Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Modding a Boombox for the iPad/iPhone/iPod

I enjoy playing my music collection using the remote speaker feature of iTunes from both my Mac and my Apple TV (Used in the RV when camping) using Apples Airport Express. But I got tired of dragging around my Airport Express, patch cables, the boom-box and both power cords. So I decided to integrate them all together. I took apart the old boom-box, cut out the back of the battery compartment, and integrated both an iPod charging cube and the Airport Express. I fixed the ac adapter back inside the cut out hole, so that I can unplug the AE simply by pulling it out, so its not permanent. My son suggested I also add a dock. Using one from my 1st gen iPhone, I broke out the Dremel tool and made a drastic mod, chopping off the side and front lips, the the connector sits above the surface more or less. I have breathed new life into that old boom-box as it is now a cross functional music playing machine, supporting the original iPod, iPod Touch, iPhones (all of 'em) and the iPad. And now with the iPad, its a table top movie theater too!

Friday, December 18, 2009

iPhone Touch for the Elderly or Geriatric

I believe I've just discovered an under severed market. Albeit not a very sexy one, I believe it could be a very large and lucrative one for iPhone application developers. We recently bestowed my father with a bright shiny new iPod Touch for his 70th birthday. He is a lover of gadgets and technology from a user perspective. But what apps should we recommend to him. I don't suspect he is going to get a lot of mileage out of Duke Nukem or HipHop mixer. I also had other challenges such as no of very bad internet access. So I googled and googled and found nothing really answered my questions. So here is my initial take on setting up the iPhone or Touch and a few suggested applications. Leave comments on other suggestions.

iPhone Settings:
  1. Set the ringtone as "Old Phone." It is the loudest one.
  2. Set the Mail minimum font size to giant
  3. Turn on keyboard click (may not be heard, but could help with keys)
  4. Turn the brightness up all the way
  5. Use the MobileMe service for Locate my iPhone/Touch (very helpful)
  1. ICE - FREE - In Case of Emergency contact information (Put icon on home screen)
  2. Lose It - FREE - Plan for losing and tracking weight
  3. MedScape - FREE - WebMD's app for drug info and interactions
  4. PillBox - FREE - Medication management ad tracking
  5. SolFree Solitaire - FREE - A nicely done and easy to understand and recognized game
  6. USA Today - FREE - Easy interface, large fonts, simple to use.
  7. The Weather Channel - FREE - Face it, weather is where its at and THE conversation.
  8. Facebook - FREE - Strange but true, more and more grandparents are keeping up online
  9. EyeRead - FREE - A magnifying glass for iPhones
Stay tuned for PAID apps

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

iPhone Development - Year One

In December of 2008, our little software venture Driven Tree, LLC had it's first application accepted by Apple and became available for purchase on the AppStore. Our first application Flipper, a MySQL client for the iPhone and Touch, kicked off what would be a year full of hope, excitement, disappointment, frustration and friendship. Notice I did not say financial prosperity but prosperity nevertheless.
Much like the gold rush of 1849, the riches of the AppStore seemed to be laying around on the ground waiting for the first fellow with the sense to bend over to simply pick it up. Today we have seven applications for sale on the AppStore and have yet to cover the cost of the coffee we drank at Starbucks over that same period. I suspect Apple has a secret pact with Starbucks.
Our hopes for new Apple hardware, job independence, self employment and debit relief have since faded as the reality of the situation slowly set in. We were 49'ers with all the right equipment, but like so many others, the claim we staked did not yield the mother load. But we continued to find just enough to keep us on the claim panning our hearts out never the less.
In early 2008 we started talking about coming together and by September we had formed our LLC. This was during the most difficult economic times our country had seen in decades. Our full time employers were struggling mightily to stay afloat creating tension, uncertainty and fear in their work force and with us specifically with regarding the longevity of our primary cash flow, our real 9-5 jobs. So our hobby became a second job worked after hours, and on the weekends.
My concern was that having this new and exciting opportunity would distract us from our 9-5 jobs and interfere with our performance of those duties. But it did something more important that I could not have foreseen. It benefitted our struggling employers. By having hope in something we were doing, by having a creative outlet we were able to better manage our morale challenges that layoffs and downsizing were having on us. By not sitting around feelings sorry for ourselves, we were taking charge of our destinies. We were not helpless victims but captains of our own ship. While others around us seem to despair we flourished.
I don't want to paint too rosy a picture of course, as we were not making enough money to effect our financial well being. But what I want to convey is that we each benefited greatly by having a common shared goal, and the control over our decisions and directions. Something to focus on other than just the challenges we faced 9-5. There was occasional talk about the 9-5 but for the most part our join focus was on the new venture. We worked as a team and created things and expressed ourselves collaboratively over the year, and this made a huge difference. We were then able to bring that mental health, satisfaction and happiness back into our work place and remain upbeat and positive even under difficult circumstances. And that was a benefit to those around us as well. It also allowed us to improve our personal performance and accomplish more things within our 9-5 jobs as well. So while it was the most difficult year of the past 15 I've spent at my company, it was also my best performing year yet, according to my management.
And like a few 49'ers, perhaps lack of gold found was not a failure, but the land, location, relationships and camaraderie are the better value, and who knows we may still strike it rich the old fashion way, with continued hard work and creative innovation.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stop hugging your data for god sakes

