As I was trying to think up something witty and poignant for today’s entry – I came across an old story from 1997 that pitted Microsoft against the now-up-sh*ts-creek-without-a-paddle – GM.
Back in the heady days of the late 90’s the computer industry was bragging about how far the technology had come in comparison to the automotive industry. That spawned a single 3 line joke with a cool punchline:
There’s word in business circles that the computer industry likes to measure itself against the Big Three auto-makers. The comparison goes this way: If automotive technology had kept pace with Silicon Valley, motorists could buy a V-32 engine that goes 10,000 m.p.h. or a 30-pound car that gets 1,000 miles to the gallon — either one at a sticker price of less than $ 50. Detroit’s response: “OK. But who would want a car that crashes twice a day?”
The over time the joke morphed from that simple 3 liner into one that has replaced the “computer industry” with Bill Gates and the “automotive industry” with GM. Somewhere along the way, some unnamed person added some additional observations and it circulated around the (then spanking new) Internet via something called “email.”
Over the years it’s turned into one of those urban legends that has been repeated so many times that people think it’s actually true. Well, it’s not – but I think it’s especially enlightening given the current circumstances with both GM and the on-going Vista controversy.
Plus, it made me chuckle – and I think we could all use a little more of that these days:
If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:
- For no reason at all, your car would crash twice a day.
- Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.
- Occasionally, executing a manoeuver such as a left-turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, and you would have to reinstall the engine.
- When your car died on the freeway for no reason, you would just accept this, restart and drive on.
- Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought ‘Car95′ or ‘CarNT’, and then added more seats.
- Apple would make a car powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would run on only five per cent of the roads.
- Oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single ‘general car default’ warning light.
- New seats would force every-one to have the same size butt.
- The airbag would say ‘Are you sure?’ before going off.
- Occasionally, for no reason, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed the radio antenna.
- GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of road maps from Rand-McNally (a subsidiary of GM), even though they neither need them nor want them. Trying to delete this option would immediately cause the car’s performance to diminish by 50%t or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation by the Justice Department.
- Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
- You would press the ’start’ button to shut off the engine.
Nothing in the world works 100% of the time. That’s a fact of life.
Why is it then when Gmail goes down for two hours – or the Twitter “fail whale” comes up – people go crazy? Hey – people – do YOU ever do anything 100% of the time – every day, all day, every day of the year?
Neither do I.
Why, then do most people just expect all software, hardware and Internet connections to be up 100% of the time? Well, I guess because we’re starting to come to see them as utilities like electricity and phone. They’re just supposed to “work” all the time.
And, when they don’t – we get a little panicked. Do you remember the last time the electricity went out?
It also means that if you have only a single source for your email (or social networks or whatever) – then you’re choosing to put all of your eggs in one basket. That means – that WHEN (not IF) your favorite service goes down (and they ALL will at some point) – take a chill.
Pull out some paper and jot down your notes with a “pen” – or save them in a text file so you can immediately flame the company and have your inflammatory blog post all ready to go when the service DOES come back up.
That’s what I do…
The level of panic in companies is getting almost palpable. They are cutting, cutting, cutting – and a lot of the time not THINKING about the ramifications of those cuts.
Some companies are cutting valuable IT staff, killing business-enabling (and enhancing) projects, and doing other stupid things like cutting benefits, reducing work hours and making the overworked people who are “fortunate” enough to be left behind after massive layoffs the mostde-motivated group of people on the planet.
Yes, these are uncertain economic times.
Yes, in many cases, cuts do have to be made.
Yes, not every single project should be continued (or even started in the first place).
Yes, dead wood needs to be trimmed.
Yes, business does need to keep a careful eye on expenses and especially cash flow.
If you find yourself one of these “fortunate” few who survived (so far) – then here’s a little tip to help ensure you make the next round of cuts: help your company to measure the contribution of your role/project/salary in terms of cash flow, tangible benefits and consequences if they kill it/fire you/lay you off.
At the end of the day no one knows your project/role like you do. And if you’re working on a high-profile project or you’re making a decent, livable salary – there’s no doubt that you’re in the sights for future “cost savings.”
The time to act is now.
Step 1: Take a good look at your project/role and make a quick spreadsheet that lists all of the costs in one column and hard-dollar revenues (and when they’ll occur) that you/your project influence. If the costs exceed the hard dollar revenue (or hard dollar cost savings) – then it’s time to go to Step 2.
If your costs are lower than your hard dollar revenues (or savings) – then jump right to Step 3.
Step 2: Double check your assumptions and figures. If you’re still coming up short – then figure out how much it will cost in time, money and resources to make the + side greater than the revenue side. If you’re able to pull it out – then go on to Step 3. If you can’t – then you should either be getting your resume polished up or make friends with someone whose calculations ARE in the black – and get re-assigned to that project and/or make yourself invaluable to the other person in their role.
Step 3: Share your work. Don’t wait for bad news to “hit you” – you should take a proactive approach and share the information you’ve discovered with your boss (or executive committee or whomever you report to). Talk them through the numbers and show them how your project/role is adding value to the company.
