Dell and their cost base

Some jitters amongst the Celtic Tiger cubs this week as a number of hi-tech firms trimmed back the tent a little here. In net terms, it is no real issue as there is a skills shortage in the types of job that have been pruned.

One organisation rumoured to be looking at pruning their Irish operations is Dell. As I type this I’ve been on the phone to Dell (both Tech support and Customer Service) for 90 minutes.

Dell Tech Support (hi Lucy – if you are reading this) were brilliant. Issue couldn’t be resolved without internet access or a boot CD (neither of which I remembered to pack this morning) but a call back for Wednesday has been arranged. I suspect that this call will happen as promised.

Dell Customer Service was a different story. Transferred in from Tech support… explained issue (wrong graphics card installed in the laptop) for 10 minutes to be told that I need to contact Tech support. Explained that I had been transferred from there. Was told that I was through to the pre-sales/pre-delivery customer service team and I needed to get on to the post-deliver Customer service team. Nice Indian lady transferred me. Was on hold for 10 minutes. Call eventually answered… by the Indian lady who had originally transferred me. When I gave my customer reference number the call ‘mysteriously’ dropped.

In fairness, I was phoned back a few minutes later with an apology for dropping the call and was transferred through to the right department – after another 15 minutes on hold. They dealt with my no-brain query very efficiently – new graphics card to be sent out to me, and could I install it myself? Could I b*ggery (despite my experience and qualifications in techie things the lawyer lizard hind brain told me that self-install was the path to invalid warranty). So a technician is being dispatched to install the card. Hopefully the technician will arrive after the card and before I toddle off on a long weekend break with the missus.

So, here’s a suggestion for Michael Dell and his team to help address their cost issues and resource issues that analysts are pointing to:

  1. Build quality in. Make sure that products shipped match the order. That will reduce the instances of calls into Customer Service/Tech support. Have a QA checker check the order against the manfactured good to make sure that no errors exist. This avoids having the CUSTOMER do it for you when the product arrives and would reduce the number of calls to yoru Customer Support line.
  2. Break down barriers – why the (d)hell do you need two categories of Customer Service team? Wizard based work flow etc. would allow staff to be equally competent across both your presales and post sales Customer Service. This would reduce the numbers of staff you would need as your Call Centre could be truly blended.
  3. Invest in training. CSRs should never have to tell a customer that they “haven’t been trained in that”. Either through on-going training and/or wizard based Knowledge management the CSR should have the skill to address the issue
  4. Address Information qualtiy issues – my Dell order has TWO order numbers. This caused unnecessary confusion with the Customer Support people. It is probably the root cause for the error in the build.
  5. Analyse common causes of tech support or Customer Service calls. The impression I got today was that there are a lot of issues with Roxio Software running on Vista. Perhaps a test of software that will be bundled with laptops is in order so only software that works with the OS is shipped – again reducing likelihood of calls to Customer Support/Tech Support in the first month.

Toyota is rapidly overtaking General Motors by following these type of quality principles. Far from being a fad, management of quality and management of information quality is just a bloody good way to run your business. While GM are shutting factories, Toyota are opening more.

Go figure.

Dell – don’t do the easy number cuts… tackle the real issues of quality.

####A slight aside###
During the course of the call I was asked if I’d like to install the replacement graphics card myself. Here’s an idea for Dell. Sack your assembly people. All of them. Send the customer a box full of components and a nice user friendly assembly guide, like you get with furniture from Argos. That would reduce head-count and would put the onus for quality of assembly on the customer. Of course, it would induce people to go and buy Acer or Apple instead, but them’s the breaks.

Windows Vista and my new Dell – some thoughts

Blogging this in some frustration.

Ordered a new Dell a few weeks back because my previous “Aldi-Special” (a ‘Gericom’ brand) had died.

As I was going to be sticking the new purchase on the never-never (finance) I decided to pimp my ride a bit and ordered the best spec I could get for the price I’d paid 2 years ago for the venerable Aldi-special. Ever the bastion of customer choice, Dell gave me the option to have either Windows Vista or Windows VISTA, depending on what typeface I preferred.

Spec I ordered was 2.0ghz dual core centrino processor, 2ghz ram, 256mb graphics and a hard-drive the size of Wyoming. After some kerfuffle with Dell’s systems losing my order somewhere on its way to Finance, the paperwork was processed and the machine shipped.