I love love love watching lectures. They are just amazingly interesting and inspiring. I subscribe to their video podcast, and keep the latest 10 on my iPhone, for viewing anytime I get stuck waiting. Suddenly the line at the DMV is not dreaded but looked forward to... I know weird.

Here is a link to a very well respected fellow begging the world to stop hugging their data and let people have access. This is my BIGGEST pet peeve in the corporate world. Small minded people protecting valuable data to the point it kills innovations, stifles creativity and suffocates the company.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Driven Tree LLC, puts final touches on next application, Calibrated iBall, and prepare for launch.  

A long winter break has provided the much needed time to focus and add some polish.

Stay tuned and be ready to be one of the first to use this first time ever brand new, never before seen iPhone application.....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Huge Day

Today we got word that our application has been accepted onto the iTunes AppStore.  
This is the culmination of six months of after hours and weekend work.  It feels great!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fear masking as apathy

Sun made the biggest announcement yet of layoffs on Friday.  Roughly 18% of the remaining work force, or 5000-6000 people.  Unfortunately, Sun still takes no credit for the run of bad luck since 2000, but instead continues to blame the economy.  Well there is no doubt the economy has finally stepped in to keep Sun honest.  Now Sun can blame the economy, and many others are joining in this same chorus and justifiably so.  It's bad and getting worse, especially for companies that were not rock solid going into this latest recession.  

It doesn't take an economist to analyze a companies success when they have lost 98% of the market value over eight years.  The writing has been on the wall as Sun struggles to reinvent itself for a long time now.  With new leadership came a drive to convert the company from a hardware company where software and support were necessary evils, into an open source software company with the vision of driving new customers to its hardware through their adoption of  free software.  But they never sold the concept internally.  They shared, demanded, ranted, raved, screamed, and begged on bended knee trying desperately to instill or impart the vision to the internal masses, but without success.  The sheep at the water cooler continued to bleat sound bites about the silliness of expecting revenue from free software, and what the pony tail boy might be smoking in the ivory tower.   I am not into prognostication but his strategy might have worked with more run way and better marketing of the strategy internally.  But waiting for enough Solaris eyed college kids to grow into positions of decision maker in large corporates or having enough start ups hit big enough, is a very long term strategy indeed.

So the real question for me becomes, why stay?  If in fact the writing is on the wall, and the likelihood of getting laid off just went up by 20%, why am I not dusting off my resume.  Why am I not pounding the streets, knocking on doors, networking, seeking new challenges?  Am I so proud and loyal of Sun that I am willing to go down with the ship?  Am I a lazy person, not willing to leave the comforts of my work from home nest to go out into the real world once more?  Am I apathetic or pathetic?  My family depends on my income after all.

While journaling this morning I came to a new and different conclusion, "fear."  Yep plain old fashioned fear, based on self doubt and lack of confidence.  Heres the real kicker, I do not feel worth of the salary I am currently earning.  Possibly strange to hear, but I suspect more people know this feeling than readily admit it.  

