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Houston we have a problem

Regular readers don't need me to repeat the oft held view that enterprise wide application implementation is often slow, cumbersome and expensive. But are we really getting anything out of it at the end of the day other than some marginal cost efficiency?
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Written by Dennis Howlett on

Regular readers don't need me to repeat the oft held view that enterprise wide application implementation is often slow, cumbersome and expensive. But are we really getting anything out of it at the end of the day other than some marginal cost efficiency? Rather than throw brickbats at any particular vendor, a tale from Gary Turner does it nicely. With Gary's permission, I reprint his entire post, while more or less stealing the headline:

Houston, I have a problem

I’ve always wanted to say that.

I just arrived in Houston for the week. I have a problem.

Apparently my bank now requires that I should call them 24 hours in advance of every overseas trip to notify them that I may, just may, need to pay for things with my (supposedly internationally Visa networked, PIN code secured and security chipped) card. Which year is this? Oh, yeah 2008, I thought for a minute it was 1981.

Upon my arrival I logged in to my online banking service (as their phones close at 8pm UK) and using their online messaging service which apparently ‘allows you to send a message securely over the internet to our Contact Centre, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.’ I think it’s like a secure email service.

Within 5 minutes of sending them my SOS I got a response by email. Wow, I thought, that’s fast. But having cruelly built up my hopes, here’s the gist of what they said in the reply: ‘Our customer service administrators will reply to your request within 2 banking days…’

Awesome.

So, I just woke up early and called them before they shut down the call centre for elevenses or lunch or something else helpful.

I think I uttered the phrase ‘Utterly amazing..’ quite a lot as the plot of this particular international conspiracy thriller unfolded down the line. Apparently they ‘get loads of overseas fraud, you’d be surprised Mr Turner…’, no, s**t, Sherlock. Plus, they won extra bonus points for revealing that it will take them 24 hours to enable my card for international use.

Fortunately I have a couple of emergency credit cards to keep me alive until I can eventually get my hands on my money.

Absolutely, totally, amazingly pathetic. I think I need a new bank.

Banks - and they're not the only example - have spent years and millions of dollars implementing call center operations, customer service applications and more recently revamping their archaic general ledgers yet still it seems that customer service is not all its cracked up to be.

The social media mavens will no doubt say that outward facing customer service portals will ease our pain and that 'cluetrain' thinking will prevail. It's 9 years since Cluetrain was written and as far as I can tell, nothing much has changed. We're in the middle of hype cycle madness on all things Twitter but does anyone seriously think this borked service is going to change our lives? Not on its own perhaps. In the meantime there are bigger fish to fry.

While I agree that change takes time can it be that hard? When I look at the way solutions are implemented I wonder whether someone somewhere took what was once supposed to be simple and added a magic ingredient called 'complexity' just so it looks cool and expensive and therefore worthy?

Perhaps its simpler. Sam Lawrence's ROI post (from which the Company Cultures image is taken) makes the point there is huge inertia across a number of metrics.  CIOs/CTOs are burdened with keeping the lights on, regulation threatens to bury some businesses and a major subprime crisis has drawn attention to process weaknesses in the way decisions are made. That's usually a recipe for emergent innovation. But it requires a brave person to rise above the apathy and general feeling of malaise in IT and business to recognize and act upon that in a market where job number one is to keep your job.

In James Lovell's account of the Apollo 13 catastrophe, he makes the point that:

To get Apollo 13 home would require a lot of innovation...

They faced a formidable task. Completely new procedures had to be written and tested in the simulator before being passed up to us.

We know that apart from technical engineering feats, there was a lot of improvisation in working out a survival plan. Do you see the parallels with Gary's story? It gets repeated in small ways every day in some town or city around the world. Isn't it about time that our obsession with automation allowed for personal decision taking? Who knows, it might actually inject some Wisdom of Crowds thinking into what are clearly broken processes.

Bonus points: maybe OpenSource is the solution after all??

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