Zappos: Integrating Systems and Business Processes Mon 14 Apr 08

Shoe_souk_shopping_jim_snapperWhen you run across a company the truly integrates their systems with their business processes it can be an amazing experience.  Dealing with these companies borders on fun because they take the effort to make it easy and have anticipated your needs.  Zappos, an online retailer of shoes and other accessories, is one such company.  Or more appropriately as they describe themselves: "We are a service company that happens to sell ________.

  • shoes
  • and handbags
  • and clothing
  • and eyewear
  • and watches
  • and accessories
  • (and eventually anything and everything)"

Since I'm a customer of Zappos I'm surprised that I hadn't written about this before.  Fortunately, Seth Godin's recent post, "Zappos wants you to return those shoes" reminded me so now is a good time to talk about them.

Zappos' service is all encompassing in how it is set up.  It includes: policy, processes, customer perspective, vision, attitude and systems.  Customer service for them isn't just putting a "Contact us" or "Customer Service" link on their web site.  Pete Blackshaw explain this in more detail in "Word-of-Mouth Marketing 101, à la"

Don't believe me?  Then check out these examples:

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CIOs and the Marketing of IT Mon 10 Mar 08

I_ate_peas_whilst_waiting_stonelu_2Last Monday's post started out, "Marketing guru, Mary Schmidt, . . ." which was a similar start to the previous Monday's post, "Marketing guru, Seth Godin . . ."  At first blush it may seem strange to be referencing marketing experts in an IT blog but I believe IT can benefit greatly from applying some common marketing concepts.  For purposes of this discussion I mean true marketing, not to be confused with advertising or sales.  While I also believe advertising and sales can be important for IT, they are different from marketing so I'll defer discussions on those until later posts.

Marketing is at its heart a strategic approach to how you decide what your product is, what the target market is, its pricing and delivery.  The classical way of looking at it is the 4P's of marketing (also try a Google search for many more references):

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion

Product for IT are the various services we deliver whether it is infrastructure services such as voice and data; productivity tools such as word processing; and business system whether ERP or individual systems.

Price in our case is what our user community is willing to pay for these services.

Place is our distribution method, how we deliver these services.   This is where you see client-server, SOA (service-oriented architecture), web technologies, etc. come to play.

Promotion is about how we make our users aware of our services and how we convince them to adopt new technologies.  This is often the one IT has the most difficulty with and I'll talk more about this in future posts.

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Let's Hang Up The Gloves Mon 03 Mar 08

Hang_em_up_smnMarketing guru, Mary Schmidt, recently wrote a post, "Don't Get Defensive.  Just Fix It." in which she makes 2 excellent points that bear a lot on how we in IT deal with our customers.  As the HelpDesk often has to deal with "issues" this is especially important in that area.  Schmidt starts off the post by saying "I’m convinced that many of the world’s problems could be quickly fixed or even avoided if people didn’t automatically get defensive when faced with an issue or disagreement."

When our customers come to us with issues we need to resist taking it as a personal affront lest we become defensive.  Often we fall into the trap of using IT's weasel words such as "It works on my machine" or "No one else has had a problem with that."  The implicit message in this is that the problem is the customer's fault which makes them defensive and it just escalates from there.  As Schmidt suggests sometimes we need to just get beyond this and just fix the problem.  Hang up the boxing gloves and work on the solution.

Joel Spolsky has a fantastic post, "Seven steps to remarkable customer service".  Be sure to read all seven steps but pay particular attention to steps 4 and 5.  In these Spolsky gives some great examples of what not being (or being) defensive can do.  They illustrate the point very effectively.

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Book Review: "I’m on Facebook – Now What???" Mon 21 Jan 08

Facebookbig My good friend from Jibberjobber (a great site for you job seekers by the way), Jason Alba has done it again.  He's followed up his book I’m On LinkedIn - Now What??? by co-authoring another great book on social networking.  He and Jesse Stay have partnered up to write I'm on Facebook­Now What???' . [Update February 17, 2008 their book is now available on Amazon.]

By teaming up Jason and Jesse bring a unique perspective to this book.  The book's website describes Jason as a "career management Evangelist".  Having known Jason for a while that is a very accurate description.  He recognizes that a good career doesn't just happen, it has to be managed.  Through his website, and both of these books he helps you do this by providing you with the tools you need.  Jesse rounds this out with technical expertise and experience using Facebook having developed popular Facebook applications.

Jesse_stay_s Jasonalba In the book's Introduction they describe what is about as "helping you figure out how to derive professional, business and career benefits from participating in Facebook", and they deliver on this.  We in IT often use the terms "instruction manual" and "user guide" interchangeably.  However Jason and Jesse have written a user guide in the truest sense of the word.  They not only talk about the "how" of using Facebook but the "why" in regard to using it.  Like I'm on LinkedIn - Now What??? this book is refreshingly honest about Facebook.  They describe what works well and what doesn't and what you should look out for.  This book is much more than a technical manual, it is a true guide for getting what you need from Facebook.

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Blog Birthday: Has It Really Been A Year? Thu 11 Oct 07

J0384672_2Wow! Has it really been a year?  Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms is having its first birthday.  When I first started this, I had a list of about 15 topics to get me going and was hoping I'd be able to come up with enough new ones to keep the blog going.  Fortunately I'm now at 170 so I'm hopeful I'll be able to make a go of it.

I originally started this as a way to "brand" myself during a job search.  However, it has grown to more than just a branding effort.  So much so that I've kept it going even after I landed a new job.  Looking at what's happened this past year:

Compared to the big blogs this is nothing.  Some of them can get as many visitors in a day as I get in a year.  Although I may not be the largest and most popular blog around it has far exceeded my wildest expectations.  I couldn't be happier.  It's been a wild and fun ride.  I've learned a lot, met some great people and we've had some pretty good conversations.  I'd rather have that than the big rankings.  I look forward to the next year.