I came from a humble blue collar back ground where very hard work was very modestly rewarded.  Yet I have worked my way into positions over the years that leave me feeling like a fraud at times.  In the back of my mind I am always worried someone will discover I am really not worthy of the position I find myself in.  Its not crippling worry or fear, until it time to consider a move up the food chain or out of the organization.  Then it becomes palatable and all to real.  If you do not feel your worth of your current station in life, how do you find the internal gumption to reach for the next rung on the ladder, moving out onto even thinner ice.

This fear manifests itself in in-action.  I simply avoid the risk of being found out by not requesting new responsibilities or by not sending out resumes.  The prospect of having to sell myself once more to a prospective employer is frightening.  Being told I am not qualified for a job is paralyzing.  And then there are the very real challenges that come with this long term belief and behavior.  Trying to write my resume after doing the same job role for the past seven years scares me.  How do you make the lack of progression look ok or even good to a perspective employer.  

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dolvin Yearbook Cover Finished

I am much happier with this years cover than with previous attempts.  

Saturday, September 6, 2008

New Super Hero

Being someone that is very visual and always looking for a better way to tell a story, I have found a master, Hans Rosling.  He has presented at the TED the last two years and has gotten rave reviews.  He is a huge fan of letting folks access data, a frustration I experience in the corporate world every day.  His contributions are noble and global, were mine are far less ambitious and small.  But I see real value in his work and wanted to share it.  The upper right corner of the following link are two videos well worth you time.

Directory cover accepted by committee

The the final design now goes to the printer.

The art of seeing

I find more and more often I fail to take the time to see a painting or picture.  I've always questioned those "experts' and scholars who can go on for ever about all the symbology, inferred meaning and what the artist was trying to say.  I think this is even more pronounced in our new world of high speed streaming media blasted at us electronically.  The vast majority of this new content do not require any thought.  The meaning is clear and to the point, "drink coke."  I fear that we may be losing something along the way thought.  The need and desire to look and think deeper.  Exercise is hard, and the brain is just another muscle that needs to be exercised, and yet human nature drives us to seek the easy path, like electricity seeks the path of least resistance.  I found this beautiful etching in a cheap art book of mine lost among all the rest.  I will not try to decipher all the clues, no do I feel I could, but there is a lot more to this scene than a simple sleeping beauty and the clues about it abound.  

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Review - The Faith of Barack Obama

While not a particularly religious person, that does not prevent me from finding value in and from those who are.  A view I have only achieved slowly over time.  That being said, I have for sometime now enjoyed reading the blog of Michael Hyatt. He frequently blogs interesting things and insights I would not otherwise have considered.  He recently sent me a copy of a new book and asked that I review it, "The Faith of Barack Obama" by Stephen Mansfield.

I was initially a bit skeptical of how Mansfield would handle such a highly charged political figure.  As recent review of the two candidates for president on reveals my concerns.  John McCain has five urban legends which Snopes addresses, and yet Barack Obama has over 30 urban legends which required debunking.  So I proceeded with caution, looking of objective review as opposed to muck racking.  

I must say that once I relaxed, determining the author was going to handle the material with objectivity, I was able to enjoy the book very much.  I found Mansfield's navigation through many of the difficult subjects fair and balanced.  He did not tell me how to feel or what I should think, but rather he laid out a very interesting story and brought new insight which I needed.

If you are looking for a book that will be strongly negative or positive and tell you how to take this candidate this is not the book for you.  But if you are a person interested in discovering the many facets of this individual then I think Stephen Mansfields book does that exceptional well. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ERP and the service delivery model

Previously I wrote about business rules and the effect they are having on service delivery and our ever increasing need to find new solutions to complex customer problems.  There are companies that have figured out how to capitalize on this problem and moved the risk or share the risk of doing so with other providers. 

First are moves by companies like IBM from simply a manufacturer of business machines (systems) to one of a service provider, taking on a hardware agnostic air.  Make no mistake IBM is still a huge provider of hardware, but IBM has been hugely successful with their Global Services (IBM-GS) business.  At many companies IBM takes on the entire support of a customers environment and out sourcing the delivery back to the original service providers for a reduced rate, having never stepped foot on the customer data center floor.  There are many reasons for this shift, but growing complexity in the data center, and the desire to simplify and focus on their core business appear to be strong driving factors. 

