IT and the thinking man
Your editorial, ‘The information toddlers’, (Information Age, September 2003), raises interesting questions about the impact of IT on business and society. Your editorial referred to the degree to which information technology has permeated the fabric of our lives, and although one might debate the percentages, there is no doubt that it is already impossible to discuss the future without including IT, and that IT will steadily become more prevalent.
At the same time, it is important to remember that IT is significant because of its ability to handle, store, analyse and distribute vast quantities of information. While the technology of television and radio is fascinating, it is the programme content that has a greater influence on our lives. Ultimately, it is what information is available to us and what we do with it that will make a resounding difference or not.
I think it is, therefore, very interesting that in parallel with the evolution of IT we have seen an unprecedented rise in business thinkers, futurists and strategists – ably summarised in the resources crib sheet on Management Gurus in the same issue. Amongst other reasons, the guru business exists to improve corporate thinking, supplementing industrial age skills with new information-based ideas. In parallel with revolutionary new technologies, it is influential writers and speakers whose theories help us adjust to the changes in society.
Although successful thinkers have a tremendous influence on business and management thinking, a much greater impact will occur as these ideas more fully permeate our use of information and IT. You can’t have IT without information, and developments in IT won’t have the same impact on business without new ways of thinking. To paraphrase your editorial, IT will become more exciting as ideas from key thinkers are better integrated into our information designs.
Author of Information First – Integrating Knowledge and Information Architecture for Business Advantage
I read your article, ‘Wireless disconnect’ (Information Age, September 2003) with great interest. Operators do certainly seem to be refusing to take the initiative within many areas of the mobile arena, including quality of service (QoS) and SLAs (service-level agreements). This cannot go on in the long term if they want customers to remain loyal. Operators will have to consider SLAs and support issues to expand beyond the consumer market.
A recent Connectivityman survey showed operators being lambasted for their support services – 67% of O2’s customers described it as ‘awful’, with Vodafone and T-Mobile picking up scores for the same category of 53% and 40% respectively. This negative reputation for support must be turned round. It is simple: enterprise users take SLAs as a given for all other service providers, and operators need to provide the same level of quality assurances in the mobile arena.
I recall school dances from my youth where boys and girls were ranged upon different sides of the room, waiting for the music to start – it was always the case that the first to cross the floor ended up with the best-looking partner. It’s no different for operators in the provision of enterprise mobile services, with first mover advantage to be gained from the operator who dares to make the first move with SLAs.
VP of strategic marketing
I am writing in response to your ‘Wireless disconnect’ article (Information Age, September 2003). It is true that none of the mobile operators offer service-level agreements (SLAs) [to corporate customers]. However, these can now be obtained from the ‘private sector’.
There have been several misjudgements along the road to effective wireless communications for employees and customers. Millions of pounds worth of development work was wasted on WAP (wireless application protocol) applications and unnecessarily complex solutions based on specialised hardware with client applications communicating over GPRS (general packet radio service).
Throughout this time, real value has been derived from relatively simple SMS-based (short message service) applications, which require no new hardware or client code. More and more corporate customers are now extending small-scale alerting applications, such as notifying technical staff of system outages, into generalised two-way communications vehicles for everyone who interacts with the corporation from suppliers, to employees, customers and call-centre clients.
A core element of such a solution is an effective end-to-end SLA. At mBlox we can offer such an SLA because, as owners and operators of our own SMS Centre (SMSC) and high-volume inbound messaging platform, we control the entire path of the messages. In the GSM (global system for mobiles) world the SMSC that receives the message is wholly responsible for delivery to the cell base station and hence mobile phone – the message does not hop between multiple operator SMSCs.
An operator balances its SMSCs to handle the 95% plus of the traffic that is phone-to-phone and, therefore, subject to the vagaries of highly uneven loading through the day, taking into account peak periods at the start and end of the school/work day, as well as pub opening and closing times.
At mBlox we run our SMSC exclusively for application traffic such as paid-for content or corporate communications. It is for this reason that we can offer our SLA backed by financial guarantees.
