Monthly Archives: February 2012

Offshoring, Nearshoring, or Bestshoring?

You’ve probably heard of ‘offshoring’ by now. Offshoring is the act of outsourcing your contact centre processes to a foreign and distant company with the aim to reduce production costs. It’s often the source of negative publicity; companies who recognise the cost-reduction benefits constantly criticised for threatening local employment. However, these companies cannot afford to adopt this strategy lightly. Dangers of offshoring include: low language skills of the host country causing frustration among callers, different standards of employment creating conflict between organisations and time lag between countries dictating operating hours.

The negative after-effects experienced by offshoring companies gave birth to the idea of nearshoring. Nearshoring is a term created to explain the act of outsourcing your contact centre processes to a company in a nearby (get it) country, often sharing a mutual border with your own country. Nearshoring aims to minimise many of the issues caused by offshoring. As the time difference between companies in close geographic proximity is likely to be minimal, working hours are much the same. The geographic proximity is likely to reduce many of the other afflictions too, such as cultural differences and poor language skills.

So, on the surface nearshoring seems an ideal choice. Well, that’s before we get stuck into bestshoring. Bestshoring, also known as rightshoring, is identifying the best (obviously) location to operate your contact centre. It’s determined by quantifiable criteria that has been decided on and independently evaluated. Ultimately, the best place to locate your contact centre operations could be where it is already, when you weigh up contributing factors such as providing a consistent level of service to your customers.

Whether you choose nearshoring, offshoring or bestshoring as your weapon of choice, your strategy probably has a lot to do with cost reduction. This leads to the next question you should ask yourself: have you considered other ways to minimise the cost of your contact centre, without sacrificing on quality? It’s a question pondered by many a CIO, some not aware of the varied ways to tackle the problem.

The only sure-fire way to safeguard the quality of your contact centre operations is to perform them in the same country as your callers, with agents who speak the native language. This can be costly, once you add up agent and manager wages, the extravagant CapEx required to purchase and set-up the technology infrastructure, not to mention paying specialist staff to maintain and support the system. In this situation, switching your expensive premise-based equipment for a Cloud contact centre solution might be the answer you’re looking for.

By adopting cloud-based technology, you can eliminate the costs of purchasing your own infrastructure and reap the benefits of a solution with a predetermined ROI. For xx phone calls you will pay xx amount of dollars. For each automatic payment it will cost you xx amount of dollars. And, you maintain that quality of service that comes from employing in-house agents.

Still thinking of offshoring, nearshoring or bestshoring? Sure… Did you know that Cloud contact centres can also be used in outsourced or overseas locations? Find out more here.

Are CIOs Doomed to Vanish into the Cloud?

One of the first stats in this article by Roy Harris from CFO online states that “17% of corporate financial decision-makers in a recent UK poll believe the position of chief information officer will disappear from the business landscape in the next five years”. Wow… That’s a bit harsh isn’t it? The role of the CIO is definitely changing, but will it disappear completely? I don’t think so. I’d have to agree with the contention that appears in a latter section of the article; that the CIO position will evolve to focus on strategy and the finance behind IT, and be less consumed with daily operations. However, many CIOs would already state the former as their main responsibility.

 

It sounds shocking, perhaps — until you think about the rapid pace at which corporate finance is becoming involved with technology. But 17% of corporate financial decision-makers in a recent UK poll believe the position of chief information officer will disappear from the business landscape in the next five years.

Of the 203 CFOs and finance directors who participated in the January survey, part of a report titled “The Changing Role of the CFO,” just released by Getronics UK, another 43% say that the CIO’s role eventually will be subsumed within finance. Further, 31% believe those in a CIO role will be coming from a non-technical background in the future. Getronics is a consultancy that is part of KPN, the Dutch telecommunications provider.

Generally, the reason for such dynamic predictions seems to involve the changing way businesses purchase and consume IT — especially because of the increasing importance of utility-based and cloud computing, in which IT services are rented out on a pay-per-use model, rather than purchased and installed outright.
What CIOs Don’t Know About Finance

In a  wide-ranging series of other results -– all from financial decision-makers with UK companies having at least 1,000 employees -– respondents also show, among other things, a low opinion of how much CIOs know about finance. For example, 38% say CIOs have less than a good level of financial understanding. And, remarkably, 40% say that their own CIOs need a greater understanding of IT itself.