So why would the original service providers accept these new terms?  They can not afford to walk away from the deal even at reduced rates, as more and more providers have branched out into multi-vendor support.  Other companies are looking at the success of IBM-GS and putting together Multi-Vendor Support (MVS) strategies in an attempt to replicated their success and hopefully carve off a slice of this revenue stream.   All the while, afraid of additional margin erosion, scrabbling to to ensure the assets they are subcontracting for are counted (by serial number) and on the contract.

There is another reason for the increased competition and pressure on previously high margin business.  IBM, Sun Microsystems, Inc., Hewlett Packard, and others once made unique and complex systems that required very specialized support.  But as customers migrate away from proprietary processors and operating systems, toward commodity hardware such as Intel x86 processors and variants of Linux, they open up to a broader range of engineers and products they can turn to.  Increased competition drives down margins.

What are companies doing to solve this new reality?  Burying their heads in the sand I am afraid.  Rather than seeking a new paradigm and change the old model, they are clinging to what they know.  Scrabbling around looks for more assets to put on maintenance contracts, to increase their capture rates and raise new revenue.  The exact opposite of what their customers are demanding.

Which brings us full circle to the concern over asset management and a service model build on accurate accounting of those assets and the cost associated with determining those assets and the ongoing management of that information.  If you assume this is the only viable model for the delivery of service then you must start with a system or database that you can use to collect the assets, track them, associate them with contracts, sell contracts, etc.  Every aspect of the life cycle of a serviceable asset from manufacturing of it, sell, resell, maintenance, its exit into the after market or grey market and finally its ultimate destruction or recycle.  

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to the rescue.  But does it have a place in modern support service delivery.  I suggest the answer is yes, it has to, but not as its being used today for field service delivery.

Two possible school directory covers

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Concept to reinvent field service delivery

Subtitled An auction twist on outsourcing.

In an ever worsening economy and steadily decreasing profit margins for field service delivery what is a computer service organization to do?  Engineers live in fear of layoffs, receive less and less training, are asked to carry more load, and have their call out, standby and car allowances reduced. Can both issues be resolved.  Can companies continue to service their customers with highly skilled engineers, while meeting their demands for cheaper services.  Can engineers be justly rewarded for studying and taking the time to learn and become proficient?  Can engineers once more command financial reward for competency and motivation, where todays companies have diluted the resource pool, with "Good Enough" and canned annual reviews and insulting annual increases spread across the board like peanut butter.  I think so...

What if you were to created a market place where freelance engineers could bid on work? An auction type clearing house for opened service calls. What if freelance engineers had ratings that were a function of previous customer experiences, training/certification levels, previous successful job completions (perhaps time to resolution), and personally stated skills.  These would have to be solid and very consistent, if people are to buy into them.  But if there is true quality and integrity in the way they are arrived at and maintained over time, then these ratings become highly coveted and a badge of honor amongst themselves.

Now support a customer does not want to be locked into a contract and pay for services they may never use, is there a better solution than simply T&M services on an as we can get to it bases?  What if they were to agree review/survey every engineer they have deliver a service.  Not a random sample but everyone as a function of this service.  

I don't have this completely worked out, but the concept is that a customer in need of service logs onto a website and initiates a service request.  They provide the needed information about the problem (I know this is not simple) then select the skill level and urgency of the request.  Maybe we suggest skill levels for broad categories such as disk drive replacement might require a level one, while mirroring a three way cluster might require a level 5.  But if a customer is very nervous they should be able to pay for a higher skilled individual.  

Now the freelance engineers is registered with our service and has an RSS feed or email or whatever notification method they select running. They only see service requests at their level and below, and are then allowed to reverse bid on the job.  Reverse bids would have to include amount he/she is willing to do the service for and time to arrive. Say three of four engineers 

This needs more thought, but that should get the juices flowing.  

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Losing our way, accomplishment and pride

Perhaps it is simply my age and human nature to become reflective over time.  As I slide through my 40's I am becoming more concerned about  of society, especially the current and future state of our younger generations.  I suspect this is not a new phenomenon, for previous generations were convinced we were going to hell in a hand basket too.  But that does not change the fact I too am feeling this more and more strongly with each passing day.

