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Archive for June, 2012

MALL MADNESS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 8, 2012

– Are they designed for men or women (or both?)

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I went to the local mall recently to look for a gift. It has probably been over ten years since I last visited a mall as I have learned to find merchandise at specialty stores and on the Internet. I generally do not do well with crowds of unthinking clods at the mall. Maybe it is because I suffer from a claustrophobic image of being entrapped by gangs of carnies. Whatever it is, I discovered nothing has really changed in this regard.

The mall I visited apparently underwent some major remodeling and it looked a lot cleaner and sharper than as I remembered it, at least on the inside. The outside was still a death trap for parking. People still circle like barracudas looking for the ideal spot which, at minimum, is at least 50 yards from the front door. Whenever a parking space opens, the race is on to fill it. Regardless what the shop owners in the mall tell you, the front rows of cars closest to the door, are all reserved for the employees who arrive early to claim them. The security guard in the recycled golf cart who circles the parking lot aimlessly is charged with making sure customers are miserable before they enter the mall. As unpleasant as it is outside, it is much nicer inside, thereby encouraging people to stay longer and spend more money.

I suspect malls are more suited for women as evidenced by females outnumbering men by as much as 3:1. Most men do not really want to be there unless they absolutely have to. I believe they are there more to lend moral support to their spouses as opposed to do any substantial shopping. When they become bored, the men are sequestered to a “time out” area where benches and chairs are provided so they can either stare blankly into space or at the skirts walking by.

I have also noticed women tend to dress better going into a mall as opposed to other retail stores. There seems to be more makeup, the hair is better coifed, and they generally look more alluring. This may be caused by many young girls growing up in the mall, with tight fitting and suggestive clothing used to attract the male of the species, all plugged into their cell phones talking incessantly to their best friend who is walking but a few feet away from them. Anthropologists find this fascinating, as do I.

Women probably enjoy malls more than men. After all, they are designed primarily around them. Whereas men tend to become more reclusive in a mall, women flourish. As a friend of mine recently observed, “Women go to the mall to shop, men go there to purchase a specific item; there’s a big difference.”

Women go to shop for upcoming birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, or to cash in on special discounts and sales, something they are constantly on the prowl for. While women find happiness in stores like Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Dillard’s, men find solace in the hardware department at Sears where they check out the latest in ratchet sets and lawn mowers. However, they do try to keep an eye open when they pass the Victoria’s Secret store.

There is considerable flash and mirrors in the stores themselves aimed at creating a mystique to trigger the purchasing gene, particularly in the big anchor stores. The flotsam and jetsam is so pervasive, it is difficult to walk around a store, or escape from it for that matter. There’s so much overhead, no wonder a simple $5 blouse sells for $90. There isn’t anything particularly special about the design or the material used, as much as it is necessary to cover the expenses of the store decor. The retailers could probably save consumers a lot of money with a simpler layout, but that would negate the purchasing gene.

The retail clerks are very cooperative and hospitable, if you can understand the language they are speaking. They spend a lot of time keeping their area neat and clean, but I’ve learned you do not dare ask for their advice on sizes or color matching. As bad as I am with such estimates, they are worse (and usually more expensive).

There is a wide variety of stores in the mall, all offering products at exorbitant prices. I don’t think anybody truly goes there to save a buck. It’s intended to be more of a recreational outing like what you experience at an amusement park, where you stay all day.

Food courts have replaced most of the restaurants at malls. The food isn’t really any better, or cheaper, but they are designed to encourage the consumer to spend less time eating and more time shopping. According to a 2003 report of Mall Shopping Patterns by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the average shopper is making fewer visits to the mall, but is staying longer (in excess of 90 minutes), and spending averages over $75 per person, with women easily outspending men.

None of this should come as a surprise as retailers and mall designers have figured us out a long time ago, perhaps too well. The original concept of the mall was to provide consumers with a one-stop destination thereby affording convenience. Now, as the malls have grown to mega proportions, they have replaced convenience with an all-day shopping experience under the guise of entertainment.

I think it will probably be another ten years until I visit the mall again. I’ll take the Internet over entertainment any day of the week, plus save a lot of money to boot.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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EULOGY FOR A FRIEND – Writing it is one thing, deliverying it is something else.

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SYSTEM START-UPS: A HOSPITAL DRAMA

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 6, 2012

– A lesson in how NOT to install a system.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

As a systems man with over thirty years of experience, I always enjoy hearing embarrassing snafus costing millions of dollars. It is like reading a mystery thriller to discover “whodunit.” In the systems field it is typically a matter of bad planning, bad designs, lack of documentation, and poor project management resulting in overruns and slipped schedules; it can also be caused when the system implementation (aka, “start-up”) backfires. As to the latter, a doctor friend of mine recently told me about his experience with a new system at a local hospital. You may remember me briefly discussing this earlier, “Turning Everyone Into Data Entry Clerks.” It’s been three months since then, and my doctor friend brought me up to date regarding the massive system, which was used to accommodate all of the administrative needs of a hospital and intended to satisfy government requirements for managing patient records. Not surprising, the system appears to be designed more for the needs of bureaucrats as opposed to medical workers.