“Compounding this lack of understanding of both roles,” Getronics said its press release about the study, “more than half (56%) of the CFOs and financial directors surveyed believe that a lack of integration between finance and IT limits the impact on cost savings achievable from IT projects within their business.”

The findings suggest strongly that more integration is needed between the two departments –- and 48% of those polled said such closer integration is already taking place at their companies. (On the other hand, a decrease in such integration moves was cited at 35% of the businesses.)
Worries about IT Maintenance

Other poll questions concerned what IT spending worries were the greatest for finance decision-makers. Maintaining IT infrastructure is a key concern among 64% of respondents, while 48% say they are concerned by the level of expenditure paid to consultancies, and 47% list license payments for software.

Respondents indicate that they believe their own tech understanding is increasing, with only 2% saying they are “not aware of the term cloud computing.” Most were able to provide a meaningful description of its use.

As the CIO role continues to evolve, Getronics UK said, more consulting for businesses will be driven internally, as outsourced consulting decreases.

The study recounts how the role of the CIO already has evolved recently, with 77% of the CFOs and financial directors saying they already have assumed greater responsibility for IT decisions over the past two years. The poll’s results show that 38% of businesses rolling out a cloud computing project recently had that cloud project initiated directly by the finance department, rather than by IT. Another 39% said that finance had been directly involved in cloud projects, but only after the IT department initiated it.
Remember Those First CIOs?

“The role of the CIO has often been a point of contention within many organizations since its very inception,” Mark Cook, CEO of Getronics UK, said in a press release accompanying the study. “Some of us in the industry will remember when the first IT roles were created in business and that these were predominately always within finance. It’s only in recent years that we’ve seen IT as a standalone department and we’re now seeing it come full circle, with one crucial difference: the CIO today is responsible for greater levels of innovation than ever before.”

He added: “We’re seeing CIOs moving away from previous years of having to lead on daily IT operations and maintenance into that of a provider of strategic consultancy to finance and the wider business. Only by freeing up CIOs from the day-to-day burden of managing assets will organizations be able to truly realize the value that a CIO can bring to their business.

Nearly a fifth of businesses with finance chiefs responding to the online poll say that cloud services account for at least “a small part of their IT use.” The cloud’s reputation has been bolstered through its association to “positive business change,” according to the poll, with 64% of respondents identifying it as a source of “improvements to operations.”

The study’s authors conclude that cloud adoption is “progressing, albeit at a moderate rate.”

http://www.cfoworld.com/operations/32552/cio-role-will-eventually-cease-exist-claim-cfos?page=0,1&source=CFOWORLDNLE__2012-02-28

Joining the dots in the cloud

As Phil Wainewright’s article demonstrates, your cloud provider MUST be able to integrate with your existing systems. By ensuring suppliers have this ability before progressing with any project, you’re likely to save yourself (and your business) from a world of pain.

 

Summary: Businesses are going to have to connect up all those stovepiped cloud instances they’ve deployed. New options are emerging, but which ones are going work?

Piecemeal adoption of cloud services and apps has created many collections of stovepiped services that don’t talk to each other. More and more users — especially business users — have started grappling with how to connect these cloud islands together. Answering this requirement is a necessary part of the maturing of the cloud model. The answers that are starting to emerge suggest that there may be some innovative approaches in the works that will make us think afresh about how and where the connections should be forged.

Joining the dots in the cloud ought to be easier than traditional application integration because all good cloud services are inherently designed to connect, and those connection hooks (technically known as APIs) have to be highly standardized and web-friendly to be any use in a cloud environment. But until recently, taking advantage of that ease of connection has had to be a hand-crafted effort. Tools to automate the process have been relatively rare. Sure, there are plenty of data integration options, but the Web lends itself to other, more loosely-coupled forms of connection. Those tools have been few in number, but in the past few months, there’s been a sudden explosion of new options.

Last week’s announcement of Amazon Simple Workflow Service (SWF) was the most recent, making it easier to orchestrate different components of an application that may straddle cloud, mobile and on-premise IT assets. This is a clever commercial move by Amazon, because this capability further encourages the type of loosely coupled application architecture that makes best use of Amazon’s cloud infrastructure, as well as making it easier to use Amazon-hosted assets alongside existing on-premises IT. But it’s still a relatively low-level application messaging tool that targets developers rather than typical users.

