The Cloud is a wonderful concept. The marketing blurb will read something like this:
You can put whatever applications you want in the Cloud at the touch of a button. The underlying hardware will be invisible to you, and you can manage your applications at a virtual level, moving storage around as you see fit, moving your virtual machines around as you see fit.
If you predict a seasonal peak in activity, the Cloud can immediately divert CPU resource to your application to make sure that it can cope. And if you no longer have a need for your application, it can be turned off at the touch of a button.
The reality is somewhat different. Mainly because rarely do organisations use vanilla applications. And the vast majority of applications that the marketing spiel appeals for are already built, having built on a physical architecture upon which it is reliant.
A while ago, I project managed the migration of one such application from its old home to a new home. The data centre it was in was going to close come what may, and the legacy kit was near end of life. So the decision was made to re-build the hardware from the ground up, using some lovely blade technology. We upgraded the odd COTS application along the way to bring it up to speed. And there was a little virtualisation in there to boot, I believe. (I’m not a techie. But I had a good bunch of techies around me who knew the detail.)
The migration was painful. It was hard. It took longer than originally planned (although perhaps not longer than some people originally expected) and there were some bugs that were difficult to resolve, rooted deep in the modules within COTS applications—not necessarily bugs in the applications themselves, but issues in our own application that were symptomatic of the way in which the supporting COTS application had evolved.
If we had been going to a fully virtualised environment, I believe I’m right in thinking that things would have been no easier. Many of the same issues would have arisen, along with issues specific to moving to a fully virtualised set of environments.
Because of the headache and cost involved in re-platforming applications, there needs to be an impetus other than Cloud itself to move to a Cloud model. This external factor may be the forced closure of a data centre, the need to re-platform owing to operating systems or COTS lapsing out of support or the unacceptable aging of the supporting hardware. Or it may be the introduction of a brand new application—if a Cloud environment already exists, build it there.
Without the external impetus, the extraordinary cost and hassle that results from a migration cannot be justified. Yes, the ongoing hosting costs may be cheaper, as you pay for what you use and no more. And yes, your application may be more flexible in its new world. But in most instances these benefits would be outweighed many times over by the cost of migration. And don’t let people kid you otherwise.
Just when did companies become so big as to act as though they were several different companies?
For many companies, customer service has long been an afterthought. Yet the recent trend has been for companies to actively pursue customer disservice.
Aviva was one recent example. I was passed from pillar to post, all the while paying the extortionate rates O2 were no doubt chargine me to call an 0845 (“local rate”) number from my mobile. But instead of handing my call off, I was asked to call another number, because the operator I was speaking to couldn’t assist with my enquiry. When I did eventually get the £1,000+ owed to me, there was no sign of an apology.
Lloyds TSB is my most recent example. I’m still awaiting a call back from someone in business banking to confirm why a cheque from my business account to my personal account (both with Lloyds TSB) bounced, despite ridiculous headroom for the cheque to clear. Personal telephone banking couldn’t deal with the query, but asked me to call a different number (at a different time, as they work different hours) to chase the business side of the company.
And heaven forbid you ask someone to call you back. Many call centres don’t allow out-bound calls. Some time ago, I missed a call from British Gas. I called them back but the relevant department was closed. On asking them to call me back, I was told they don’t do outbound calling. Er, yes you do. Otherwise, how would I be able to respond to this voicemail?
Companies merge and companies diversify their offerings. And in doing so, they lose sight entirely of the customer. Making money and creating efficiency (for themselves) becomes more important than the experience of the customer. No beef that a customer has to call a few different numbers and spend money on the call (despite his mobile service provider giving him free minutes to cover bog-standard numbers), so long as the call centre staff can follow a script and can process the callers as if they were shelling peas.
Streetcar has got this model right. As well as their cheap rate number, they also publish their landline number. Where’s the hassle in that? And when I call, the person who answers my call is polite, knows what they’re talking about and always addresses the issue I called about, often throwing in an hour’s free driving to account for my inconvenience at having to call in the first place.
We customers are not peas. We come in all shapes and sizes, and our needs are often different from those of our fellow customers. Go ahead, streamline your processes and get efficient. But don’t do so at the detriment of providing a decent service.
