Friday, 15 May 2015

On things changing and staying the same

Mainframe Computer by Dave Winer
I recently spent some time with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather often likes to tell us stories about his past career and this visit was no different.

Previously I have heard about his work in London as an accountant using earlier computer systems, such as those pictured to the left. I don't remember any stand out stories or great surprises from this era, other than how similar it was to my own experience working on a Y2K project more recently.

However, this chapter was more recent and dealing with his time in the small Sussex town they lived in while I was growing up.

I listened to him explain how he had first started to sell personal computers with a business partner and then later to bundle with Sage accounting packages as a reseller- this was when PCs were very much a business tool and before Sage had grown as large as they are now. 

Afterwards it struck me how the two different markets are so different now, large enterprise systems are by and large still massive projects "requiring" special data center setups with expensive consultants. On the other hand if you are buying systems for small to medium enterprises and you have a range of options, from cheap off the shelf computers to turnkey solutions over the internet. I cannot imagine someone selling bespoke systems for general sale. With app stores, open source packaging and delivery over the internet it's not as needed to  rely on a third party to market and sell your software - although arguably that's what app stores do.

I wonder what the next 30 years holds? Will "Enterprise software" still exist? Or will it be like whatever personal computing ends up being in 2045? I am pretty certain - and I'm sure this doesn't make a brilliant fortune teller - that personal computing will be radically different. 

Vaguely related reading



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

on automated and manual experiences

As my running season finishes again, I've been looking at buying the photos of my personal highlights. :ast year I wrote about my experiences in on buying behaviours and usability and this year I have spotted other annoyances and lessons to learn.

Untagged photo search options

This year I started the Brighton Marathon 10km with two other people, so after looking at my photos I went and had a look at theirs. When I did this I noticed that there were some of my that weren't tagged with my bib number.


No problem! I thought, there is a handy search option here. So I entered the both the colour and type of my top and shorts and hit go ... and none of the results that came back contained me (or runners matching the description I had given!).


Luckily I have worked in IT, creating various document and workflow systems, for a number of years; so my eyes spotted a reference number on each indivdual photo - in the example to the right BTK00124.

So my next step was to send off an email via their "Contact us" page containing the references to the missing photos and waited patiently. The next morning I had a very friendly email explaining that I hadn't been tagged as I wasn't "fully shown". The prompt response and my desired outcome meant that my customer experience wasn't impacted too badly.

You don't have to create every feature with code, e.g. tagging any photo with your bib number, but you do need to make this deliberate and easy for people to do. A "tag me in this photo" button would be one improvment, a more general "contact us about this photo" is another that covers more use cases.

Given I like to tie my experiences back to my day job. What can this tell us about travel and passenger communications? For me, it's that automated is both user friendly and useful but sometimes you need to help the users if they need to contact you by alternative methods. So if notifying a passenger of disruption let them know of how they can proceed to change plans using your automated system, or give them the reference numbers and contact details to do so with a human. Making it easy keeps the cutomer experience flowing, while hunting around for who to call etc. can give an impression of poor customer service.