The great thing about the Web is that it allows you to break away from the old three-tier model of application integration that insists on a heavyweight layer of middleware to bind everything together before it can be acted on. In some ways, SWF doesn’t change that model, it just puts the heavyweight parts behind a cloud API that developers can call on instead of having to build it themselves. Flotype, a startup backed by Salesforce.com and Andreessen Horowitz, is in a similar vein.

But connection doesn’t always have to be engineered down in the bowels of the infrastructure. There are plenty of other examples that make it easy to link services with a lightweight mashup or by bringing filtered information together on demand in the browser for rapid analysis and interaction by the user.

One of the hot new start-ups drawing attention around the turn of the year was IFTTT, which stands for IF This Then That. Users can set up conditional events that trigger simple actions in popular activity streams and apps including Twitter, Facebook, DropBox, LinkedIn, RSS, email, SMS and even voice calls. It’s mainly used to automate the replication of routine tasks between online services, such as posting to multiple streams, archiving items posted online or setting up alerts.

An example that uses the cloud to provide user-centric workflow, running across transactional applications and document collaboration, is RunMyProcess [a client for whom I recently wrote a white paper: see disclosure]. Here the emphasis is not so much on connecting applications as on moving from applications to documents and on to people and back — what in the white paper I called the last mile of business automation. Often the aim is simply to finish automating the gaps in an existing process that straddles several different application stacks rather than creating a completely new process. A cloud platform finds this easier than more traditional approaches because it is better able to connect to multiple touch points, whether in the cloud, on in-house servers, or on individual client machines.

Cloud services and apps make many activities less costly and cumbersome to automate, but unless those newly automated activities can be connected up into automated processes, many of the potential productivity gains and cost savings will be squandered. The good news is that there are many different types of solution now emerging to help make those connections. The less good news is that it will take some learning and experimentation to figure out how best to use those tools — and the bad news is that too many people will try to connect cloud services using the same techniques that worked for them in the on-premise world, whereas it will take new thinking and new approaches to realize the full potential of the connected cloud.

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/saas/joining-the-dots-in-the-cloud/1513

Leisurely lunch or fast fare?

Don’t be confused when you read this next article. Despite first impressions, it is extremely relevant, even if your business isn’t in the restaurant industry. Sarah Nassauer from the Wall Street Journal online investigates how fine dining operations and fast food chains are beginning to differentiate themselves by offering personalised service. Based on body language and off-the-cuff comments made by guests, waiters make a decision on the type of dining experience they are most likely to prefer. Clever, huh? What does this mean for you? Well, when someone contacts your business, do you provide customised  service and product offerings that varies depending on the person? One of our clients decided to test the waters with this strategy and now gives callers a totally different experience depending on whether they are under or over the age of 50. Would this type of personalisation work for your business?

 

 

What looks like a convivial scene is a waiter’s nightmare: people at a table, chatting away, menus closed with drinks in their hands.

Yet when Alex Martin, a 26-year-old waiter at Blue Smoke restaurant in New York, tried to take their order “they didn’t even look up,” he says. “If you are standing there for more than three seconds it’s like an eternity.”

Restaurants both high-end and casual say the secret to quality service is the wait staff’s ability to “read the table.” Sarah Nassauer has details on Lunch Break.

At such times, Mr. Martin employs his go-to strategy of “the hand on the table.” Placing down his palm draws the group’s eyes up and out of the conversation, interrupting but without being pushy, he says. A few minutes later the men had ordered and quickly returned to chatting.

Called “having eyes” for a table, or “feeling” or “reading” the table by restaurant workers, it’s how the best waiters know what type of service you prefer before you tell them. From fine dining to inexpensive chains, restaurants are working to make service more individualized as the standard script (‘I’m so-and-so and I will be your server tonight”) is sounding dated.

Even chain restaurants like Denny’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill are focusing more on personalized service by training staff to note body language, eye contact and offhand remarks, hoping to make service feel less mechanical. Traditionally, eateries taught waiters to follow a script and push add-ons like desserts and drinks.

