Lloyd Borrett's Blog
Are we there yet?
A WiFi service inspiration from Philadelphia
I read recently that the USA city of Philadelphia is considering adding WiFi boxes to all street lights, making the whole city WiFi alive. What a simply amazing concept!
This would benefit Philadelphia in ways we can only begin to imagine today. The city provides a platform, and the community and its entrepreneurs will find a million new ways to make it valuable.
Can you imagine an Australian city, state or federal government being enlightened enough to even consider this? Sadly, I can't.
The only new public utility service I can think of that has been created in my lifetime is the global positioning system (GPS). But GPS was created and paid for by the USA for military purposes. Australia's public leaders had nothing to do with it. GPS was only set free for serious public use relatively recently. We are only just starting to see the many ways that GPS as a free public utility service will benefit government, industry, community and individuals though improved navigation, tracking and measurement systems.
No, in the modern age of "free markets" and "user pays", it is hard to see any new public utility service ever being created, let alone implemented, in Australia.
We seem to so easily forget that had earlier generations of Australia's public leaders had the same attitudes as today's public leaders, we would never have seen the introduction of what were then revolutionary new public utility services like sewage, water, electricity, street lighting, telephone, freeways, railways etc. Nor would generations of the Australian people and their communities have prospered from the introduction of such beneficial new public services.
Can you imagine what our communities would look like today if our forebears didn't have the vision to implement and support such new public service utilities? Well you probably won't have to imagine it for too long. For if today's public leaders continue on the path they are currently on, we will get to see it for ourselves, sooner rather than later.
Sadly, today's political leaders don't seem to be able to have a vision for anything beyond their current elected term. The exception that proves the rule is when, at election time, they start to promise us what they might do in their next elected term. But then, we all know that there are very few "core promises" made these days. Gone are the days when leaders with vision would deliver public services that would bring real benefits to future generations.
New Scientist almost gets it
There’s an interesting article in the New Scientist about the dangers of intellectual property extremism. As it rightly notes...
There are some things in life we take for granted. Among them are the ability to lend each other books, record TV programmes, back up expensive computer programs, and sell on our old CDs when we've got tired of them. That could change. New technologies are giving copyright owners the power to control the time and place we can view or play digital versions of music, films and text so tightly that we run the risk of losing these rights altogether.
But to read the article at the New Scientist web site, you'll need to subscribe.
Set up your own blog using Blogger
The August 2004 edition of PC Update, the monthly magazine of the Melbourne PC User Group, contained an article I wrote called "Set Up Your Own Blog Using Blogger".
The article is a step-by-step guide on how to set up a Blogger Advanced Blog for users of the Melb PC Internet Service. Pointers are also given for people using a different ISP as to the changes they'll need to make to the process.
An Adobe PDF file of the 9 page article is now available for downloading from my web site at http://www.borrett.id.au/computing/articles.htm.
Alternatively, you might like to go straight to the 1.2 Mb Adobe PDF file at http://www.borrett.id.au/downloads/blogger_hires.pdf.
New web site peak
On Monday, 20th September 2004, my web site hit a new peak of 491,000 hits per day. That's almost double the previous peak set back in May 2004.
My web site statistics reveal some interesting trends.
Operating System usage is: Windows 87%, Mac 9%, Linux 3%. Those figures have been fairly static over the last year or so.
Brower usage is: MS Internet Explorer 73%, Mozilla 16%, Safari 7% and Opera 2%. Those figures represent a significant change with MS IE loosing about 15% share to the other browers in the last six months.
It would appear that although there is a lot of talk about Linux increasing its share of the desktop operating system market, not much change is actually happening. But on the other hand, it seems plenty of people are finding enough feature and/or usability benefits with other browsers to go to the trouble of installing one of them and using it in preference to Microsoft IE on the Windows operating system platform.
I'm sure my web site would be simply reflecting a world-wide trend. These figures show that the market can change quickly, and thus should be a wake up call to those asleep at the wheel in the MS IE product team. Perhaps Microsoft will soon put some additional resources into improving the standards compliance, features and usability of Internet Explorer in an effort to regain lost market share. Certainly it would seem Microsoft can no longer assume the browser war has been won.
The future of customer service
The trend is pretty clear: move your customer support operations offshore to cut costs. After all, customer service is a cost, not a profit centre, and if you can cut those costs, you win.
Here is the plan:
Someone starts a service designed to cut customer service costs close to zero. The way it works: a computerised operation, totally turnkey, located on some desolate island with very low wages and just enough English. Any firm with a customer service 'problem' can hire them -- they can handle dozens of clients at once. The extremely polite operators answer with the name of the firm and use a database to keep track of all the information they receive. They keep people on hold for as long as possible (but not a moment longer) and then transfer them to someone else.
The goal is make the customer feel as though the operators are doing their best, but of course, to never actually DO anything. Keep track of the conversations and the record numbers. Keep transferring people. Promise to call back, never do. Sooner or later, the customer gives up and walks away. (If the firm does their job right, the customer blames himself, at least a little bit, for not being more patient.)