First problem – the courier who was delivering the goods point to point decided that, as I wasn’t in, he’d deliver the €1000+ of computer to a neighbour. I wouldn’t have minded that except I had specifically told him NOT to do that as I wanted to inspect the goods when they arrived so I could be sure that there was no problems or anything missing. Courier obviously felt that doing the job he was being paid to do (ensuring that the purchaser of the expensive things actually got them) was too much hassle and dumped them on a neighbour. I found out the next day (a Friday), when after sitting in for the morning I rang the courier to see when he would (as per my instructions) deliver the goods to me.

Suffice it to say that I was unimpressed.

Laptop seemed to be working fine for the first few days. Vista is beautiful to work with, in my opinion. But you do need the extra oomph of a good processor and ram and a top notch video card with a chunk of V-Ram (more on that in a mo). I used it last week for a presentation in Dublin – worked fine. Due to commuting it stayed home untouched for most of this week however.

One thing however niggled almost from Day 1… Roxio software that Dell bundled with the laptop contain a driver (which I assume is a CD rom driver) that Vista blocks as it might make the machine unstable. No driver updates nor patches can be found, even though it seems that a similar driver issue affected Inspiron laptops under XP prior to Christmas.

Another thing that niggles now is that there appears to be an on-board music critic who decided that my taste in blues/jazz/funk was not suited to this laptop and has managed to switch off the ability of the DVD drive to read any CD media – even the CDROM driver disk that came shipped with the laptop. This kicked in yesterday midway through a listen to a Jools Holland CD my wife got me for my birthday. Also spurned are The Blues Brothers (cheesy but good), Clapton, and Rory Gallagher.

I decided to go on a trawl of the system to identify where the music critic resided. I uninstalled the DVD drive drivers and rebooted the system (to see if that would evict The Critic). No joy. As my machine rebooted for the second cycle of uninstall/reinstall I noticed that the BIOS was registering my Video RAM at 128MB… “hang on a minute”, said me as I reached for my copy of the order specification attached to my finance agreement, “I ordered 256MB Ram”.

Now the installed video Ram is not easy to identify by a physical inspection of the machine. Indeed, unless you actually specifically go looking to find the details under the Display Settings of Vista then you’ll never know if you have 128MB or 256MB – not unless you notice a really severe hang on your machine. Certainly it is not something that the technically unaware would automatically think of checking straight away.

Annnnnnyyyyyhhhhhooooooo…… now I had 3 issues with Dell.

  1. Roxio Drivers not working under Vista (as an Information Quality aside, the error message doesn’t refer to Roxio but to Sonic Systems, who it turns out own Roxio)
  2. DVD no readie de CD – (perhaps this is related to 1 above?)
  3. The sloppy f*ckers hadn’t built my machine to the spec I’d ordered and I probably would never have noticed if the other stuff hadn’t started going wrong

So today (a Saturday) I tried to use Dell’s on-line Customer Service (because their Consumer Call centre doesn’t work Saturdays.. Why not?). Apparently Dell’s email process into Customer Service doesn’t work on Saturdays either. Nor does the email process to Technical support. Apparently their email system is unavailable. Also Dell’s support doesn’t have VISTA listed as an Operating System on their drop down list… so how do I get support for VISTA?

Maybe they have a Literary Critic installed who has tired of reading cranky missives in poorly phrased English?

To summarise:

  1. The Courier failed to meet expectation as he didn’t follow instructions and did not provide me with information as to what he had done with my goods. Given that the evidence of delivery is the signature he captured I could have been left in an awkward position. Couriers are used to ensure delivery to the correct address and person, particularly where the goods are valuable. Otherwise, we’d all just use the post, which is very reliable.
  2. Vista meets expectation – it looks good but has some issues. Hopefully these will shake out as the adoption rate increases
  3. Roxio’s software does not WORK under Vista. Dell should have tested it before bundling it and if there was an issue under XP they should have made sure a patch was available that works under VISTA (the XP patch can’t be installed as it doesn’t recognise Vista as an OS).
  4. The product delivered to me does not meet expectation – Dell’s post-build quality control obviously didn’t catch that the Graphics card installed is not the Graphics Card ordered. Why?