Getting service right, not just food, is increasingly crucial for restaurants. The number of people going to restaurants is expected to grow by less than 1% through 2019, slower than population growth, predicts NPD Group, a market research firm. At the same time restaurants from Applebee’s to fine-dining spots like Press St. Helena in California’s Napa Valley say guests expect better service as they continue to demand top value for their dollar and learn more about restaurants’ behind-the-scenes operations through TV shows and books.

“We asked what can we do that will set us apart from the scrum,” besides discounting and coupons, says Wayne Vandewater, vice president of learning and development for Applebee’s, owned by DineEquity Inc. “Food is easy to copy, a building is easy to copy, but it’s not easy to copy our people.”

Some restaurants still employ waiter scripts, but now they are being used to dig for guest information. At Romano’s Macaroni Grill, an Italian-themed chain, waiters are taught to use their scripted offer of house wine to find out if the table will want a fast, leisurely, or lively meal. If “they say, ‘no, well, we are going to the theater,’ ” then the waiter knows dinner isn’t the main event, says Brandon Coleman III, chief marketing officer for the company. To speed up service, the waiter may bring the check at the same time as the food.

If diners have a laptop open on the table, they might not be interested in appetizers that are best for sharing or learning a lot about the cocktail menu, says Ricky Richardson, chief operating officer for Carlson Restaurants Inc., which operates T.G.I. Friday’s.

“We changed ‘suggestive selling’ to ‘situational selling,’ ” says Rene Zimmerman, senior director of training and development for Bob Evans Farms Inc., a family-style restaurant and food maker. Instead of offering every breakfast guest one additional item, say biscuits and gravy, waiters are taught to adjust their offer depending upon the guest. For a diner who places a lighter order, like a bagel and fruit, the waiter might suggest a cup of coffee or tea.

Restaurants are investing in training despite the historically high churn rate in wait staff, though turnover has slowed since the recession. Waiters can be paid below minimum wage in some states because they earn tips. In other states, they are paid a minimum wage that varies by state from $5 to $10, plus tips.

As part of a recent, two-week training course at the Cheesecake Factory in Burlington, Mass., Lauren McDonagh, 23 years old, sat with four other new employees before the lunch rush. They heard tips on how to interact with tables with children (if a kid says he doesn’t like green things, don’t use lettuce, even as a garnish), first-time guests (walk them to the restroom, don’t point), and celebrations (get at least five employees to sing “Happy Birthday”).

Ms. McDonagh and the others are taught to “tour guide” guests toward menu options they think are best, like easy-to-prepare food if they are in a hurry. When Ms. McDonagh began waiting tables without any training at age 18, “it took me three months to realize you give the dessert menu quietly to the mom, otherwise kids scream,” for dessert, she says.

Reading a table happens within seconds of a waiter coming to a table. By asking for a cocktail menu or smiling and making strong eye contact, “they are saying ‘hey, I want to engage with you and I want you to make me feel really important,’ ” says Mark Maynard-Parisi, managing partner of Blue Smoke, a pair of barbecue restaurants in New York, owned by Union Square Hospitality Group. If people seem shy, “you want to put them at ease, say, ‘take your time, look at the menu.’ ”

Blue Smoke does seven days of training with new waiters, five days of trailing an experienced waiter and two days of being trailed by the experienced waiter. Each day includes a quiz and a focus such as greeting guests.

With parties of four or more, “the most important thing is to read the dynamic between the group,” Mr. Maynard-Parisi says. Alcohol (who is ordering more or less) is a potential point of contention. He reads eye contact and body language to see if a group is friendly (looking at each other) or less secure, like an uncomfortable work meeting (glancing around the room, fidgeting). “Am I approaching the table to rescue them or am I interrupting them?”

Because people often resist speaking up when they’re unhappy with their meal, waiters are taught to detect if a guest is unhappy. When asked about dinner, if a guest says, ” ‘It’s OK.’ That to me is a red flag,” says Allison Yoder, general manager of Press.

At Cheesecake Factory, employees are taught to look every guest in the eye when moving through the dining room, watching for people looking up from their meal, pushing food around their plate, or removing ingredients from their dish—all signs they might not like their meal. Even if it’s not their assigned table, they are trained to ask if anything is wrong and try to fix problems.