End result? Not only are operator costs saved, but you don't even have to fix any products!
But then again, maybe I am too late. For it seems this is the new leading-edge customer service strategy already being employed by many leading companies. The short-term results are so good that profits are up. So are CEO salary packages. Given that the average tenure for today's typical CEO is just three years, dealing with the long-term negative consequences to the company of such a customer service strategy will be the next CEO's problem.
Hypocrisy breeds mediocrity
Ten years ago, virtually every IT services firm latched onto Business Process Reengineering (BPR) as the Holy Grail. The combination of process improvement and technology created a jungle for clients. And opportunistic IT consultants set out to bring their clients in from the wilderness, no matter what the risk.
But in those days, no singular, large-scale IT company bivouacked with clients through the entire journey. The strategy focused companies like McKinsey and BCG would usher their clients to the precipice and then offer a hearty backslap and cheerio for a safe crossing. IT implementers, particularly the Andersens and PwCs, would offer support and a sure hand as they steadied the ropes while crossing the chasm. On the other side, hordes of IT outsourcing types like IBM, EDS, Unisys and CSC, stood ready to soothe the clients' weary feet.
Five years ago the IT services companies all hyped the benefits of using the Internet as the basis for a "new economy", advising their clients that they needed to be "e-business" enabled to succeed into the future. They trampled all over their ethical responsibilities to their clients as they grabbed greedily for their share of the rich river of rewards. The resulting conflicts of interest were soon exposed and the big accounting based companies were forced to shed their IT consulting, implementation and outsourcing units. This realignment proved more confusing than clarifying. The big may have gotten somewhat bigger, but hardly better.
Today we have large-scale, IT services companies who claim to have fully-integrated consulting, implementation and outsourcing services. They seek to hold the client's hand through the whole journey. And they are all pushing their clients towards the new "big idea" of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). Unfortunately, nobody seems to have a clue as to how such a business should look, much less operate.
So the two biggest IT services operations (IBM and Accenture) are now locked in an epic battle with offshore companies like Infosys and Wipro to scale a new business model.
Meanwhile, traditional IT strategy consultants dabble in BPO by adopting "sourcing" practices that advise clients on the best BPO providers.
Transformational BPO has captured the fascination of IT service providers and clients alike because of potentially spectacular rewards, both for the service providers and their clients. We'll strategise on the problem and fix your process, BPO service providers say, and then we'll assume responsibility for consequences. Results with no regrets.
But in return, both sides must accept the death-defying risks of complete commitment; the notion of one service provider that takes a client from business strategy, through IT implementation, to activity support.
BPO seems a natural progression of BPR -- a sort of one-stop shop for the sophisticated client. But it still remains to be seen whether one BPO company can really cover the entire spectrum of services.
None of the major players have yet aligned all the parts into a cohesive whole, yet each one of them is praising the miracles of BPO. The hypocrisy of this is yet another example of how IT services is fast becoming a middling mass of mediocrity.
The ah-ha factor
Most of us initially struggle with difficult problems and learning new skills. But eventually everything magically falls into place, and it's as if everything is crystal clear and easy to do. I've always referred to it as getting to the "ah-ha" moment.
Can you remember when you first started learning to ride a bicycle? Do you remember how you kept falling down? Do you remember how hard it seemed to balance?
Then suddenly one day everything just fell in place. You cycled around for hours and didn't fall off the bike once.
Which is weird isn't it?
I mean, one day you're struggling and the next day you're zooming away like a pro. And the same principle applies to many other aspects of your personal and business life. One day you're struggling in the mud and the next day you're skimming over the waves.
Well I recently learned that the Japanese have a term for my "ah-ha" moment. It's called Satori (Sa-to-ree) or a state of sudden spiritual enlightenment or awareness.
Even though you may not realise it, many things are really spiritual. You set out to change someone's life. You set out to reduce someone's pain. And that someone may be a family member, a friend, or a business client. When the moment of Satori comes, it's instant. You won't see the steps. It will be like bike riding. One moment you won't understand a thing about what the heck you're doing, and the next moment you will.
Keep at what you're doing. You too will get your moment. And then these sets of paragraphs will make perfect sense to you.
Satori is not as far away as you think.
Try to avoid underlining
Another hangover from the days of the typewriter is the extensive use of underling by some people.
In the days of the typewriter, when bold and italic options were not available, underlining was used for contrast. But now we have so many more, and better looking, ways to emphasise -- bolding, italicising (or both), using a different font, increasing font size etc. -- depending on whether it is a heading, subheading or part of the body text you wish to draw attention to.
The original reason the publishing industry avoided the use of underlining was that it affects legibility by covering the parts of letters that descend below the line.
Of course today, underlining has become an established and very useful way of showing hyperlinks. Thus good practice today would be to reserve the use of underlining for showing hyperlinks.