Of course, I’d tell them that if their email systems were available.

The brother bought a laptop in Lidl yesterday morning. It has exactly what was on the specification sheet. It differs only slightly in terms of RAM and CPU speed from mine. It was nearly half the price of mine (it uses an AMD processor, I have an Intel). The brother’s laptop has met, if not exceeded his expectations. I’m left fuming on a Saturday because mine falls short of my expectations.

Lidl or Dell – who has better Quality when it comes to laptops?

Information Quality in the news

The gang over at Tuppenceworth have done some crude but somewhat scientific study of the quality of information being presented by Irish print media. The basic hypothesis (rephrased somewhat to Information Quality terms) is that purchasers of newspapers have an expectation that the stories presented will be properly researched pieces of journalism and not advertorial, infotainment or just plain rehashing of press-releases from vested interests and newspapers should meet that expectation.

The findings are disturbing in that the percentage of actual ‘real’ journalism would seem to be a lot less than one might expect, as this graphic of the content in the Sunday Independent shows… http://www.flickr.com/photos/editor_tupp/298828264/

So what does this mean? If quality information is defined as information which meets or exceeds the expectations of information consumers, and if the expectation we have of our print news papers is to… well print news… and to find out the things that we need to know rather than, as it would appear, to bury real news in wrappers of advertorial or ‘reports on reports’ that fail to ask incisive but obvious questions then that expectation is not being met.

If, however, your expectation is for substantial opinion pieces masquerading as reportage then the statistics suggest that your expectation is being met in spades.

For example, why have no Irish newspapers followed up on the link between the State Claims Agency/HSE report on medical errors and the shocking cases of unnecessary surgery that popped into the media just a few weeks before hand? This is an easy link to make, easy to communicate and doubtless a mine of stories. And the costs of non-quality to the Irish Healthcare system are potentially immense, which makes it a political story in the run up to a Budget and a General Election. Did they bother… if they did, could someone send me the clipping because it passed me by.

Also, why, given that the Electoral Register issue is still trundling along have none of the journos that I sent information to during the summer thought of contacting me or the Association I represent looking for a different angle? The clean up currently underway isn’t actually fixing the problems, it is simply treating the symptom. I’m blue in the fingertips writing on that particular topic, but previous posts can be found in the archives

I hope that the boys and girls over at Tuppenceworth take stock over Christmas and refine their methodology to be a bit more scientific and objective. I’d welcome the chance to assist them in that review, including steps to increase the statistical ‘soundness’ of the assessment. This is valuable research that should be the subject of media coverage somewhere. So far the nearest thing to coverage that it has received is this from the Irish Independent. Apparently if the message isn’t worth listening to you should try to attack the credibilty of the medium if not the messenger.

Ironic given that it is the credibility of the print media that has been called into question.

ka-BOOM – the Information Age Explosion is upon us.

CNN.com has an interesting report on a study that was conducted by IDC, an industry think tank and research company, into the volume of information that we are creating and storing – and more importantly who is creating that information.

IDC estimates that the world had 185 exabytes of storage available last year and will have 601 exabytes in 2010. But the amount of stuff generated is expected to jump from 161 exabytes last year to 988 exabytes (closing in on 1 zettabyte) in 2010.

IDC estimates that by 2010, about 70 percent of the world’s digital data will be created by individuals. For corporations, information is inflating from such disparate causes as surveillance cameras and data-retention regulations.

The growth in ‘long tail’ activities like blogging and YouTube are contributors to this. Explosions can wind up as one of two things – an impressively awe inspiring fireworks display of elegance and beauty… or a shock and awe filled detonation. The fact that this explosion of information is being driven by individuals raises a significant risk that as the quantity increases the quality decreases. We are seeing elements of this risk in the recent story about the Wikipedia expert who was making it up as he went along and had lied about his credentials.

However, this issue of alleged experts with either non-existent qualifications or qualifications which may not be what they appear to be is not restricted to just the Internet – it is an off-line issue too. We really can’t ignore the Diploma mills churning out PhDs who might not have the level of skills one might expect from the title.

What can Information Quality professionals and Bloggers do to help maintain quality levels and keep collateral damage from this explosion to a minimum?