Reading a table is still more art than science. On a recent night at Blue Smoke a couple came in with a baby in a stroller, usually a demographic looking for a quick dinner. Instead, the baby fell asleep during the meal. “They spent so much money,” says Mr. Maynard-Parisis. They “got another cocktail and dessert and an after-dinner drink.”

If a waiter reads the needs of your table correctly, you’re likely to end up with a good experience. Inadvertently giving off the wrong signals can doom a table to service that’s too rushed, too slow or just off kilter. Here, how to work the system.

If you’re chatty… A waiter is more likely to assume a friendly, chatty table is there to party. Get ready for more offers of drinks, dessert and a talkative waiter.

If you act moody… You may get better service. Several waiters said they are more careful to get every detail right when they believe a table is already in a bad mood (a couple fighting or a tense business meal perhaps).

If you say ‘It’s OK’… To attentive waiters, saying food is ‘OK’ is a red flag that you aren’t happy with your meal. The waiter or manager might dig for more information to fix the problem.

If you ask about the menu… Food questions are a sign that you either like learning about everything you might eat or you feel lost and need guidance. One menu question could lead to a long, full menu description. If you seem overwhelmed, the waiter might try to steer you toward a particular order.

If you grab the wine list first… Expect the waiter to focus wine explanations and questions about refills to you.

If you’re early and fancy… Diners who are dressed up and have an early dinner reservation may lead waiters to suspect they have another event that night and serve them at a fast clip.

If you’re wearing a suit at lunch… Diners who look like they just stepped away from their cubicle, whether in a suit or business casual, are bound to get speedier service. The exception: If the waiter realizes the boss or valued client wants to set a slower pace by asking for more time before ordering or pulling out papers for a sales pitch.

If you act like the ring leader…
A waiter will try to determine who is in charge at the table through body language, clues in conversation or by who made the reservation, and defer to the wants of that diner.

If there’s no obvious leader…
If no take-charge person emerges at the table, the waiter may struggle to figure out whether to be chatty or invisible and whether to make the service quicker or more leisurely.
Check, Please?

How the check is brought to the table can make diners grumble. Some guests want the check without asking, some feel rushed if a check is placed on the table before they ask. When researchers asked customers which restaurant service mistake is worst in terms of overall satisfaction, they said not promptly settling the check when the guest is ready to leave, or problems with the check amount. (This complaint was second only to messing up the food order.) The research, which surveyed 491 people who had dined at a table-service restaurant within the past month, was published in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly in 2010. It’s ‘tricky,’ says Serge Krieger, general manager of fine-dining spots TRU and L2O Restaurant, both in Chicago. Instead of leaving people in check limbo, ‘we make them ask,’ says Mr. Krieger. ‘After coffee, we say, “Anything else I can get you?” And they usually ask for the check.’ To signal when diners are ready to pay, Applebee’s, owned by DineEquity Inc., has introduced check holders (see above) that say, ‘I’m ready to go!’ The new books are in about half of its 2,000 U.S. locations and customers are using them, says Wayne Vandewater of Applebee’s.

Cloud Computing adoption bottom-up?

This brief insight from the Thinking Out Cloud blog suggests that execs are last to hop on the Cloud train. But, is that really so? It doesn’t give CIOs, and senior management alike, very much credit. I’d beg to differ… Nowadays, most CTOs and CIOs are well-versed in ‘cloud speak’ and are the driving force of adoption within their companies.

 

Last week I gave a keynote presentation at the CloudConnect conference in Santa Clara. The title of the presentation was: “Surprise! Your Enterprise is Already Using the Public Cloud.”

Regular readers of this blog (or those who work with me) know I go on about this a lot: In the enterprise, cloud computing services (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) are being adopted bottom-up. In other words, by the rank & file (developers, IT admins, business folk) and not top-down with a big strategic decision by the CIO.

That’s what the keynote was about and the title was addressing the CIO, who is the last to know about cloud computing adoption within his or her organization.

If you’re interested in this topic you can watch the video of the presentation (you need to scroll down to get to it) on the CloudConnect web site.

You can also read this very good summary of my talk by Rich Miller on Data Center Knowledge.

Engaging with criticism

When your company receives a complaint, what do you do with it? Is it noted and dismissed? Or, is it investigated, taken on board and communicated to senior management? Seth Godin’s article ‘Engaging with criticism’ encourages feedback, as I do myself. How can you possibly improve if you don’t know what you need to work on?

