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Entries in Telephony (1)

Tuesday
Nov102009

Doing the Right Thing

The new phone and voice mail systems were just being deployed. Everyone was thrilled…there were even posters up “Free Yourself from Telephone Tyranny” with a tie in to the July 4th implementation.
Everything was going smoothly until someone asked why the message waiting lights on the general purpose phones were not coming on.

When asked, the telecom manager replied, “We didn’t buy the circuit packs to light the (message waiting) lights except for the executive phones. On all other phones, you’ll have to listen for a stutter dial tone. We did this to save money.”

Quickly, the inconvenience for a couple thousand people was dollarized, and the message sent to those same people by the blissfully unaware hundred or so Executives (whose voice mail was rarely used as the administrative assistants answered all calls) was hypothesized. While saving capital dollars is always desirable, impacting many people daily over such a minute cost was shortsighted.

Within a week, the message waiting lamps were lit, with negligible project cost impact. When they wrote the history of the company, the message waiting light faux pax wasn’t even a footnote.

In this case, a willing vendor made the correction relatively simple albeit at a modest cost. Not all suppliers are as willing, and the costs could become relatively unreasonable.

Doing the right thing means sometimes sucking it up, acknowledging the issue, and correcting it. Be up front about it; don’t try to hide the error or omission.

It would be simpler to know about the tradeoffs before the orders are placed. How do you do that when some vendors’ orders are actually parts lists in some unintelligible logistics language? While suppliers may argue they have unbundled pricing allowing unique responses, often we find the pricing models are intended to obfuscate the actual costs and this can lead to functionality/pricing surprises later.

Insist on a line by line review with the supplier. It may be painful, and it is up to the vendor to make it intelligible. Like buying a car, sometimes options packages create opportunities (i.e. the wood grain steering wheel you like is included in the luxury package.)

You’ve received references from the vendor. Meet with the references and review your order (without sharing pricing.) Of course, vendors won’t give unhappy referrals. At the same time, these companies may have learned the hard way options to get or avoid.

Require a lab set up where you can use the systems in practice. In the example from this article, “testers” needed to understand the requirements and assure the solutions meet the needs (not simply that the system works…it needs to meet the need. Therefore, testers need to be willing to say something works and doesn’t meet the need.)

Ask your staff and the supplier what tradeoffs were made, and are there any glaring omissions. In every case, these articulations can be used to determine whether something ‘critical’ has gone missing.

Oftentimes technicians will try to “hit a budget number” rather than taking a step back and laying out the wisdom of expenditure. Budgets are put together months before the actual numbers for a project come in. And if suppliers gave you a “budgetary number,” rest assured there’s room to negotiate on scope as well as price! Doing the right thing means providing the right functionality at the lowest possible overall costs…even if that produces a budgetary impact.

It often comes back to having clarity around the assumptions and requirements. External firms can be brought to bear to help review requirements and identify shortcomings. This is often money well spent on major projects and initiatives.

George H. W. Bush put forward an idea in 1988, based on the phrase “a thousand points of light,” encouraging individual contribution to society. Lighting a thousand message waiting lamps may pale by comparison unless you are one of those impacted. Be bold and always do the right thing.