Don’t Pave Around Your IT Obstacles!

I came across a news story (note the link seems to now be broken) yesterday about a hydro pole in the middle of the road in Quebec. In case the link breaks (they often do on the Canoe.ca site) here is the picture:

Apparently, a contract was put out to widen the road, but no one thought to involve Hydro Quebec. The contractor followed his instructions to the letter, and widened the road, paving right around the hydro pole in the process. In fact, it looks from the picture like they did a fine fine to – it looks very professional. The contractor is quoted as saying:

“Everyone knows it looks crazy,” he told QMI Agency. “But the transport department is our client. You must understand, I was somewhat uncomfortable to criticize them.”

We look at this and ask ourselves “How could anyone be so stupid?”

This is a perfect example of “doing things right”, as opposed to “doing the right things”.

How many times have we watched IT projects do the exact same thing?

How many times have we seen projects which followed the exact statement of the new requirements, without always looking at or understanding the surrounding IT terrain? How many new IT projects attempt to simply “pave around” existing infrastructure? How many times have you heard someone say “well, I thought it was kind of stupid, but that is what my client/boss asked for?”

Even worse, what looks stupid in the physical world is often applauded in the IT world. If you jump through hoops to do a very professional job of “paving around the hydro poles” then you are being resourceful, and “responsive to client needs”.

Sorry, stupid is still stupid!

So the next time you see something stupid about to happen –  ask somebody. Maybe it really is as stupid as it looks! And if they still insist on doing something stupid, show them this picture!

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If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

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So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

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Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

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Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

US vs Canadian Healthcare – a follow up

A few weeks back I posted on my personal experience with US versus Canadian Healthcare

This week, I received the paperwork from my insurance company to sort out the expenses for my adventure in LA. Just to refresh your memory, while in LA I became very sick, and ended up going to an ER at a nearby hospital. While at the ER, I spent 8+ hours in the waiting room, and about 2 actually being treated. A doctor saw and evaluated me. I was monitored for heart rate, BP, etc., had some blood work, and was given an IV for fluids and some meds. I was then given a prescription and discharged.

The cost for this treatment? Just shy of $3500.

No wonder the healthcare system in the US is as screwed up as it is! 

US vs Canadian Healthcare – a story of personal experience

As anyone not in a coma knows, there is a great deal of debate in the US right now about Health Care Reform. During this debate, there are many references to the Canadian Health Care system, typically by Americans who have absolutely no idea what the hell they are talking about – including a former governor of Alaska. It is referred to as “socialized medicine”, and Americans argue that it reduces efficiency, costs the government great sums of money (note that the US government already spends more per capita on health care than the Canadian government does), reduces innovation, has longer wait times, and even leads to people dying while awaiting treatment.

I recently became ill while in Los Angeles for a conference. While being sick is never a fun experience, being diabetic and being sick while travelling in a foreign country by yourself is especially stressful.

However, this gave me an opportunity to experience the US health care system first hand, albeit a little superficially. Also, since my employer provides me with out-of-country health insurance, my experience is from the perspective of someone with health insurance, not someone without. In addition, my opinion of the US health care system is based on a single experience, not a broad sample.

Lets start with my arrival at the ER. I arrived at about 9 PM on a Tuesday evening.The first step was to fill out a little form with basic information – name, address, nature of my complaint. This form is passed through a little hole in the plexiglass partition, and my information is entered into their computer system. I then waited about an hour to see the triage nurse and be prioritized. Between myself, my wife and my kids, I have been at emergency rooms in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta, and do not recall ever waiting more than a small number of minutes to be triaged. It should be noted that the triage process seemed to be mostly a “first in, first out” kind of process – I did not notice anyone being triaged faster based upon the nature of their complaint.