 

If you need to find out how your audience is receiving your work, it’s worth considering how you’ve structured the interactions around criticism. Sometimes a customer has a one-off problem, a situation that is unique and a concern that has to be extinguished on the spot. More often, though, that feedback you’re getting represents the way a hundred or a thousand other customers are also judging you.Some random ideas:

  • If you defend yourself to the customer, quickly explaining precisely why the policy is the way it is, why the product is the way it is, you are pushing the criticizer away because you’re telling them they’re wrong about their opinion. And they might indeed be wrong, but it’s certainly not going to encourage more feedback.
  • If your front line people restate the criticism in their own words and are grateful to the customer for sharing it, everyone will benefit. You can always choose to ignore the input later.
  • If there’s no way for your staff to easily send the criticism up the hierarchy, it dies before it reaches someone who can do something about it.
  • If senior people follow up with the customer with specific acknowledgment and thanks, you multiply the benefits.
Not every company needs to do this right to succeed (Apple succeeds and does not one of these things–and as far as I know, Bob Dylan is in the same camp), but if you believe you can benefit from a cycle of feedback, it’s worth a try.

 

The rise and the rise of the Cloud

I stumbled across an article in AustralianIT written by Gartner’s Brian Prentice, who contends that 2012 will be the year that technology and business goals align. He also suggests demand for Cloud services will drive a need for ‘credible external rating agencies’. I think ‘neutral’ agencies will definitely see an opportunity on the tail of the Cloud boom, but their significance is questionable. If you choose a reputable provider with excellent references, do you really need to pay for the opinion of a third party?

 

THE cloud and mobility dominate Gartner’s major forecasts for the information technology sector for the year ahead.

Research vice-president Brian Prentice says the need for credible external rating agencies for cloud service providers will become more urgent this year.

Current industry performance contracts lack the scope to quantify, or be accountable for, the costly and potentially devastating indirect effects that service failures have on businesses.

Trying to mitigate risk using service level agreements will prove unwieldy for companies, as they often deal directly with consultancies that on-sell cloud services in complex multi-tiered agreements.

“The issue here is that it’s very hard to expect the vendors to have a set of impacts on their business commensurate with the problems that could come up. What that means is that you can’t come back on that, and you have to do the assessment on whether the problem is going to show up in the first place,” Prentice says. He envisages that ratings agencies, operating on similar lines to those in the finance sector, will emerge for cloud service companies by the end of the year.

And they won’t be short of business. Gartner predicts global 1000 companies will increasingly store customer-sensitive data in the public cloud, contradicting frequent assurances that they avoid the practice.

“The trend line is clear: more and more of this data is finding its way into the cloud,” says Prentice.

For enterprise software vendors, the drive to tap into demand for mobility will start to create a fundamental shift in their development activity, says Prentice.

Keeping apace with the growing number and flavour of app stores for smartphones and tablet devices, they will increasingly break their monolithic applications down into “bite-sized” apps for mobile platforms and devices.

Mobility will continue to create challenges in the IT service departments of large organisations. The rising tide of staff demanding the ability to bring their own device into the work sphere has swamped them and they need to respond.

“Around 12 to 18 months ago the question was how to stop this stuff creeping into organisations. Now we’re getting to the stage where everyone has sort of surrendered to the fact that there’s no stopping this, so the issue is how you manage the devices,” Prentice says.

It will also be the year IT will start to wash off the stains of cynicism left over from the heady days of the dotcom boom.

Increasingly, more technology expenditure will not be accounted for directly within IT budgets. Individual departments will take digitisation initiatives without approaching CIOs for oversight.

That, says Prentice, means the departments will see the benefit of technology; IT and business will start to align. “I would argue this is happening – it’s just not happening the way that everyone thought it would happen.”

The real reason the iPad is a good idea

Ever wondered why the iPad has been so successful? After all, it’s not as convenient as an iPhone and has less features than a Mac Book. Not forgetting about the phenomenon of the Apple brand itself, I think I’ve found the answer from Mnemosynosis on livejournal.com.