The system is a comprehensive soup-to-nuts approach for hospital administration. It is a “packaged solution” which means you are buying into another person’s interpretation of the problem which may or may not be the same as yours. Nonetheless, the system has been installed in other hospitals and tweaked to suit their particular nuances. It is a PC based client/server system and although it can be accessed remotely, it is not done so through a web browser. There is, of course, a login and password procedure which dictates access privileges, thereby prohibiting people from unauthorized use of the system.

There were two approaches for implementing the system, either phased in as a series of stages, or all at once. For some unknown reason, the hospital opted to use the brute force approach and ram it all in on a single start-up date in February. I believe the date will best be remembered as “bedlam” and it is interesting to see what went right and what went wrong.

Prior to the installation, there was a massive amount of training required to use the system. Some doctors and nurses took the training seriously, but others checked in and out of the classroom simply to get the credit. Regardless of how well the students studied, everybody experienced different levels of confusion as the system started up. Although is is very sophisticated in terms of its capabilities, the system is not intuitive to use and was obviously programmed more from a technician’s perspective as opposed to a medical worker. For example, there were no design standards implemented which are normally intended to simplify the “look and feel” of the system thereby making it easier to learn and use.

To assist in the initial start-up, a team of 100 geeks were stationed in a meeting room for two weeks where it came to resemble “Mission Control” in Houston. During start-up, it wasn’t uncommon to see 15 geeks at a time in front of a computer screen with a blank perplexed look about them. They neither exuded confidence about the system or communicated well with the medical staff.

Physicians and nurses complained about the rudimentary nature of the training. For example, there was no “hands-on” training whatsoever, nor was there any documentation such as manuals, reference cards, or even Help text. The system made extensive use of keywords, but unfortunately there was no reference materials to look up the proper codes which, again, were not intuitive. For example, instead of “Admit” (a patient), the proper keyword was “Register As” (???).

Even the most well trained medical personnel stumbled through system start-up. Not surprising, three months later, many are still learning it. So much so, nurses are spending more time on computers and substantially less time treating patients. According to my doctor friend, whereas it used to take him three hours to visit and treat twelve patients, under the new system, it now takes him nine hours to perform the same task. This is obviously a quantum leap backwards in terms of productivity. There was also a computer crash one night causing doctors to revert back to paper charts as opposed to waiting for the system. The harsh reality is that all of the medical providers are being held hostage to the system, thereby causing a significant decline in patient care.

Despite all of this, management appears to be satisfied with the system which is somewhat typical for companies and systems of this size. This is probably because they are not intimate with how the system works and how the medical staff likes the system. A simple survey of user satisfaction may prove enlightening to management.

Basically, the vendor botched the training and implementation of the system thereby nearly grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. So what could they have done better; what were the lessons learned from this experience?

First, the system should have been designed according to industry standards, not just the whims and peculiarities of the vendor, thereby making it easier to learn and use, not to mention more intuitive. For example, if the F1 key is the generally accepted standard to access Help text, provide an F1 Help key. If people understand “copy” and “paste” from a clipboard, be sure to give it to them.

Second, design the system with the end user in mind, not the programmer who will only do what is technically elegant as opposed to practical. To do so, involve the end user DURING design, not afterwards when it is too late and costly to make corrections. Designers should worry more about ergonomics and less about the technical details of the computer. Just remember, an elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing.

Third, provide suitable documentation, something the end user will comprehend and find useful, not some technical mumbo-jumbo. A user manual with overviews, step-by-step instructions, task lists, examples, and indices are extremely useful. Better yet, provide it all online in the form of Help text. In other words, have the answers for all of their questions at their fingertips.

Some would say the problems experienced with this system are unique to the medical community. This is simply not so, as you can find system snafus like this in any field. The medical community certainly doesn’t hold a monopoly over such problems.

As I said, I have loved reading about system snafus over the years. Interestingly, the system start-up problems being experienced in the 21st century are no different than those experienced in the 20th. However, you would think we would have learned a thing or two over the years. Evidently we haven’t.

P.S. – See my paper, “Evaluating Purchased Packages,” for selection guidelines.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


NEXT UP: 
MALL MADNESS – Are they designed for men or women (or both?)

Posted in Management, Systems | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

JUST SAY ‘NO’…TO BUSINESS?

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 4, 2012

– Is the customer always right?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Although vendors will generally work overtime to satisfy the wants and needs of a customer, sometimes it is more important to maintain one’s dignity as opposed to allowing the customer to walk all over you. I have seen many situations in sales and customer service where the client relentlessly pushes for the lowest prices and/or maximum benefits, just to earn brownie points with his management. He is not so much concerned with doing business with a particular vendor as much as he wants to look good in the eyes of his boss.