It’s not so much about cover your ass – as it is about being perceived as someone who cares about the company and cares enough to take the time to quantify it. I can guarantee you this – if there are 20 people/projects on the potential chopping block and you can cost-justify your project/role – then there will only be 19 projects/people on the chopping block and you will NOT be one of them.
On the other hand – if you can’t wait to get out of where ever it is you’re working – it might be a good time to keep your numbers to yourself. There might be a possibility for you to work with your current employer on a consulting basis – in which everyone wins.
Your company will reduce taxes, overhead, benefits, and conserve cash flow – while you gain flexibility, a solid project to start with, and an in-depth knowledge of the process and people involved in order to help ensure the project is successful.
Regardless of which way you go in the end – it’s still a good practice to cost-justify what you’re working on and what value you bring to the company. If you don’t do it – chances are good that someone else (usually a bean counter) will – and other decisions will be made that are outside of your influence/control.
Change is inevitable. You can either make it happen – or have it happen to you.
It seems that Microsoft does have a heart after all (or just a really, really, big aversion to bad PR)…
After laying off 1,400 workers – it accidentally overpaid some of them by $4,000 to $5,000. Once HR realized the error – the laid off workers were promptly written an letter that demanded they give the money BACK to Microsoft.
In an abrupt about-face, Microsoft has now said that the people can keep the money:
“In the normal course of business, we may underpay or overpay in a bonus situation,” said Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of human resources at Microsoft. “If we overpay, we ask that the money be returned. Severance is not unlike that. “But this is a unique time and our normal practice didn’t make sense.”
Oh yeah, and the fact that 1,000,000 bloggers have been raking Microsoft over the coals every since? I’m sure it had no impact on Microsoft’s ethical decision making process – and constant zealous care for the people that make them money….
This whole bailout “thing” has got me a bit pissed off. Never mind the fact that the presses are working overtime to print money we don’t have to give it to companies that have such inept (and greedy) management that they “managed” their companies into the ground and took the economy with it… no, the real thing that gets my goat is the fact that NO ONE seems to know where this money is going.
A perfect example is the $42 BILLION we gave to Bank of America and Citibank. Just handed them the cash – and walked away – “trusting” they would do “the right thing” with the money.
What the ??
We didn’t even insist they fire the management. There were “no strings” attached to the money whatsoever. So, now, let me get this straight: we (the taxpayers) have given $42 BILLION to 2 banks… oh and guaranteed another $412 BILLION to cover their losses… and we got squat in return?
For just the $42 BILLION we could have bought ALL the common shares of Bank of America and Citibank about 4 times over. ALL of it.
Instead – we hand over the money – and allow them to keep the same idiots running the place that got them into this mess in the fist place?
Yeah! Great plan!
At the very least we (as taxpayers – and the government as our representatives) should INSIST that the Board of Directors be removed – if not the entire management team. “But… but… but… it will shake things up if we do that – they know how the system works…” – yeah, my ass!
They know how to play the system, cover up losses, hide questionable loans, all for the sake of their stock options and bonus pay.THAT’s what they know how to do. There are PLENTY of other very smart, very capable, very responsible, very knowledgeable people in the world that can run those banks.
And just where the hell are they putting all the money? Good question. NO ONE KNOWS. There is ZERO accountability for using OUR (taxpayer) money. They could be buying back stock or stuffing it all in a mattress for all we know.
Since we (unofficially) “own” those banks – it’s time they come clean on where the money is going. They should be forced to have 100% transparency on where every dime of that money goes. They should be forced to remove their management and/or boards – and they should be held accountable for their own damn losses.
Now the Obama money-printing-factory wants to print up ANOTHER $75 BILLION to keep people from going into foreclosure. That’s a good idea. Make SURE that their debts are 100% forgiven – and let the people keep their homes.
DO NOT just hand banks money and not demand anything in return! Does no one in Washington understand how business actually works?
Oh and by the way – how about MY bailout? Where’s MY no-strings-attached money? Screw the banks and the car companies and give every American who PAYS taxes a Visa card with $100,000 on it – and make it good only for 90 days. They can’t get cash with it, they can’t use it to pay off debts – they have to spend it or lose it.
You want people to spend money to get the economy going – that’s the way to do it – NOT giving BILLIONS to huge companies who don’t care and who, left to their own devices, will be back with their hands out in another 6 months.
I had my iPhone cranked up listening to my “favorites” channel and just let my mind wonder…. and in one of my rare moments of clarity – I was thinking about the future of computing. I come to the decision that the future of computing will not be about hardware, or operating systems, or which applications are “better” than others – it will all come down to a single thing: the screen.
Yep, that’s it. The screen.
I think that the computing experience for most people (within the next 10 years) will be based around cloud services that are delivered to whatever device you happen to be using. Those devices could be fixed – like your TV, or to a thin PC, or a laptop-like device (nettop, netbook, laptop), or even your mobile phone.
The days of installing patches and fixes and hot fixes will be a thing of the past – since your operating system will be running in the cloud – there will be some poor IT schmoe someplace that has to deal with all the hassles and compatibility problems – and your system will just always be “up to date.”