 

The dust is settling over Apple’s iPad. As predicted, the product has polarized geeks across the world. Fans boast of its features, critics point to the lack of features and a third group are confused about how the device would improve the daily life of a normal, dedicated Apple user, already happily shackled to their iPhone and MacBook.

Here’s the real reason the iPad is a good idea: size.

The screen of the iPad is 9.7″ (diagonal). This is roughly the size of a trade paperback. Trade paperbacks are the most successful size for reading material because it capitalizes on all the physiological facts of the human body that make reading easiest for most readers. If a human has to hold an object to read–as opposed to viewing a screen or distant sign–then the object’s design is limited by the size of the reader’s arm and hand size and grasping strength.

Focal distance within arm’s length enables the reader to read in sharp focus the printed word, about the size of the fovea. Foveal area is about the size of your thumbnail stretched out in front of your eyes. Surrounding the fovea, the human eye can identify a lot of words within a few inches–roughly the width of a paperback page. Plus, the sacccades of the eye, enable people to quickly move the foveal area to read the written word extremely fast.

Finally, a normal reader can scan a single paperback page of text and pick out words they are looking for within microseconds. The combination of physiological features of human eyes make the paperback size of page ideal to capitalize on the fastest reading possible. In addition, the light weight of a paperback and slimness makes it easy for humans to hold them in a variety of positions for extended periods of time.

Contrary to popular belief amongst geeks, the screen size on the iPhone inhibits our ability to read efficiently, because the text must be sized at a point where we do not benefit as much from scanning or saccades. I can perceive approximately 80 words on my iPhone screen before needing to change the page (8 words per line, 10 lines). By doing this reading test, I have discovered that I read comfortably at 450-500 words per minute. This means I need to change pages every 10 seconds or so to read at a comfortable speed on the iPhone for 1 minute. That is an infuriating level of ‘clicking’. I can read a paperback book for 2 minutes (400 words per page) without needing to move.

Additionally to this. I often skim ahead of the text, read the current words and then quickly review what I have just read. I do this to gather context and relate the current sentences to the surrounding paragraphs. I’m sure a saccade test on my eyes whilst reading would reveal an elaborate pattern of eye movements that are not linear, but geometric. I estimate that my mind scans between 120-240 words ahead or behind of what I’m currently reading in detail. The size of the iPhone screen prevents these sorts of reading tricks.

What about the claim that my laptop is better than the iPad? There is no doubt that the screen size on an average laptop is bigger than needed to read a single document at maximum efficiency. However, by including so many features, the laptop becomes less functional for reading. Anything more than 2lb becomes unwieldy to hold for reading. Almost all net books are heavier than the iPad’s 1.5lbs.

Nature has given us a particular set of physiological parameters that Apple has recognized with the iPad. It is worth having a third device for reading, so long as it has the size, weight, screen resolution and battery life accelerate our comprehension of new material, rather than hinder it.

Yes, the iPhone is an ‘iPad mini’, but like miniature books, the fact that we can make devices small, does not make them necessarily better at particular tasks.

Love is… never having to say you're sorry

When it comes to customer support, you’ll probably have to apologise at some stage. However, Rob Addy from the Gartner Blog Network is spot on when he says that Predictive and Pre-emptive support can reduce the number of times you end up on the back-foot. There are many ways you can inform your customers of a service outage, or other incident, prior to the actual event.

 

Reactive support is… always having to say you’re sorry. Saying you’re sorry is one thing. Being sorry and basing your future actions upon a desire to ensure that your partner doesn’t suffer the same fate again and again is something completely different. If a support provider allows its customers to find the same issue time and time and again can it really claim to “love” them? But worse than that; Knowing that a specific customer segment is likely to be impacted by an issue and doing nothing is surely tantamount to emotional neglect? Sure, some providers alleviate their guilt by buying chocolates, sending flowers and posting an entry within their knowledge base. But this token of their affection may or may not be found and acted upon by their customers. And whilst it allows the provider to satisfy their conscious, it can be argued that it doesn’t really come close to fulfilling the duty of care (or love) that they have towards their customers.

As Tina Turner might say “What’s love got to do with it?” But given the date today I thought I might explore the concept of Love and Support. Both require the parties involved to bear their souls, to be open, honest and frank with one another if the relationship is to be a success. Both require give and take and a common understanding of shared goals. Both require the parties to keep the faith and work at it through the good times and the bad. And in both cases our partners sometimes do things that infuriate and irritate for reasons best known to themselves… Yes, love and support are really not all that different after all.

