The global issue of crappy telco service.

Before I go off on a rant about the awful history of telco service, I want to state for the record that today I have brilliant, perfect service from Verizon FIOS. I’ve had it now for over three years and have never had a single issue. I’m still very afraid of the quality of service I may get if I have an issue, but so far every single conversation or correspondence I’ve had with Verizon FIOS has been awesome.

But I have to say, my experience with telcos over the past three decades leaves me with a continuing sense of foreboding.

I think I’ve tried just about every option in terms of technology and telecommunications provider in the New York metropolitan area and across the UK, and (not counting my current provider), they have uniformly been stunning in their ability to make seemingly simple things really complex.

Let me give you an example from about a dozen years ago. I had just moved into a new house in the UK, and needed a phone line and internet connection. At the time the best Internet speeds were available on something called ADSL (For some reason they felt the need to use an acronym of Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line). To get ADSL the telecom provider (in the style of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 lets call them AS), needed to schedule an installation.

At the duly appointed time, an engineer knocks on my door to come and install the ADSL connection. He asks me where the cable comes into the house.

Well it turns out he’s just the inside man, and the outside man needs to come first to get the cable to the house before inside man can do his job. So he goes away and schedules outside man. The next day outside man comes along in a van, knocks on my door and asks me where the hole is that he needs to run the cable from to the house.

Well it turns out hole digging man needs to come along and dig a hole before outside man can run the cable. So outside man goes away and schedules a call with hole man.

So the next day inside man comes along again and asks me where the cable is, I explain the situation and he promises to go away and give hole man a call. So the next day hole man comes along in a truck and knocks on my door and asks where the hole should be dug.

Well it turns out that hole man cannot dig a hole until spray can man comes along and marks the right place for him to dig his hole.

So the next day inside man comes along and looking rather sheepish asks me how it’s going. I explain and he goes away and says he will call everyone and get this sorted.

After that things got a little silly, with spray can man (in a larger truck), hole man, outside man and inside man randomly turning up in the wrong order until eventually there is a mark, a hole, a cable and a box installed inside my house. Only to find that a special man is required to solder the connection inside the hole (which is now filled in), so spray can man, hole man, solder man, outside man and inside man all come along once more and do their magic.

Now I have a box inside my house, but it turns out the maximum distance allowed between my box and the exchange has been exceeded by about 5%, so the exchange will not authorize it to be connected at the exchange end and tested.

At this point (several weeks into the operation) I lost my cool and started calling everyone I can think of. Eventually I got through to the office of the chairman of “AS” and they said they would look into it.

The next day a 40 foot 18 wheeler truck turns up outside my house, and the “area engineer” comes in. He calls the exchange and says “why don’t we just connect it up and see if it works”. Well they did connect it up and it did work.

Problem solved, it only took a month and an unbelievable amount of people and resources.

This may seem like an extreme example, but I would suggest from my experience, it’s actually the normal. If you don’t believe me, then try one of the following.

1. Ask Time Warner (NY) to install two cable cards in two TiVo boxes (a service they offer, but no one seems to know how to do)

2. Try and make a change to your AT&T phone service (there are at least a million ways to configure your phone bill)

3. Ask Virgin (UK) to transfer your phone number from one house to another (just tried that one in the UK, they say they can do it, until you try)

It can’t be this hard, but it seems that every single telecoms company in the world has chosen to make it incredibly tortuous to do business with them.

Maybe Verizon FIOS will turn out to be the perfect telco, only time will tell. (68)

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How the hell can every other tech company be so bad at copying Apple?

Twenty years ago, I setup a computer on my breakfast bar. At a time before Wi-Fi this required me to route a cat 5 cable around my house from the location of my ADSL router. It was a bit messy but it worked. And I had an early 10 inch LCD screen above the bar, with a keyboard and mouse. It was great, and set me on a path to make it better.

Since then I’ve tried an amazing number of ways to be able to integrate my computing and my music/movie/internet viewing with my life, and to varying degrees I’ve had some success. Of course my success came with a lot of remote controls, script files, weird cables and lumps of technology sitting in strange places. Along with a plethora of applications to convert video formats and music types.