The story is not quite so straightforward for GPRS but over time the industry will have to address these issues as MMS [multimedia message system] applications leave the ‘cute toy’ sector and enter the mainstream.
Thank you for another excellent article in the latest Information Age, (‘An urgent refresh’, Information Age, October 2003). From the work I do with clients who are actively solving these issues, I agree wholeheartedly with your closing paragraph [which states that organisations can avoid IT project failure by selecting proven technology, managing according to best practice and ensuring that spending is aligned with corporate strategy] . Except I think that the sequence is back-to-front.
Reversing the sequence (as follows) makes all the difference and greatly improves people’s chances of success:
Step 1 Make sure any spending is directly aligned with corporate strategy (although integration with strategy, rather than alignment, is best)
Step 2 Manage (this spending) rigorously according to best practice
Step 3 Choose the best technologies (that you can afford) and avoid poorly conceived or speculative technologies or projects.
A major issue glossed over by the outsourcing story (‘Lessons from a distant shore’ (Information Age, September 2003) is the quality of the customer call experience.
While young, motivated, and well-educated Indian workers may be attracted to call centre jobs, this motivation plus a crash course in how to sound British or American does not guarantee a quality customer experience. A recent survey of UK consumers by researcher Performance House found that 41% of respondents who knew they had dealt with an offshore call centre described the service as worse than when dealing with a UK call centre. Furthermore, two-thirds of respondents said that the use of offshore call centres would have an impact on their choice of company.
There’s no point offering your customers a telephone service that, due to the way you provide it, annoys your customers or even stops them calling. While cheap offshore call centres are attractive to cut costs, why would you outsource to cheaper nations like India – and risk compromising the quality of the customer experience, potentially damaging customer revenues – when cost-effective call centre technology solutions are available here in the UK?
Speech recognition has proved an effective tool to assist call centre operations to reduce cost by handling tasks alongside human operators, while maintaining exacting quality, erasing waiting times and handling calls faster. Freeview’s speech recognition telephone information line is a perfect example – it has handled more than a million calls at a comparable cost to outsourcing to the very cheapest labour market – while maintaining superior standards of service. Other examples include Lloyds TSB’s PhoneBank Express service and the Electra service for Virgin Trains.
That’s not to say call automation (including speech recognition) doesn’t face its own perception issues if not undertaken in the right way by an experienced team, but the key advantage that automation has over cutting salary bills is that its cost savings are less likely to be eroded over time and it’s much more scalable.
And let’s face it – exploiting discontinuities in the global price of labour is probably not sustainable in the long term. Before even considering the risk posed by the political instability of these countries, companies need to decide when offshore outsourcing becomes unsustainable. Labour-based manufacturing operations for shoe and clothing manufacturers in poor nations are despised, so why should cheap outsourced call centres in similar countries be viewed any differently?
I read with interest your article, ‘Beating the blackout’ (Information Age, September 2003), which highlighted that it was mostly small and medium-sized businesses that were affected by London’s blackouts a few weeks back. Blackouts are one thing – but many smaller organisations are still not addressing much more commonplace day-to-day threats to their business. Such issues need to be addressed if the UK is to minimise business loss and avoid unnecessary business failure.
More commonplace problems, such as train strikes, floods and Internet viruses are occurring with increasing frequency, yet they are viewed by the majority of businesses as ‘acts of God’ – totally un-foreseeable with effects that cannot be influenced. This is a naïve attitude, totally inappropriate and unnecessary in the 21st century economy.
Despite recent events, awareness of business continuity remains low, especially in the SME arena. Why do banks or Business Links not discuss such risks with new business customers at every opportunity? They discuss tax, liabilities and insurance but business continuity is obviously deemed not an important issue.
Blackouts may have become the ‘new’ high-profile risk, but we still don’t seem to be seeing the bigger picture – without business continuity planning, British commerce will always be at risk.
Business Continuity, The Risk Management Expo