So how do the various tiers on the Gartner Product Support Maturity Scale relate to the art of love?

  • Reactive Support is… always having to say you’re sorry.
  • Proactive Support is… sometimes having to say you’re sorry but making darn sure that known problems don’t cause them pain in the future.
  • Predictive Support is… rarely having to say you’re sorry because you’re constantly keeping an eye out to protect their interests.
  • Pre-emptive Support is… instinctively knowing what’s best for relationship and making it happen.

Although the maturity scale was not originally  intended to be a road map for customer love, progressing along the support continuum it defines will undoubtedly help reinforce and strengthen the relationships you have with your customers. By focusing on the customer’s needs and eliminating the pains that they face on a day to day basis even the most dysfunctional of relationships can be turned around.

But love (and support) is about much more than protecting ones partner from the dangers of the world. It’s about providing an environment for them to flourish… It’s about encouraging their efforts… It’s about helping them to be the best that they can be…

But what if your love is unreciprocated?  After all, according to Charlie Brown, “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.”  Is it worth loving them all the same? Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s not about being liked, loved or adored in return – it’s about doing what’s right and hopefully having your efforts recognized and valued. Customers will show their growing ‘love’ for you in many different ways. Perhaps they will escalate issues less frequently. Perhaps they will let your occasional mistakes pass without comment or accusation. Perhaps yours won’t be the first name that springs to mind when they are looking to attribute blame. Perhaps they will begin to listen to, and perhaps even act upon, your guidance and recommendations. Perhaps they will pay their renewal invoice promptly without question. But rest assured that they WILL notice. It will take time, but it WILL happen. Acts of love are never wasted.

Support is a many splendored thing… Or at least it should be!  I urge you to go out there and let your customers feel the love…

Focus for business is on speed and value

This article on the AustralianIT website caught my eye… IBM’s Andrew Stevens states that the demand for Cloud services is rising rapidly and believes that today’s technology must be able to solve real business problems. I agree whole-heartedly Mr. Stevens, this is where the future of IT is heading.

 

VENDOR: IBM LOCAL MANAGING DIRECTOR ANDREW STEVENS

AUSTRALIA’s IT sector is well-positioned to weather global economic storms because of the natural resources boom and strong ties with China, according to IBM’s local managing director, Andrew Stevens.

“We’ll continue to see considerable demand in cloud infrastructure and outsourced process and service management as organisations seek further productivity gains, cost savings and business process efficiencies.”

Stevens says four key trends will drive technology and business decisions this year, the first being the ability to solve big business problems.

“Organisations expect IT vendors to get practical and apply technology to real business problems.

“Things like, how can technology help mining companies extract and ship resources faster, without adding infrastructure? How can smart grids reduce networking costs to hold down electricity price?

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“There are great opportunities for smart technology to demonstrate true business value by achieving greater efficiencies. IBM is certainly focused on new ways of thinking about this.”

Next, Stevens says the proliferation of devices at home and work is changing the way businesses and consumers interact.

“The mobility footprint is spreading from the home into the workplace. With many households now using networked multiple devices, usage patterns will have a strong impact on business strategy in terms of reaching consumers and employee productivity.”

This, he says, will increase demand for faster broadband and the adoption of cloud solutions in the home and workplace.

And it’s time to begin building “evidence-based businesses”, he says. IBM has borrowed the term from “evidence-based decision-making”, traditionally used in healthcare settings where medical professionals take into account all valid and relevant information about a patient before making a decision.

“Last October, we opened a local IBM Research and Development facility where we can demonstrate how analytical technologies can be used to support business decisions,” he says.

“This will become really important for industries like natural resources, where predictive maintenance can save time and money.”

The final trend is business at the speed of thought, Stevens says.

“Accessing information in real time is old-school – businesses need and want information and insight at the speed of thought,” he says.

” We don’t want to make a decision at the time it starts raining, we want that prediction of bad weather in advance so we can adjust our strategy accordingly.

“When you start applying deep data analytics and predictive modelling to business problems, you can unlock new insights and realise the potential in radically fast timeframes.”