New Year's rant: dumb and dumber

Taking time out to refresh has brought a new perspective and shock at how dumb some organisations really are.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Poring over enterprise tech in the context of constant PR/AR happy talk is a stressful business. Aligning claims to reality is often difficult if not impossible. Taking time out and away has allowed me to read other material, take a peek at some consumer trends, reconnect with people and generally gain a fresh perspective. Sadly, it has meant that with few exceptions, I see organisations of all stripes making sometimes dumb and sometimes dumber choices. 

If we are to believe the anal-ysts (and I most certainly don't a lot of the time), then 2012 was the year when 'big data' - whatever that means, social - again whatever that means and mobile started to take on real meaning as enterprise imperatives. In each category there were some outlier examples of genuine effectiveness but the vast majority of enterprises are far removed from those 'trends.'

For example, while many larger vendors want to get in on the big data trend, I see almost no evidence that consumers are responding in a manner that fundamentally changes their behaviors. I will acknowledge that Google has entered the mainstream lexicon as I heard people of all ages, including some very spritely Scottish pensioners, talking about 'googling' on their handheld devices as a method of finding things. But from what I could tell, most could care less about Twitter or Facebook as places to share experience. 


As I occasionally dipped into Twitter I could not help but be struck by the sense of desparation for attention among those who mindlessly tweeted over the holiday season. Depressingly, it was the same old faces pimping the same old stuff in a stream of contrived positivity. There were however moments of levity. A TV game show question asked about the controversy surrounding the hashtag used to promote a Susan Boyle album in November. The PR clowns overseeing that venture came up with #susanalbumparty. Read the wrong way it immediately becomes borderline unsafe for work but hilarious nonetheless. This glorious selection headlined in The Guardian amply demonstrates how stupid some businesses really are. 

The flipside is that I am shooting myself in the foot with an argument based upon the impact of viral effects. Maybe so but then Brits have always been up for a good laugh, mostly at some celebrity's expense. In any event does all this nonsense actually make any difference to consumers beyond the obvious entertainment value? I'm not convinced. Needless to say, I see a lot of unfollowing in my 2013 future as I try remove what now feels like ketchup laden spam from my Tweetstream. 

Facebook was more tolerable though the emphasis seemed to be more on fun and highly personal stuff than anything a brand could likely latch onto with any credibility. What I did find objectionable though was the insertion of status updates that use the identities of people I have 'friended' to tell me how much they love some brand or other. I know this to be patently absurd so why annoy me?

Then we come to Trip Advisor. This, along with Booking.com has to be among the most egregious sites on the planet for promoting delusional thinking. I had a lousy experience at a restaurant and wrote it up on TA. That took a full week to appear. The great experience I had at a hotel was up in less than 36 hours. Go figure. I had a grump about this on Twitter and guess what? Those who chose to respond are mostly saying they don't trust reviews on these types of site.

I believe they do add value but only if you are prepared to dig through all the reviews and not just concentrate on the happy talk these sites showcase. Is the trade off worth it given the extent to which ADD seems to have gripped so many? In my case it is a mixed bag. The truly exceptional spots have lived up to their billing but the minute you move away from the top five percentile then it becomes a lottery. 

Gamification in the consumer world may be alive and well, Trip Advisor, Booking.com and others may be wildly successful commercially, but they are foolling no-one in the long term. If 2013 doesn't put an end to the nonsense then I hold out little hope of seeing enterprise using these types of tool in anything other than a cynical manner. 

Then we come to websites generally. You would have thought that after 21 years of having tools with which to build stunning websites that organisations would be doing a pristine job of attracting customers. But no. Over the holiday season I found the BA.com website was down or only partly working on numerous occasions. Jurys Inn, a small hotel chain based in Ireland sent out a discounted promotion for those willing to sign up to their loyalty plan a few days after I booked a long stay at one of their places. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get a response when I emailed a complaint. The mobile site was just a mess, having a sign up link that kept returning me to the mobile home page when using an Adroid device. The hotel staff didn't know anything about it. And let's not forget how HR Access managed to spread holiday season cheer with this blooper.

All of which leads me back to something Phil Fersht wrote leading up to the holiday season: Why have we become such crappy managers? He makes the point that:

While we can bemoan the poor progress in talent development, for which an alarming portion of the US corporate sector is now responsible, I believe there is a deeper message in all of this:  not all firms are “dropping the ball”, they simply do not have a vested interest in the future development of many staff, and their management layer doesn’t have the time to train junior staff.  Many have taken the attitude that they can replace poor performers with high-performers, if need be.  Moreover, many are also viewing their sourcing relationships as opportunities to downsize their current workforces (such as the recent Citigroup announcement).

What? And this after vendors like SuccessFactors have been assiduously touting talent management solutions? Sadly I have to agree with Fersht's assessment. In a conversation with a procurement manager overseeing many millions of spend, it was impossible to make him see that home working might be preferable to outsourcing. Here's the gist of the conversation:

Me: Home working could be a useful way of developing a flexible yet well qualified workforce.

He: But then you can't check on what they're doing

Me: You mean you can't create measurable outcomes as a way of knowing they've achieved their goals?

He: Yeah but at least with outsourcing you have SLAs.

Me: (thinking) Groan....

On another tack I argued that the only thing driving perocurement was the requirement to cut cost:

Me: It is well known that the principle job is to get 25-30 percent cut from any tender. So everyone pads them. 

He: But we have a transparent process where there is an even playing field. 

Me: And what, precise difference does that make given what I've just said?

He: It means that everyone has an equal chance and we get the best deal. 

Me: You honestly believe that? Ever heard the world 'value.'

He: Sure, we know we get best value for money.

Me: How do you know that given the massive waste that is on the public record regarding your sector?

He: We are hitting our spend targets.

Me: (thinking) Groan reprise. 

That set the scene for another Twitter conversation. In one direct message, a colleague reminded me of the time when a health service analytics specification included the need for five sex options: male, female, formerly male, formerly female and undetermined. 

My holiday season was packed full of those joyous tidbits. But on a more serious note, if we are breeding nations of idiots and jobsworths then what possible use can there be for social, mobile and big data beyond helping brands feed pap and crap? I guess the upside is that people like me get to laugh at them, much as millions did at this German idiot.

It all makes Jackass seem tame but with little respect for the building of a truly talented, able and valuable future generation. It is a dangerous trend that, like it or not, is being facilitated by technology many anal-ysts and their vendor paymasters think is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

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