  • When blogging, first do no harm. Make sure you verify sources for your stories as much as you can and respond to any comments that report errors or innacurracies in your posts – in short act with the sort of standards we would expect from journalists (although which we might not always get)
  • Try and develop an understanding of good practices in terms of structuring your content (categories in WordPress are metadata for example)
  • As Microsoft said in a recent advertising campaign here in Ireland – “Information that cant be found is information that can’t be used”. Quality of information includes the quality of how that information is presented – designing your sites so they are accessible to people with visual problems is a good practice. Likewise having a logical structure on your site and your content is also important.

Reading the figures that IDC have produced (which incidentally used some proprietary internal research so might not be capable of being replicated in an independent study) makes me think of the advice that Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben gives him in the first Spiderman Movie… “With great power comes great responsibility”.

WordPress, Youtube, Wikipedia and similar tools have placed a great power in the hands of the wired individual. However just because it is on the web (no poor pun intended) it does not mean that the rules of the real world have switched off. Under the Common Law Tort of Negligent Misstatement there is a duty of care on all people who are providing information to ensure that that information is correct. Admittedly to succeed in suing someone for negligent misstatement you need to show that your reliance on the information and any loss you incur were reasonably foreseeable and that the person publishing the information owed a duty of care to you specifically (are you their ‘neighbour’ in a legal sense? Are you a class of person that the publisher of the information should have considered might be a consumer of their information?).

With great power comes great responsibilty. Dr Ben Goldacre, a columnist with the Guardian Newspaper in the UK, who’s article about questionable qualifications I’ve linked to above, ends that particular article in a very eloquent way that sums up why we need to ensure that we maintain quality standards as the volume of information available grows. I unashamedly pinch it because it is very good – I’ve just added some emphasis (please read the full article to put this in its original context)…

“I am writing this article, sneakily, late, at the back of the room, in the Royal College of Physicians, at a conference discussing how to free up access to medical academic knowledge for the public. At the front, as I type, Sir Muir Gray, director of the NHS National Electronic Library For Health, is speaking: “Ignorance is like cholera,” he says. “It cannot be controlled by the individual alone: it requires the organised efforts of society.” He’s right: in the 19th and 20th centuries, we made huge advances through the provision of clean, clear water; and in the 21st century, clean, clear information will produce those same advances.

Blog wisely. Blog well.

Biometric passports… secure or not?

Also on the Register this morning is a worrisome story where the Daily Mail has done an experiment to see just how secure UK biometric passports are.

Short answer – not very really. For a start the data on the card can be read wirelessly, but requires a decryption key to read it.

It seems that the encryption key used to encrypt the biometric chip data is not exactly rocket science to break being made up of the passport number, the holder’s date of birth and the passport expiry date.

So let’s say my new passport number is XYZ1234, my date of birth is 1977-12-12. Both these pieces of information are available on the passport itself, so if someone has your passport in front of you they can recreate the key without any difficulty.

Even if they have only scanned your chip (sounds naughty doesn’t it), passport hackers (in the UK at least) have enough clues on the envelope itself to get them some of the way. The one key piece of info that requires effort is the date of birth. So down the Central Registry office with us to get info on that (or google the person to see if they have a Bebo profile of have put info about their birthday on the web anywhere).

The passport office identifier is on the mailing label and the passport expiry date will usually be within 10 years of the post mark on the envelope. Please note – the envelope has not been opened yet.

Ahhh says you… “but the hacker will still have to get those facts in the right order to break the code. Even my ATM only lets me try 3 times. This technology is surely more secure than that”.

Me arse. It seems that Harry the Hacker can keep going until he cracks the code and gets all your details (including photo and other bio-facts) from the chip.

So, how secure is the Irish system? Do our new biometric passports have a similar vunverability. In my clippings from the Irish Time at home I have a front-page photo of our Minister for Foreign Affairs holding up his new biometric passport when they were launched last year. Clearly visible is his passport number.

So one piece of data down. His date of birth is pretty easily accessible (www.fiannafail.ie narrows it down for us) and we know that biometric passports came into effect in Ireland in 2006. All I need is a bit of cheap kit and a scanner to steal his passport without touching his pockets.

Sweet.

Crazy yanks

Found this initially in Metro free newspaper and also on The Register.

