Monday, October 11, 2010

Things that make you wonder

I had to stop and get fuel this morning, which isn't that surprising, when you drive 150 miles a day you tend to stop at least twice a week. I'm a cash guy, and I know as a techie I should be more into using things like debit cards and pay at the pump, but I don't know I like cash. Seeing it leave my hands helps me realize how much I spend every week.

If you don't pay at the pump then you need to go in, pay and then go pump. So I went in gave the lady my $30 and went out to pump the diesel. I noticed though that the pump works great but at 29.50 is stops and starts pumping very slowly. Every time it stops right at 29.50, then takes another 25 seconds to put in the remaining fifty cents. If they can stop at an exact dollar amount, why not stop it at exactly 30 and save me 25 seconds a trip?

It turns out everyone has a theory, but the one I like the best is "because users will freak out thinking the pump won't stop if the gas pumps don;t stop early enough". Interesting and this actually ties back into something IT related.

Figuring out what users want, versus what they ask for. Believe it or not, not all users understand exactly what they are looking for and do their best to explain it in terms of what they know. Gasp! Our job in IT is to ask enough intelligent questions to understand what they want and get it for them.

One example we had a number of years ago was with our marketing department. They wanted a "customized web site that delivers content based on logins and rights, so each user gets the content that they want".

"Oh so a portal like the sharepoint portal we deployed last year?" I innocently asked.

"No, not that. It needs to be customizable based on who logs in."

This went back and forth for a while and we finally built them a portal on sharepoint and simply told them it was a "user customizable web site" instead of a site on sharepoint. Go figure.

We also had a service desk call a year or so ago because the fax machine was down and they couldn't process orders. Now we don't get a ton of orders through the fax machine, so this struck us as a little odd. As it turns out the sales team would print out the order, attach a cover sheet, fax it upstairs to order management who would then print out the order to file it and then enter is into SAP.

Now to most IT folks the problem is more than the fax machine didn't work, and really more along the lines of a very antiquated process. We ended up fixing the fax machine, but the tech that was there was bright enough to say, "You know we can probably make this a little bit easier for you", and we ended up automating the feed from the sales team directly into SAP.

Two key points:

1. Build what they want, not what they ask for. Better is to resolve the discrepancy.
2. Hire really bright techs who ask questions and follow up to improve things, not just close the ticket.

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