I’ve always loved to live on the forefront on consumer tech, but anyone else trying to use my setup has had a very hard time. When guests stayed it was almost impossible for them to use the setup without a significant level of training, and on a number of occasions enterprising house guests have assumed the setup wasn’t working and attempted to “rewire” it, causing me days of rework to get it back to life.

But these are the trials and tribulations of an integrated AV setup, and we have all become used to it.

Then along comes Apple and rewrites the entire world of home entertainment.

People complain about itunes, because it can seem a little restrictive (and it is), but there is nothing else in the world like the Apple setup. If you have an apple TV plugged into your TV and hifi, all of a sudden you have the absolutely best integrated home entertainment system in the world.

The glue that pulls all Apple products together into a near perfect home entertainment solution

I actually have 2 apple TV’s, one in the lounge and one in the bedroom, and this lets me watch movies and listen to music pretty much everywhere in my house. It’s incredibly easy. Now add Airplay and you can bounce music and videos from your macs, iPads and iPhones directly to your TV’s. It just works.

Now with Mountain Lion (the latest version of the Macs operating system), I can even show my laptops screen on the TV. Perfect for working at home, or presenting.

Even in a rented a house in the south of France, that just so happens they have an apple TV on their TV. I was able to watch movies from my ipad directly. No setup, no cables, it just worked.

This stuff is brilliant, and very simple. So how comes no other company or consortium has been able to get this very elegant and working idea in their devices.

There are many solutions out there from companies ranging from Roku to Sony that offer little bits of the apple solution, but in comparison they are terrible.

There is no excuse! I know windows 8 promises some of the features apple has today, but unless they seriously fix the X-box’s user interface and limited media compatibility this will be a non-starter. Sony talk about doing something similar with the PS3 as a home hub, but it is nowhere near as simple as Apple today. Again Sony’s pre-occupation with digital media rights and horrible to use user interfaces means they have a very high hill to climb.

Come on consumer tech companies, get out of your own way and bring out something that gives Apple a challenge.

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The secret of the fourth discipline of business

There are four main parts to any business, four simple to describe, yet hard and complex steps that every single business has to undertake to survive and succeed.
It doesn’t matter how big or small an enterprise is, these four key functions must happen.

What are these four magical areas?

Firstly every business must make something, be it bread, airplanes or a massage. A business must create something to be offered for sale.

Next you have to actually have a process for selling that thing that you do, and providing the services needed to keep it sold. Whatever you do you need to sell it to someone else to be able to keep in business? And of course this includes having a process for getting the stuff you do to your customers. And once you have sold something you need to offer some level of support to keep it sold.

And of course the third discipline is getting the money and doing it legally. Accounts, finance and the law are important areas for every business.

And then there is the fourth discipline, marketing.

Marketing is often overlooked when a company starts up, and is either seen as part of the product building or selling disciplines. But the truth is that marketing is as complex and as important as each of the other disciplines. Marketing starts when you build a clear and unique view of what it actually is your business can do for someone else. Once you understand your own value it becomes much easier to tell others about it.

It is amazing to me how few businesses actually understand what their value is. In every hundred businesses I suspect less that five actually can clearly answer these four key questions:

1. What business are you truly in
2. What problem to you solve
3. Who has this particular problem
4. How to they choose to solve that problem

Sounds easy doesn’t it? But the simple truth is that most businesses are not in the business they think they are in (no that’s not a quote from the Princess Bride).

To understand what business you are truly in, think deeply about why your customers buy your product, why you and not your competitor? Why Coke not Pepsi? Why Jet Blue and Not Delta? Why Ford and not Mercedes?

Then think about the reason your employees come to work every day, the reason beyond their salary, think about the reason you are all passionate about what you do.

Then think again about your customers, why they choose to spend money on the thing that you do. If you can clearly articulate your passion and your customer’s desires then you are getting closer.

Great marketers start with this type of thinking and build a simple and compelling understanding of the business they are in, and can effectively answer those four questions. They have a million techniques for doing this of course. But great marketers in great companies know that there is no perfect best practice they can lean upon, they have to build it for their specific business.

Every business is unique, and the clearer a business understands its own uniqueness the better it will be able to compete.

And this where marketing starts, but there is a lot more.

It’s all too easy to spend a fortune with marketing agencies and get nothing of value back. If your company doesn’t understand those key four questions listed above there is a very high chance that you are not marketing well, and are frustrated by the high costs and minimal returns.

But once you have a compelling set of answers to those keys then all of a sudden you understand who to focus on, what to say to get them excited, and you will see you marketing costs fall and your results grow.

Once you have the clearest view of what you do, why and for who, then you can focus on telling all the who’s about what and why.

Marketing is the fourth discipline of every business. If you don’t feel this passion in your business, then I suspect you are not really marketing. Most businesses use the word “marketing” but do not truly have any marketing going on. But just like in any twelve-step program, the first step is to recognize that you have the problem, and then start the process of fixing it.

To be continued …. (129)

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Angry About the “Sandwich”

Sometimes in business the proverbial “shit sandwich” ends up on your plate.  It sucks that it does, but that is reality in the workplace.  When a shitty, no-win project or scenario does end up on your work plate, your options only really include: a. Eat it, b. Starve and look for work at a better restaurant/place,  or c. Send it back to the asshole chef who has the power to cripple and end your career (and then see what happens).

Unless you own your own business you should consider in advance what you’ll do if and when the sandwich comes your way (because it most likely will).   If you anticipate (and/or have already been served) shit sandwiches at your current restaurant and option b. is the most palatable option, I suggest start looking at alternative “restaurants” now (not all places are as bad as most, so reducing your chances of getting the foul meal is at least possible).

Unfortunately the asshole quotient in the management ranks of most organizations has never been higher, despite the great works of Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Stephen Covey and especially Robert Sutton (author of the brilliant book, “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t”), which all speak to how to treat, motivate and empower employees and managers to enable success.

“Secret Santa” gift for your boss?

Many managers are bullies, cowards, political animals, idiots, and/or overall ass-clowns so the recommendation is to be ready, to anticipate if and when those kind of no-win projects/scenarios (aka “shit sandwiches”), are likely to come your way, and to take action BEFORE the waiter comes to your table.

Thanks for listening and have a good lunch-

 

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Whoever loses the November election thinks it will be my fault.

Every day (or so) I receive an email from one of the two main US political parties.

One day it will be President Obama’s team telling me that if I don’t personally give money then the country will regret it. Then the next day its presumptive republican nominee Romney’s team espousing the dire fate of four more years of socialism if I don’t stump up $20 right now. And I have so many “signed photos” of both of them now I could open my own postcard stand.

And I’m really trying to work out why it’s so important for each party to out-fund each other. TV ad’s, bill boards, mailshots, automatic pre-recorded phone calls and the rest of the plethora of todays “so called” political campaigning mix, are absolutely useless.

The only people that pay any attention to them are the talking heads on the cable opinion shows, and people who have already made up their minds.

It’s ideas that win arguments, not overly simplistic, over produced bullshit.

I think the size of their funds, has the same importance in their minds as the size of a car does to an underendowed man.

It’s a simple case of “look everyone, I have a bigger stash of cash, that means everyone thinks I have a huge dong, and thus should be the next president”

If either party were to read my blog, I’d like them to know this:

If you want to convince me that you will be the best next president, then cut the crap, stop focusing on the other guy, and explain simply and practically how you are going to make things better.

We need to be healthy, safe, well educated with an infrastructure that works and minimally taxed. That means we expect you to find creative ways to do all these things without giving away the world to either big business/banks or unionized workforces. Both have their place and they can be great or evil depending on how they work.

We want you to be honest and open, and understand how to work with all of the democratically elected people in government, if you like them or not, that’s not your decision, that is ours!

So stop worrying about the size of your war chest and start to think about the needs of the people who vote.

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