This man is clearly somewhat paranoid about ‘the man’ being able to recover data from his hard-drive. However, as pointed out by the Reg, the misguided belief that deleting any files on your computer removes them from existence is just plain wrong.

In the past I worked as a LAN admin and occasionally we had to replace old PCs with newer models. The standard operating procedure for ensuring that data on the hard-drives could not be recovered did not involve deleting anything or even a format of the drive. No, we used a nailgun. Two nails into the drive meant it was unusable. Four was overkill but fun.

The fact that HP, who own Compaq who sold the drive encryption software this gentleman used, seem to have settled tells me either two things:

  1. Either Compaq’s software was not as robust as its marketing claimed
  2. HP’s lawyers decided it was too expensive to litigate and just cut a cheque in full settlement – it is interesting that HP do not appear to have admitted liability

Why would HP have settled? Perhaps the means by which authorities can circumvent their software represents a proprietary secret that would be come public record if aired in court. Imagine the fun hackers would have if they knew exactly how to get around drive-based security on your machine.

For the record – this is person sold modified weapons that caused even American eye-brows to raise (a rifle with a silencer – so you don’t wake Bambi while taking out his mother obviously).

An idea pinched from Tuppenceworth

Tuppenceworth have started doing ‘Tag Clouds’ to visualise the frequency of words etc in political manifestos and speeches in the run up to the Irish General Election.

Ho-hum I thought… wouldn’t it be interesting to do the same on the emerging commercial Information Quality Blogs (and perhaps other commentary in the area – it works on any text) to see what sort of themes emerge in the tags (ie commonly occuring words). The bigger the font the more frequent the occurence. I’m making no inferences based on the ‘cloud’ – I’ll leave that up to you. This one is based on a post by Garry Moroney of Informatica on their blog site.

created at TagCrowd.com

Side effects of the Blog Awards?

It would seem that the IT thought police in my employer were paying attention to the Blog awards. For a long time our web filters only blocked tools like blogger.com and typepad. Sites like Tuppenceworth who operated their blog on their own domain (like the DoBlog too) flew beneath the radar.

Not any longer.

As of today I’ve noticed that the venerable Tuppenceworth has been blocked, as have all incarnations of Twenty Major. It is possible that it is just a co-incidence that this has happened a week after the Irish Blog Awards, but I’m far to cynical to think that. I’m donning the TinFoil Hat of Conspiracy as I suspect that the media profile given to some of the former ‘stealth blogs’ in the run up to the Blog Awards may have alerted some policy makers to the fact that there’s more than one way to blog.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep updating the DoBlog and the IQNetwork site after hours from the office. Failing that I’ll just have to trawl for some wireless broadband connectivity.

In the mean time…

###Updated###
Tupp’worth isn’t blocked anymore… looks like a random burp from the web filters. Twenty is still barred though, more’s the pity.

Count down to an Information Quality clash?

Daylight Savings time starts in the US on the 11th of March – that’s next week. DST doesn’t start in Ireland or the UK until the 25th of March. The US change comes about under an Energy Protection Act passed last year.

Microsoft are warning people in the US that their PCs won’t automatically update (not that mine ever did) and are assuring people that VISTA already handles it.

So what will happen if your PC has the incorrect locale settings (data)? Will that have triggered it to download the various patches for Windows and Outlook? Have European firms checked that they have no dependencies on US daylight savings time in other software or calculations?

I’m probably fretting over nothing but seemingly innocuous base data can, if not managed correctly, have a big impact on business processes and on people’s lives.

My advice – check your locale settings even if you’re using a Mac.

Back again… and with a new face too.

The DoBlog is back again, and in the style of Bond villains it has another new face. The old one was functional-ish and quite search engine friendly but it was a tad bland and ugly and didn’t wrap text very well. Frankly I put my failure to be nominated for any of the Irish Blog Awards down to the poor design 😉 . Next year I am hoping to wrestle TwentyMajor for a 2 litre bottle of Um-Bongo – well done to Twenty for winning again.

I’ve been busy with the IQNETWORK website (www.iqnetwork.org) getting it bang up to date and also running the 4th Information Quality Forum in DCU. I’m also lecturing in DCU as well, so I have very little time for this blog which is still more of a hobby than a way of life.

Must also try and find time to get back into training with the Aikido club…. (sorry Sensei).

So much to do… must set up a category for ‘time management’….