We seem to be moving away from being a country of hard working producers of goods, to one of mass consumerism.   We once valued skills and professionalism, craftsmen were held in high regard.  Factory workers, like my father, were not necessarily proud to work on a line, but were proud to have solid jobs that sustained their families needs.  It was respectable to work, and work hard.  There was something else too, something less tangible, pride.  We were proud of our products, the fruits of our labor, the end results.  I struggled as a child to reconcile the grumbling of my father at the end of a long day, with his pride during open houses at that same factory, when we showed us the finished electric motors he helped produce.  His face would light up and he explained the part which he directly contributed to.  He was not solving world hunger, he was not saving lives, but we was producing something of value to others, being monetarily rewarded for it, and finding self worth in the process.

Today, the constant barrage of advertising and mass media suggests that happiness and not pride or ones contribution to our society is the most important aspect of being human in America.  And once you buy into the concept that your personal happiness is important above all else, its easy to flip a couple of switches and connect the acquisition of material goods and personal entertainment to one's happiness.  Having a shiny new car makes me feel good about myself.  Watching a movie is fun, and allows me not to think for two hours.

Just 30 years ago, there was very little in the way of personal entertainment that didn't also required a little personal output.  Radio shows gave way to television shows on a couple of channels during a few of hours each day.  The majority of the time available in a day was spent else where.  Play was physical exercise and typically not organized by adults, for the future hope of professional contracts and big money.  Adults worked and there were not many jobs that Americans were too good to do, or that didn't pay at least a living wage.  Most folks that had a job, had a full time job, and paid enough to house and feed their families. Unlike today were, in a effort to drive up corporate profits, corporations are only offering part time work to avoid the benefits requirements of full time employment.  

Today we sit in air conditioned comfort, in front of high definition televisions every available free hour we are not sleeping, making excuses why we deserve to relax and unwind.  Or we sit for hours on video game consoles, in simulated dangerous realities safe from the outside world, fighting wars, racing and crashing cars, and being criminals as we seek thrills and the pursuit of personal happiness.  We are not contributing to anything or anyone.  We are not producing a product, we are not impacting our society and we are not adding any value.  

We are consuming faster than we are producing.  For the last 25 years, stock holders demands for more and more profit have driven corporations  to dismantle and ship our factories over seas, to cheaper labour markets so we could buy more products for less money.  In our race for happiness and self pleasure, which we now achieved through material goods acquisition and personal entertainment, we have lost, or are rapidly losing, the foundation that allowed us the capital to accomplished this life style.  As we allow the base (production of products) to be shifted away from America, we are slowly lose the ability to feed our habits. Our young country is in danger.

Rather than face this reality we look the other way.  When we run out of money we print more.  When we have driven the value of the dollar to low to buy more we repackage it.  We create value where there is non and sell it to the greedy in giant bundles of meaningless mortgages.  Then once the world throws the covers back and discovers our fraud, we fall further.  They fear we can't buy their products, and offer us the sweet apple of original sin, a loan.  Just take our money and pay us later when you get back on your feet.  But without a product, and a work force willing to bend their backs to make it, how will that happen.  We are already seeing the widening of the separation of the classes in America.  Where once the middle class dominated, we are now becoming a two class society while China grows the biggest middle class the world has ever know.

Are we lost, has the train left the station, I do not know.  But regardless we must relearn the value of work, and reinstate pride.  Not pride in high scores of kills or wizard levels, but in our individual contributions to our families, communities and our society.  We must try and we must succeed for the sake of our generations to come and this country we love and want them to have as our legacy.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ark mural completed

After four weekends and 66 hours I have completed another mural. This one was at a Christian daycare center in Canton, GA.  The final dimensions were 8' x 22'

For those curious enough to ask, my published rate is $15 per square foot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When business rules fail

What is a business rule and who enforces them? How do they erode over time, why and what happens when they do.

In the service delivery business a common big rule (one that is the basis for other rules) is that a Customer tells the provider what they would like to have serviced. So, while a business process is typically written down as a guide for employees to follow (to accomplish such tasks as quoting, invoicing, billing, booking, supporting, etc.) a business rule is more often a general understanding that is woven into the cultural fabric of a company, or is an industry standard practice.

