on board.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC or call me at 914 623-8508


  1. Joe,

    I am going to experiment with this too. I have multiple numbers at home, plus two cell numbers, and I 'run' some 5 'companies' as you know. They could each use a separate voice mail indeed ;-)

    But.... here's a question for you. I like Google and its increasing number of services, programs and, lets face it, gadgets.

    But I sort of 'bought in' to one large company once in my life - you can guess who - and I am a bit weary of putting all my eggs in one basket once more. Sure, it is handy, and having many things on the Net (or 'in the cloud') has definite advantages...... but what if all of a sudden they start charging, and, more worrisome, start charging more than I can or want to afford.

    Then what?

    This is still on my mind a few times a week.....

  2. Great question, Francois. It seems there are two issues rolled in to one here.

    First is the immediate question of how to divorce oneself from the Google Voice number should circumstances dictate you move away from this model. Fortunately, you can transfer the phone number to another carrier, transforming it into a regular cell number.

    The larger issue is how to avoid vendor lock-in and this warrants an entire separate discussion. In an earlier post, I talked about the need to view cloud service providers in exactly the same way as we view other third party providers. This would certainly include a practical exit strategy in the event the vendor fails to meet our expectations, performance levels or fails altogether.

    Google offers a set of tools which would allow for the extraction of mail, contacts and documents. If you chose to move away you could, with some effort, take your information with you.