I use about 1.2 taxis per week. The 1 is a given. I have a meeting that runs a little late on a day I pick up my daughter from nursery. The bus isn’t sufficiently reliable to get me there before closing, an option with which I fear that my daughter will be tied to the railing when I arrive to save her from walking away on her own, the nursery lights turned out and the place deserted. (I have no idea what actually happens if you rock up after closing time—nor do I want to find out.)
The additional 0.2 is to account for one taxi I might use about five weeks, one that I get either out of necessity or out of luxury. Rarely the latter.
Anyway, I was in a taxi recently, and was discussing with the very pleasant driver my ideas for how GPS could connect prospective passengers with taxis whose orange lights are burning bright. He talked of some old system that used to be in place to alert people of pick-ups in their area, but that it died a death (a) because the taxi driver had to pay for the privilege of the introduction, (b) because the cabbie suffered a reduced utilisation owing to the drive to their prospective passenger’s pick-up point, and (c) because the cabbie often had to ignore a bunch of hailers along the way.
(My idea, btw, is to develop a free iPhone app. for prospective passengers to allow them to say exactly where they are trying to hail a London cab; and a sister, paid-for app. for cabbies to be made aware of this information.)
Not once in the conversation did the cabbie reference the customer experience. It was all about what was good for the cabbie, or more to the point what wasn’t. I was suggesting pairing a cabbie trundling along a deserted Charlotte Street with a prospective passenger on Whitfield Street (the next street along), who otherwise wouldn’t have encountered one another. The cabbie might pick up a fare if they were quickest to the pick-up. While the passenger would get home a few minutes earlier than they otherwise might have, possibly a little drier too (on a night like tonight).
It’s not an app. that I’d have much use for. But I think there is some proverbial mileage in it, particularly if the cabbies start thinking about the customer experience, rather than solely the bottom line.
Let’s assume I bought a Euromillions lottery ticket in the UK on Friday. And I didn’t check the result that evening, but knew that 300 million likeminded people across Europe also bought a ticket for that draw.
I am then told that the £90m jackpot is to be split between the owners of two tickets, both of which were bought in the UK. On knowing that information, do the odds of me having the winning ticket increase?
I then find out that one of the winning tickets is owned by someone who lives on my street. (This piece is fiction, btw.) Do my chances of winning increase?
It’s like the Monty Hall problem. And no. They don’t.
I work with a French lady. Out of respect for her language, and in an effort to introduce a little office-based banter, I make a rather trivial attempt to make her feel at home each morning with a standard greeting: ça va?
She always plays back to me my question, without the questioning intonation at the end: ça va.
If you think about it (and I never have before), it’s just plain lazy. And particularly non-committal.
Does it go?
It goes is hardly an underlining of one’s joie de vivre, to coin another Frenchism. Yet I suppose we Brits are similarly ambivalent when it comes to stock responses.
How are you?
But as I said to another colleague recently, rarely does the questioner care much as to the answer to the question. Certainly people are freaked out if you as an enquirer are particularly intent on the answer, and if you continue the conversation with follow-up questions to ascertain more detail.
Get away from me, you freak!
I’m tempted to start using the French approach in the future, informing colleagues on asking as to my general well-being that: it goes.
A couple of weeks ago, I created a My Map in Google Maps. I put a single marker on it, labelled Up the Junction, Squeeze. The marker sat on the south-west corner of the junction between St. John’s Road and St. John’s Hill, where JD Sports now stands.
The map was created to depict references to places in songs—either in the song title or in the lyrics therein. I invited a handful of friends to collaborate on the map, and I’m happy to say that it’s now up to 379 icons, representing places mentioned in 227 different songs. (The KLF’s It’s Grim Up North accounted for an impressive 66 markers alone.)
The markers are colour-coded by musical genre, and collaborators are asked to follow a short list of rules to maintain the map’s integrity.
Our most northerly markers thus far are Siberia Khatru by Yes, and Frank Black’s White Noise Maker, in which Siberia is also mentioned. Our only Antarctican reference is Ross Dependency, mentioned in Enya’s Orinoco Flow (apparently).
Phase 2 of the project is about to begin, in which a wider set of people will be invited to contribute. If you’d like to be a part of history, drop me a comment, or an email, and I’ll add you to the list.