After being triaged, I guess I was ranked fairly low in terms of priority (hey, I was only vomiting up large amounts of blood), because I then sat from about 10 PM Tuesday evening until 4:30 AM Wednesday waiting to see a doctor. Many people came in, were treated, and left before I was seen, but I understand that once you are triaged, priority are based on who is at the most risk. I also understand that I was only seeing the “walk in” side of the ER – there was another whole flow of patients coming in through the ambulance entrance with a fair number of trauma patients. Still, 7 and a half hours of waiting to see a doctor is longer than anything I have seen in the Canadian health care system. And remember, I was at a private hospital in LA, not a public clinic. I would thus expect that this was on the good side with respect to performance.

Once I actually got to see the doctor, I was treated fairly quickly. Note that the goal was not to treat the root cause in my ailment, the primary intent was to stabilize my condition so that I could return to Canada for full treatment. At this, they were very efficient, and I was out in about 3 hours. It was also made much more smoothly because my out-of-country health coverage worked very well with the hospital’s admissions/accounting people with regards to payment. God only knows how the experience would have played out had I not had insurance.

In short, my visit to the ER in Los Angeles involved wait times which were significantly longer (for both triage and treatment) than anything I have ever experienced at a hospital in Canada.

To finish off the story, I will describe my follow-up treatment after returning to Canada. On the Wednesday following my return to Canada, I called my family doctor, and got an appointment to see her that afternoon. After that appointment, she referred me to a GI specialist, who I saw the next afternoon. He decided I needed an endoscopy, which happened the next day. Seems pretty efficient to me!

Perhaps Americans (especially American citizens) should educate themselves on the reality of the Canadian Health Care System rather than blindly believing the rhetoric of their politicians who are bought and paid for by the insurance companies and HMOs, or simply know nothing about the Canadian system which they are criticizing.

Making it hard to buy stuff

I have been looking around at computers for my daughter who is starting university in a month. I am leaning towards the HP TouchSmart TX2 tablets. Now, if you follow that link there is some slick content about this Tablet, and a button which says “Shop for it”.

Well, clicking that button takes me to the following page (and has for several weeks):

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Talk about not making for a good shopping experience!

Confessions of an airline executive – CNN.com

Confessions of an airline executive – CNN.com

This is an interesting article. unfortunately it does not address the main outstanding question I have – why does the airline industry (and this includes not just the airlines, but the airport authorities, government agencies and all others involved in this continuously worsening mess) believe that it is acceptable to provide atrocious customer service, disrespect their customers, and generally perform badly in all aspects of their operations, and yet feel they should stay in business. Quite honestly, most business that were run this badly would be dead in months.

As a side note, a couple of weeks ago I had written a post (more of a rant than a post) about my recent experiences flying. I saved it, but did not post it, as I was not online (I was on a plane). Unfortunately it seemed to disappear from my saved drafts. I took this a s I sign that I should not post it! To summarize, though, I was on my 4th trip in two weeks – one to Toronto, and three to other endpoints, but going through Toronto. So, a total of 14 flights. The “on time” performance on these 14 flights was somewhat less than 50% (and this is considering anything within an hour of on time as “on time”). What was disturbing to me was that none of the delays were due to whether, air traffic congestion, or any cause “outside of the airline’s control”. In all cases, the cause airline mismanagement. For example, 2 cases of “the plane is not working”, because the flight segments between Toronto and Moncton are all crappy, old, small planes. Another case, we could not leave Moncton because the incoming plane from Toronto had not arrived. Why? Because no ground crew had been assigned in Toronto to the departure gate, and so they could not load the plane. Yet another case, we sat on the plane for 45 minutes after having landed at Toronto because no ground crew was available at our gate (what, they were not expecting us?).

All of this reflects the fact that this airline (and almost all others with whom I have travelled in the last 5 years) accept that lousy service and disrespect for passengers and their time should be the norm. And they will continue to think this way as long as it costs them more to fix the problem than accept it.

So, how do we make it cost them more to be incompetent? Well, how about every time they are late due to their own incompetence, everyone on the flight gets a partial refund. Say, $50/half hour delay? Make it cost them money, and they will fix the problem. 

Of course, this will only partially address the problem, since we still have to deal with airports, security, and other aspects of the experience which are designed without any consideration for the customer.