For the sake of argument, I will focus on support services and the creation of an agreement between a vendor and customer. In the computer industry, computers, software licenses, peripherals etc, are frequently distributed over large geographic areas and, more and more often, globally. So when a customer wanted to put their gear on a support contract they work with a service provider and share the list of gear they want covered with a support agreement. The vendor then takes the list, determines the cost of supporting it, adds an appropriate margin and provides a quote back to the customer for consideration. The BIG rule here is that the customer is responsible for letting the vendor know what they would like to have serviced. Once agreement is reached, the vendor loads the provided list into some sort of entitlement database with a contract number, and provides the customer with a contract and support phone number. Entitlement is based on the serial number of the failing system at the time of the service request.

Things they are a changing. Today, as more and more IT managers are asked to do more with less, those once rigid controls of inventory and assets have taken a back seat to more urgent needs like installations, maintenance and crisis management. Where once systems administrators were co-located with the gear they managed and could simply walk over and power cycle a system or read off a serial number, that has now become the exception not the rule. We are seeing a huge shift to remote management, everything from 'work from home' to offshore out sourcing.  It is not uncommon now for an SA in India to call in for support on a system in North Carolina, for example. If electronic serial numbers were uniformly available this would be less significant, but they are not. Compounding this lose of inventory control is the rapid merger and acquisition of companies with their own IT departments and data centers. By design, mergers reduce head count, leveraging economies of scale to drive down cost and grow revenue. As each new acquisition is cobbled onto an existing IT install base the ability to effectively track and manage their assets is diminished.

IT management is still held accountable for uptime and availability of their assets and thus must ensure that all appropriate support is in place for the gear they cover to meet their Service Level Agreements with their customers.  This is the first chink in the armor of the simple BIG rule. The manager, knowing he does not have a perfect list of inventory, approaches the vendor and says: "Here is a pretty good list of my assets across the hundreds of sites I am responsible for, but I know it's not complete.  I can not afford to have your company deny me support for a system I might have missed on this list, so I need an agreement from you to cover me even if the serial number we call in on is not on the contracted list. "

Traditionally this would have been handled by Time and Materials service. This is where the customer pays a standard flat rate per hour for a technician and the cost of any parts needed to effect the repair. By design this is a more expensive service to receive and to deliver. Since it is less predictable and has no bankable reoccurring revenue stream, the vendor is not as able to adjust resources effectively and thus offers the service as a stop gap measure only. The price is kept high to drive customers to a more predictable and manageable service model and steady reoccurring revenue streams.  This allows for better coverage models and tighter resource management.

Now lets break the BIG rule. When the customer is of significant size, and brings significant revenue to the vendor, they can make requests that must be addressed.  In this example the customer is unwilling to take on the risk of incurring the higher costs of T&M services for gear they have failed to identify.  They expect, require and demand a fixed cost for ALL their gear to reduce their risk of unexpected costs and missed Service Level Agreements due to the best effort nature of T&M services.  So they pressure the services sales representatives to cover ALL the equipment.  But how, since the very foundation of entitlement is driven by serialized assets existing in an entitlement database.  Give Service, Service First, Elite, Strategic, Global, Premium, the list goes on, all names given to solutions to this problem.  These special large account plans offer many other services, but the core remains the same, getting them service no matter what.  The argument goes something like this; Customer X is so important that we can not afford to be rigid or black and white and must get out of the box to solve their problems. The sales representative dangles a multimillion dollar contract in front of a deal review board who are financially focused, with NO knowledge of the back end processes to implement such entitlement challenges and they jump.  These jumps to acceptance are accelerated in economic down turns and become exacerbated with struggling companies.  Once this train leaves the station for one customer, it quickly becomes the model for the rest, and the snowball effect comes into play.  Once a struggling company begins breaking their own rules, the complexity of the service solution they offer grows quickly and yet the resources required to implement such complex solutions decline.  The net effect is reduced quality of the service, lower customer satisfaction and morale, beginning a self defeating cycle. 

The business rule that once suggested, "we will contract for support any equipment you tell us about" has now become, "we will contract for support any equipment you own" thus moving from serialized assets to customer name (legal entity). This now breaks the rule, and the consequences begin to cascade from here.