You’ll always have the latest versions of all the software you use – or “subscribe” to – and you’ll pay for computing services much the way you do for electricity or phone service. Companies will vie for your business by providing content “channels” that you can subscribe to.
If you like the Apple OS – then subscribe to the Apple Channel. Prefer Vista? Too bad, Microsoft won’t have a channel until they see that Apple has dominated the space and then will try to build their entirely own complete service rather than just have a channel that people can subscribe to… but I digress.
These software (and services) “channels” would all co-exist in your main “session” – and would be available (and configurable) as either icons or as services that are already running. You could just switch between channels the way you do now – with Alt+Tab or by clicking an icon.
There would be free channels (like basic cable) – and then premium content (I predict that porn folks will be an early adopter) would be available. Whether you’re interested in sports and want to see live video, or have an instance of a browser loaded with links to all your favorite teams – it’s all pre-configured in the “ESPN Sports Channel.”
Likewise, if you’re a news junkie, love cooking, or can’t get enough celebrity gossip – the content will be available in a unified manner. Video, websites, applications, premium content – ready to go and able to be delivered on whatever device you’re watching where ever you are.
The issue of whether to buy a new Xbox or Playstation will be a thing of the past. You can have both – just subscribe to the channel(s). It will come with some basic games, and you can add others on a rental basis – or as a flat fee (like today). Rather than having 200 game jewel cases lying around – the game provider would collect payment and install the instance of the game on in your session. It would be ready nearly instantly.
What about the more “mundane” tasks of email, presentations, collaboration, word processing and (the dreaded) spreadsheet? Those would all be handled at an “at work” channel. It could be branded by your company – and you can have a “home office” channel as well as a “London office” channel. All your data will be stored just as you left it – files in folders like you have today.
There would be some limited local storage for the rare occasion you’re not connected to the network – documents will be stored and forwarded when you connect again. Each channel would make certain applications available offline (although not all apps) – but it really won’t be an issue. We’ll look at good, reliable access to the Internet like we do electricity and sewer services. It will be everywhere – mostly all the time.
You’ll be able to easily move data between channels and have all your documents accessible from all the other channels as well. You can seamlessly share and collaborate with others – with text or video like you can today with instant messaging and video chat.
In other words – your computing experience will be amazingly similar to what it is today, and all you have to buy is a HDTV, mobile phone or other device of your choice – and chances are you already have all the hardware you’ll need.
Rather than tossing (or donating) that “old” cell phone or laptop or desktop – you can just pick up a new one at any store, kiosk or outlet – log into your provider and whammo – all your stuff is there. No more local backups (but you can if you want to), no more downloading and installing programs over on the new computer, the hours of setup, the restoration of all your preferences – it will all “just work.”
Yes, I think the pendulum is swinging back to the “centralized” computer model. That’s why mainframes haven’t gone away – they’ve just been waiting for this next round of “what’s old is new.” Well, the time is coming.
The virtualization software is getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper. The delivery mechanisms for delivering the specific user sessions and price of mass online storage are nearing the zero mark. There are some technical and infrastructure hurdles, to be sure – but it’s all within the realm of what’s happening in terms of growing consumer (and business) acceptance of SaaS applications and cheap, commodity hosted virtual systems.
And now – with the Obama White House printing money like it’s going out of style for infrastructure upgrades – I’m hopeful that within 5 years I will be able to actually have ONE cell conversation without having one side or the other drop…. but that’s another story.
So, I don’t know about you – but I’m getting a little tired of the word “Beta” when it comes to commercial software and especially with Web 2.0 applications.
Now, most people aren’t in the technology field – but I am – and the word beta has a traditional meaning that’s getting more and more obscured as time goes on. Traditionally, a piece of software was considered beta – when it was feature complete and undergoing the final bug fixes and performance tweaks.
Software was considered “shipping” software when companies put it out to the public and charged money for it.
That’s all changed.
Companies now are putting up services like hotcakes labeled as “Beta” – which either means they’re doing some market fishing and seeing if what they came up with will actually stick or not – or they expect customers to be their quality assurance team and find all the bugs.
Microsoft has labeled it’s Windows 7 operating system as “Beta.” I’m sure it’s feature complete and is just getting the final bugs worked out…
Gmail has been in “Beta” for over 5 years now (and counting) – and yet they are charging money for it. What the??
It’s time companies stepped up and grow a pair and put a “1.0″ label on their stuff. Call it “shipping” – and stop being total wussies about it.
When they do have a release that’s meant to get public opinion or to show off the future of what they’re working on in the labs – that’s terrific! Call it a “Public Preview” or “Pre-Release” or something else – but just please stop calling all your stuff “Beta” for 5 years. Same thing for you Web 2.0 folks – having a “closed beta” is fine – even a public “beta” period is good – but a product should not be in “beta” if:
- People are paying for it
- It’s been more than 3 months since you made it live
- If you have more than 5,000 people using it
- If you advertise the new version as if it were shipping
- You’re just doing it to create FUD in the marketplace to stop people from buying a competitor’s product (Microsoft – take note!)
« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »