A Few Minutes with AppleCare

email

A survey request I didn’t mind receiving

This was originally published on my other blog, but I think it works here, too. I know from comments I’ve received on previous posts that some of you are not fans of Apple. I’m not so much a fan of Apple, as I am a developer who has to work with Apple as we create iPhone/iPad Apps for our employees.

I’m not trying to convince you to buy an iPhone, an iPad or a Mac. I don’t care what you use to do your job, pay your bills, process your photos or write your blog. If you’re happy, I’m happy. I use my iPhone for nearly everything one can do with a phone these days. I use my iPad in support of business, especially while traveling. I write my blog, process my pictures and do the bulk of my job on Windows laptops. My wife pays the bills.

Regardless of what technology, platform (if my boss is reading this, his eyes just rolled) or operating system you’re using, occasionally, you need help. Sometimes, you have to deal with a large vendor’s myriad-level-deep-voice-mail-to-nowhere. Sometimes, your request is routed “off-shore.” Sometimes, you’re relegated to a web-based process, be it a chat or an email exchange. Quite often, you’re left on your own to google your way out of a deep hole.

When I began my call with Apple’s Developer Support Group, I wasn’t optimistic. Mine wasn’t a technical issue, it was an account governance issue, and our two development accounts with Apple are governed (on their end) by over 2,000 pages of terms. I can’t share the details of my issue (try to hide that smile), but I want to share six things that AppleCare did well. So well that I would recommend that any organization, technical or otherwise, steal these ideas. Seriously, steal them! This is one case where you want to be like Apple.

Survey-3

The questions speak to the things Apple is trying to achieve.

1) Four simple options – There was no guesswork involved in the simple voice mail prescreening message. Choices 1-3 were binary. They wanted to know if I was involved with three very specific things. I wasn’t, so I pressed 4 as instructed.

2) Hold Music Options – This is one thing that could make all tech-support / customer service so much better. I had the option to: hold with pop/rock, hold with classical music, hold with jazz or hold in silence. Please, steal this idea, even if you only add “hold in silence” as an option.

3) Fast & Accurate – I was expecting my ‘4 – other’ key press to lead me to a long wait. Instead, in under 3 minutes, a cheerful human being picked-up. Matt asked me several questions. He repeated back the important information, use phonetic “N as in Nancy” spelling to verify details like my email address, and he summarized my problem and stated his understanding of my objective. Oh my word, this guy actually wanted to make sure that he knew what I wanted as an outcome!

Unfortunately, after all the gathering, spell-checking and objective understanding, Matt couldn’t actually help me. But, he said that he knew the group who should be able to help me. Now you know as well as I do, that this is where customer service sinks into a frustrating, seemingly endless, often circular journey of despair. My experience was different:

4) Information gathered and provided – Matt asked for a callback number, in case his attempts to transfer me failed. He also gave me the direct number of the group that he was transferring me to. He put me on hold (previous options, still in effect) for what initially seemed like a long time. Then Matt came back on the line and introduced me to Ashley.

5) Amazing – Number five is now known as “The Amazing Number 5!” I’m talking five golden rings amazing. When Ashley picked up she said: “Matt briefed me on your issue.” What? What tech support school did you guys go to? I was expecting Ashley to start at the beginning, run me through all the questions and then punt me to some no-nothing-schlep who would repeat the process. I didn’t have to repeat anything. She began with a summary of my problem and my expectations, as she understood them. She was correct.

Ashley couldn’t help me achieve the objective I wanted, because Apple doesn’t permit the type of account management I wanted to establish. She did, however, offer an acceptable alternative. She carefully explained the alternative and I agreed that, while different than what I had hoped for, it would work just as well.

6) Insure success – Before hanging up, she asked me if I knew all the steps I had to complete and if I knew how to complete them. She listened while I explained my next steps, she confirmed that my understanding was correct, and she offered to stay on the line while I completed those tasks.

Except for maybe giving Ashley a sweet southern accent, I can’t imagine anything that could have improved my experience. Again, I’m not shilling for Apple, but I do think there are some lessons to be learned from this experience.

Ding Dong the CIP

ciplogo-120x32Yes, yes, the CIP is dead. Gone, removed by AIIM International. I am was will still say that I’m a CIP, but I won’t hang it off the end of my name.

Oh wait, I never did do that.

Truth be told, I sat for the CIP exam because, as a then new Board member of AIIM International, I wanted to show support for the certification.

The CIP is the only certification exam I ever sat for. I am not a fan of certifications. I’ve worked with people who have them (mostly Microsoft certs) and I’ve worked with people who don’t have them. People are people and the certification never guaranteed success. As for my personal experience, I am way more proud of my ECMm – and yes, I know it’s technically not a certification, I don’t care.

I acquired my ECMm as a result of a four-day-in-person class taught by Bob Larrivee, now AIIM’s Vice President of Market Intelligence, and it was among the best educational experiences of my career. At that time, I was new to Content Management and I was new to AIIM and SharePoint was new to the world. OK, SharePoint had been around for a while, but it was awful. A reasonably good SharePoint was new to the world, and it was my job to build it out correctly. During that time (2006-2009), ECM and SharePoint were pretty much my fulltime job. If I had been hiring professionals to help me, I would have placed some value on a CIP. I would have placed more value on an ECMm and / or an ERMm, by the way, I have both, because getting them taught me all the (non-infrastructure) things you should consider before building out SharePoint as a document management solution.

These days, where I work, SharePoint isn’t anybody’s fulltime job. People venture in and out of SharePoint much like they take the elevator from the lobby to the third floor. Like the elevator, they are looking for a reliable solution in self-service form. My department’s job today is to make sure the elevators work (infrastructure) and to make sure people know where to get on and off and which way to go. We spend most of our time guiding people in the right direction. We still build solutions, but we build them in support of a larger, and largely well-understood mission.

Content today might reside in SharePoint, but it’s created and consumed elsewhere. One of our most recently deployed solutions is one that exists across a SharePoint on-premises farm, a SharePoint On-line installation and a series of iPad Apps. Some of the users of this “system” create and consume information, primarily on their iPad. In some cases, the realization that what they are using is, in fact, a SharePoint solution, is lost on them. They don’t care and I don’t care. What I care about is the fact that they have the information that they need, when they need it and that they can rely on the fact that it’s the right information.

The information is managed behind the scenes by metadata and SharePoint workflows, but that’s not what excites the people involved with this system. People aren’t interested in the “management” of content, they want what they want when they want it and they want it on whatever thing they happen to be holding. I’ll let you in on a secret, AIIM knows that.

In fact, AIIM has been saying that for years!

AIIM was the first organization to recognize the difference between Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement. Many others have ridden the wave of that tag line, but AIIM defined it. AIIM recognized early on, the value inherent in mobile and cloud solutions, and AIIM continues to understand that best practices have a place in this complex arena. AIIM also continues to define those best practices and to educate people in how to apply them. AIIM does this through research, thought leadership, education and by tapping an incredible community of true information professionals. I am not drawn to any of the people in that community because of the letters after their names. I’m drawn to them because they have honest expertise in the field of information management and they are willing to share it.

I am still on the Board of AIIM International. I won’t describe or debate the decision to drop the CIP. If you’re interested, please take the time to read John Mancini’s explanation. I will share with you that I am more excited about AIIM than I have been in years. I am looking forward to attending the AIIM Conference in New Orleans in April, and I hope to see you there. Like many employees, I am pretty much restricted to belonging to one professional association and participation in one industry conference each year. My choice is AIIM, on both counts.

In Search of Value

Value Hierarchy

Apologies to Maslow

One of the goals that I have maintained throughout my career has been to add value to a process. Long before SharePoint, in fact long before (OK, little before) Microsoft, value was a key requirement in the systems I was building and designing. As a young systems analyst, I remember receiving strange looks from my “customers” when I would ask: “how would that report help you?” I used reports as an example because people always seemed to want more reports than they needed. Once, when I moved a system from one platform to another, I didn’t bother recreating 90% of the reports. I promised to build each one as the need became critical. I only ever recreated about another 5% of the missing reports.

I would get equally strange looks when I would ask my IT colleagues: “how would that add value” or, somewhat more surprising: “how can we build this and be sure we are adding value?

Don’t let me paint too rosy a picture. I’ve built my share of systems that missed the sweet-spot of the target and I’ve left more than a few valuable features laying on the cutting room floor. Systems development has always been affected by drama and budget, in addition to logic.

As I am managing what will likely be my last long-term development effort, I am focusing more than ever on value. I have 3-5 years left to make a start on a new generation of systems, and if I am successful, those systems will be built on a foundation of “adding value to a process.”

I haven’t had much to share on this blog in recent months, but some projects are reaching a point where I can talk about them in generic terms. In most cases, I can’t talk about the work, because I’m not doing it. I can’t talk about the players, because some would rather not be a part of my blog entry. I can’t always talk about the details of the project because legal/accounting/human resources – ‘nuff said. But I can talk about goals and objectives and the way a focus on value has led us to some interesting decisions. Decisions I might not have made back when I started this blog and was bent on using SharePoint whenever possible.

By way of introduction to what I hope is a small series of blog posts (maybe enough to satisfy @Sympmarc’s Saturday addiction) let me share a couple of thoughts on how we got to this point.

Success moves you higher – I am old enough to have participated in systems development projects where the primary goal was to automate transaction processing and save money by eliminating jobs. Oh, we told ourselves that we were improving accuracy and letting people focus on higher-order tasks, but we were also letting them find those tasks at a different company. By the time SharePoint became available, we were way beyond that kind of development and we were looking for ways to use the information we had been gathering. SharePoint offered us a way to move up the hierarchy shown at the top, just a bit.

Failure also moves you higher – The reason I put the “Process Improvement” layer in quotes and in red and with the snarky bit at the end is because it wasn’t always the result. Often, process improvement was a collective bridge too far. Business leaders wanted magical solutions and technical managers and staff couldn’t wait to buy/build/use new toys in pursuit of that magic.