Perhaps if this new entitlement model were designed from the ground up, rather than being forced into it, we could have found a solution for these accounts that would stand the test of time and integrate into longer term strategies.  But there is little incentive to do this as Sales and Marketing are focused on selling.  The back end implementation and delivery is someone else's problem to solve.  To deliver this new entitlement model, the natural thing to do is look for the choke points.  Where, in the existing process, would the customer be denied service without a serial number, and put a bridge or stop gap measure in place.  A custom solution for each variation sold.  There are two main ports of entry; the phones and the web.  Knowing the web challenge I will focus on the phones.  We create a new business process that says if Customer X calls in, and they can't provide a serial number or the serial number they do provide does not exist, refer to a customer account list and based on what you read there, give them the service level listed. With hundreds of people taking calls around the world it became very difficult to know which of the hundreds of thousands of customer should be looked up in this exception process and it fails.  Adding complexity are the various ways customer names are spelled, and various different operation names a given company amy work under.  Customer are denied service and satisfaction falls.  So we created a special phone number or ID's they could use that would route their calls to a special group of people trained to read their custom pages and take the appropriate actions. This seemed to work and customer satisfaction returned to high levels, more or less.  Standardization across the globe is difficult and incentives vary driving different behavior creating inconsistency.

This model depends on several things that are intangibles such as trust.  The support services organization must trust that the sales organization is doing a competent job determining the install base is accurate in general terms.  For example, if the customer had 1000 system on contract five years ago and buys 100 new ones each year and retires 50 old ones each year, you would expect 1250 systems on the quote. Traditionally the sales representative, with the customers support, would agree on this number, list the known serial numbers and locations, make up dummy serials and locations for the missing gear and sign a contract.  The trust must be there for this to work.  If the service delivery teams doubts the effectiveness of the sales representative in capturing all the assets, they grow to believe they are giving away their services or not being fairly compensated. When times are tough and layoffs are happening this trust becomes more difficult to maintain.

If you do not trust that your sales team is capturing all the assets on the contract, and you are giving service to the whole account, then you by default must assume to are missing revenue opportunities.  We often fail to realize or acknowledge the fact that this behavior also reduces the preceived value of the service being delivered.  If a customer can get the same level of service for half the price, the value of that service is half what it previously was.  Or another way to look at it would be, if the customer knows they are growing their install base, and yet are able to hold their cost of support constant, they assume the service was over priced to begin with.  This creates a vicious cycle; the service delivery team continues to deliver the same level of service, the sales representative knows they are covering more systems and interprets this to mean the delivery organization is inflating their prices and over charging, sales is justified in their actions...

Stay tuned for ERP and Install Base and the shift back to rigid serialized entitlement and those it effects....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The final update

Thursday we pushed into Paris, about seven hours driving. We stayed in the only camp ground actually inside the city of Paris, right on the Seine river. It was really cool, so we took four nights. Friday we took the camp shuttle to town, then walked up to the Arc de Triomphe, then over to the Eiffel Tower. We went to the top and took in the spectacular view. Then is was off to a Creperie for lunch. We all had the ham, egg and cheese crepe's and they were awesome. Later we walked to the Musee d'Orsay. We had just finished the first floor when a bomb threat set off the fire alarms and they cleared the building. Oh darn, now I have to go back to Paris again to see the rest. We walked past the apartment Windy and I rented back in 2000, and then on to an English language movie theater, where we caught the latest Indiana Jones sequel.

Friday, I packed lunches and we headed for the Louvre. Chris has been asking the whole trip, "When are we going to see the Mona Lisa?" Today was the day. I made it our first stop. Both boys seem to really enjoy seeing it. Then we walked around for a couple of more hours. I tried not to get too carried away, and think three hours was about right. We walked fast and saw a lot, so that helped. We sat on the steps outside just across from the Pyramid and had our lunch. Then it was off to Notre Dame. We toured the inside and then walked the steps up to the bell tower Quasi Modo style.

Saturday, we rode the metro over to Sacré Cœur, and took a long walk back to the river and the VIIe arrondissement with large grass lawns for a picnic lunch. Michael worked on his juggling while Chris and I played Frisby. Next we strolled along the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe where we once again climbed the stairs.