There are many danger signs to look for in bad business relationships, lying, cheating, and verbal abuse are but a few. Another telltale sign is when a customer asks for copies of the contracts between your two firms. This means two things: first, they’re screwed up administratively, but more importantly, you are about to be cancelled and replaced as a vendor.

One of Bryce’s Laws states, “The only good business relationship is where both parties benefit.” If one party wins at the expense of the other, then you have an unhealthy business relationship which is doomed from the beginning. To prevent such a situation from arising, it is sometimes necessary to just say “No” to the other party. They may not like it, and it might cost you money, but by saying “No”, you are defending the integrity of your business and yourself.

To illustrate, years ago we were asked to give a sales presentation to a well known Fortune 100 company in Dallas, Texas. At the time we were marketing a proprietary methodology for the design of information systems. To maintain the confidentiality of the product, it was necessary for customers to sign a non-disclosure agreement, even in sales situations. We informed the company in Dallas about this stipulation in advance and they agreed to it. We then booked a flight to Texas and arrived at the company to conduct the presentation. There were ten people scheduled for the meeting who greeted us cordially. As we were setting up for the presentation, we distributed the non-disclosure agreements for signing by the attendees. It was at this moment, the senior manager announced nobody from his organization would be signing the non-disclosures but we should proceed with the sales presentation anyway. When we protested we could not conduct the presentation without the signed non-disclosures, they adamantly refused.

This was obviously a situation where the corporate giant was trying to bully the small business. From their perspective, they believed we needed their business more than they needed us. We explained that due to the proprietary nature of our trade secret, we had to take precautions to protect it. Frankly, they didn’t care and called our bluff. Without batting an eye, we thanked them for their time, packed up our materials, and left the premises before showing them anything. One of the Texans followed us out into the parking late, apologized for the snafu, and begged us to come back. We said very matter-of-factly and professionally, we could not, thanked him for his time and departed. From our perspective, it was a wasted trip and even though we were not rash or disrespectful, we felt mistreated by the company. Nonetheless, our dignity and integrity remained intact, not to mention the confidentiality of our product. Interestingly, the Dallas company was still interested in our product as they heard many good things about it from our customers. They subsequently called us many times imploring another chance for a sales presentation, even at their expense, but we respectfully declined their offer. Remarkably, they ended up buying our product sight-unseen, our only customer ever to do so. They did this because they knew the reputation of both our product and the company. They may have been much larger than us, but they respected our integrity.

From a marketing perspective, we like to believe “the customer is always right.” In reality though, this is simply not true, as the customer may have a different perspective than your own. As vendor, it is your responsibility to be honest and upfront with your client, do not compromise your principles, be tactful and professional, and never be afraid to say “No.” One “No” can be more valuable than 100 “Yeses” if told at the right moment.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


NEXT UP: 
SYSTEM START-UPS: A HOSPITAL DRAMA – A lesson in how NOT to install a system.

Posted in Business, Management | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

VOTER IDENTITY CARDS, WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 1, 2012

– Ever stop and consider the role identification plays in our lives?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

I guess I am one of those citizens who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is regarding voter identification cards. For as long as I can remember, I have always had such a card and cannot imagine voting without it. I certainly do not want someone else to vote on my behalf and I would hope election officials would verify all of the voters are eligible to do so. Besides, why should voting be any different than all of the other things we do requiring proper identification, for example:

* To operate an automobile.
* To register a vehicle.
* To open a bank account.
* To purchase or lease a house, condo, or apartment.
* To obtain a loan for a mortgage, car or anything else of substance.
* To start a job (needed for government reporting requirements).
* To apply for government aid or benefits, such as unemployment, social security, etc.
* To play or coach an organized sport, such as Little League.
* To be an adult leader in a Boy/Girl Scout Troop.
* To enter the military.
* To board an airplane or ship.
* To visit a foreign country.
* To purchase a gun.
* To make an in-store purchase using a check.
* To purchase alcohol.
* To visit a school campus, college, or company.
* To serve on a jury.
* To obtain a library card.
* To deposit garbage in the local dump.

That’s right, you need proper identification to dump garbage, at least that’s the way it is here in Pinellas County, Florida. There really aren’t too many things you can do without some form of identification. Yet, there are people who balk at requiring proper identification to vote in elections, one of our most sacred duties as citizens, a task that is far more important than garbage disposal.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 32 states require some form of identification for voting; 18 do not, neither does the District of Columbia or our protectorates, such as Puerto Rico. In terms of the anticipated swing states for the upcoming election, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas require voter identification. However, New York, Illinois, and California do not.

Remarkably, Mexican citizens require a photo ID to vote in their country. In addition, the voter card has become the accepted way to prove one’s identity, to open a bank account, board an airplane and buy beer. The Mexicans clearly understand the value of a valid identification card, why don’t the Americans? Is it because someone has some ulterior motive for voting? Bottom-line, there is no valid reason for not having voter identification. It’s a no-brainer.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


NEXT UP: 
JUST SAY ‘NO’…TO BUSINESS? – Is the customer always right?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 16 Comments »

 
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