Thanks to Kent for convincing me to start this blog and to Jason and Dan for convincing me that Kent was right.  And most of all thanks to my readers for making it worthwhile.

While I look to the 2nd year I'd love to get some feedback.  What would you like to hear more of?  less of?  Can we talk?

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Adblock - Savior or Scourge? Thu 06 Sep 07

Stop_signs_high_springs_adobemac There is an interesting little plugin available for the Firefox browser going around called Adblock Plus that has some pretty significant implications for your Internet experience.  This plugin erases all of the ads from web pages - stops them cold.  No more Google Adsense ad, no more annoying pop-ups.  Nirvana, right?  Well maybe not.  If you stop to think about the economics of the Internet this might not be a good thing.  After all it is all that advertising that drives all the "free" sites we love.  We all love Google but advertising is the price we pay to use it.

The NY Times quotes the developer of Adblock Plus as estimating that there about 2.5 million users of Adblock worldwide which is not yet enough to be a serious problem.  He goes on to estimate that it is growing at about 300,000 to 400,000 users per month.  I noted that a simple Technorati search of the term Adblock lists around 25 pages of blog references within the past seven days so it would appear that it is generating interest.

Apparently, for the time being Google is being quiet about all of this perhaps hoping it will not grow to be a significant problem.  However, this does pose a "Sophie's choice" dilemma for them.  As Nicholas Carr states:

The company [Google] is in a particularly dicey position. The broad adoption of ad-blocking software could devastate its business, yet an outright attempt to block the use of such programs would run counter to its often-expressed commitment to give users what they want. If web users decide they don't want to see ads, Google would face an extremely unpleasant dilemma. Either its business or its credibility would end up in tatters.

So what will happen?

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Return of the Hanging Chad? Mon 13 Aug 07

Cast_vote_travelin_librarian The other day while driving to work I heard an interesting report, Voting Officials Wary About Electronic Ballot,  on NPR (National Public Radio).  The report talked about the potential problems with electronic voting machines.  Like a number of other reports such as a recent New York Times article or Bruce Schneier's excellent analysis from November,2004 on "The Problem with Electronic Voting Machines" the NPR report talked about some of the issues of electronic voting.

The problems associated with electronic voting machines are well-known and Schneier does an excellent job of expanding on them:

  • Hacking - someone hacking into the system to commit voting fraud
  • Programming errors - software errors causing unintended widespread consequences
  • Accuracy - under-counting, double counting etc.

In looking at this I found two thing rather interesting.  The first thing is that we are still seeing technical issues with electronic voting.  We do our banking, manage our 401Ks, buy stock, arrange mortgages and more electronically without these issues (well, OK, hacking will always be a concern).  So why can't we solve the issue around electronic voting?  It just seems rather strange that we haven't been able to address all of these issues yet.

The second and most interesting thing (at least for me) was the reaction of some politicians and journalists to the issues.

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A Few Belated Birthday Wishes Wed 06 Jun 07

Happy_birthday_foobean01_2_4I guess I've had my head in the sand the past month or so and missed a couple of important blog birthdays.  Oops!  Well better late than never.

On May 15th Jason Alba over at JibberJobber celebrated his first blog birthday.  JibberJobber for those of you who don't know is a great  job search tool that helps you organize your job search.  It allows you to organize your contacts, keep track of your appointments, follow-up on interviews and other useful stuff.  Much of the functionality is free and a there is also a very reasonably priced premium service.  Check it out.  Jason has done a great job in developing this tool and is constantly upgrading  its capability.  This a great tool for any job seeker (a perfect birthday present).  Jason also runs a very good blog with a lot of practical advice. 

On May 30th Kent Blumberg's blog also celebrated its first birthday.  Kent is the one that got me started blogging and also introduced me to Jason Alba.  Kent's blog is about leadership, strategy and performance and provide useful insight into succeeding in business as a leader.

Both Jason and Kent have become good friends and were instrumental keeping me sane during my job search.  They're the kind of friends you always hoped you'd have.  I wish I knew how to say it better but words fail me so I'll simply say - Thanks guys and happy birthday!

"Happy Birthday" photo by foobean01

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Smart Enterprise Magazine - IT Blogs Fri 13 Apr 07

Smartenterp245 Paul Hyman a writer for Smart Enterprise Magazine just published a short article in the Spring 2007 edition, Blog Wise - These six Web blogs are written for and by innovative CIOs and IT leaders.  It's a great article that gives brief descriptions complete with excerpts of six IT related blogs.  One of the things that I thought was great about the article is that he included my blog as one of the six (not that I'm biased mind you).

I'm quite pleased with this considering the quality of the other blogs.  It is pretty impressive company.  I thought I had done a pretty good job of ferreting out most of the good IT blogs but Paul has found a few I hadn't and it's quite a good list. 

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Director of First Impressions Wed 21 Mar 07

HandshakeRecently I had occasion to visit the headquarters of the large company here in Houston.  Stepping off of the elevator I came to the reception desk on which there were 2 signs.  One sign listed the name of the receptionist.  The second sign listed her "title", Director of First Impressions.  What a refreshing display of the realization that the impression people form of your organization starts with there very first contact regardless of who it is.  It was obvious that the receptionist understood that.  She was very professional and efficient in answering incoming calls while greeting visitors.  At the same time through her demeanor you felt like you had her attention and that she (and by extension her company) was happy to see you there.  She (and thereby her company) made a great first impression.

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