Automating a Business Process

There are times when you can run the table and automate the whole thing. There are also times when that would be a bad idea.

The diagram above illustrates where we sometimes went wrong and how we are correcting those mistakes. Consider the five boxes across the top. Occasionally we have felt that we could automate all of them. In fact, we could. Unfortunately, automated analysis and decisions, by default become arbitrary. A report is on-time, because it is not yet late, or a report is late the moment the time allotted has passed. People on the other hand, understand that a report nearing its due date may be in trouble and people understand that sometimes life gets in the way of an arbitrary due date.

Note: I have been doing this stuff since the ‘70s and yes, I know that systems can be made to be more holistic in nature. However, the effort in building those systems, as well as the effort to maintain those systems is very often too high. Humans are much better at making holistic decisions than machines.

We have recently taken technology out of some steps of a business process that we had previously automated, in order to improve the process. Instead of automating all of the steps, we are focusing on “what information would help humans complete this step easier/faster/with better results?” I put this in the win column because we have the information we need (because we built good solutions in steps one and two). Now, by utilizing SharePoint’s native features, we can provide good information for people to consider in steps three and four. And yes, since nobody wants to do recordkeeping, we will automate that last step.

That’s it for today. I have some stories in mind that build off of this foundation, but those can wait for another day. Maybe not next Saturday, but let’s keep this a Saturday kind of read.

Last Weekly Post

imageAfter 5 ½ years of sharing a weekly story, the regular nature of this blog has to come to end. It’s OK, you and I will both benefit from this change.

I could go on about the state of the industry (which I might be able to accurately describe for a moment in time) or the state of SharePoint (sigh) but neither of those issues is driving this decision. This decision is being driven by the state of me. I am neither doing, nor managing enough activity around the subject of this blog to generate meaningful content on a weekly basis. I am still working. I am very busy, but not busy enough in this area. I am returning somewhat to my roots (systems development) and managing a small department as we prepare for the future. My stories are more abstract, more personnel (not a typo) and more nuclear (not a typo). Those combine to build a pile of ideas that are either hard to share or which can’t be shared without permission.

Let’s look at the bright side: I benefit from not having to scurry to find something to say and you benefit by not having to read suspect quality material and my editor (wife) can relax a little on a few Saturdays.

I appreciate the time you have spent reading this blog. I hope that you will stay connected to it so you can swing by for the periodic updates that will be coming. The best compliment I ever received was when Marc D. Anderson said that “SharePoint Stories is a Saturday kind of read.” I will try to keep true to that concept.

I would be silly not to ask you to:

Follow me on Twitter – https://twitter.com/DAntion

Visit my other blog – http://noFacilities.com

This isn’t goodbye, it’s just a change. If we technology folks understand anything, we understand change.

Plan Faster

imageThat’s the Jack Rabbit pictured at the right. It’s a roller coaster in Kennywood Park outside of Pittsburgh and it’s been rolling since 1920. It has changed over time, but it still offers the basic promise of a thrilling ride. It’s still a very important part of the overall joy of spending a day at Kennywood. I’m sorry, this isn’t my vacation blog, and I do have a point. The world of information management is changing very fast, but we can still keep the whole package viable, if we manage change correctly.

About a year ago, we made the decision to use Citrix ShareFile. I started to explain that a while back, and I promised a more detailed explanation, but I’m not going to provide that today. One reason is that the ShareFile we decided to use has changed. It’s changed quite a bit, as has every other file-sharing service. If I explained the features we liked about ShareFile this time last year, you might say: “you can get 10x that amount of file space today for free!” You would be wrong. You can get closer to 50x today for free if you look in the right places.

That isn’t the point, that can’t be the point.

That could never be the point. You could never make business decisions based solely on price, but you clearly can’t do that today when it comes to file sharing and online storage.

The point, my dilemma, the next IT problem, is that the pace of change is exceeding our ability to plan like we used to. Remember Roadmaps? Remember when the industry leading vendors would tell you what they were planning to do over the course of the next 3-5 years? I do. I remember being able to take those roadmaps, with a few grains of salt, and build our 1-3 year plans from them.

Forget that.

You can’t do that anymore.

We selected a product/service (ShareFile) in October 2013. By the time we explained our plans to use that service to a committee representing our customers in April 2014, it had changed significantly. Now, as we are getting ready to roll out the solution, it has changed even more. It’s OK. It still does what we want it to do. And, the changes are mostly good, or the kind that might be good someday. I don’t have this stuff all figured out, but here are a few things I think we have to keep in mind as we try to hang onto this ride:

Maintain control – You can’t run your business if you cede control to vendors who are fighting for their own survival. You might not be able to specify the details of your plan as it extends very far into the future, but you still have to have a plan.

Maintain focus – If you’re saying “how can I plan when technology is changing so fast?” you might be focused on the wrong thing. You might be focused on the tools. My plan is to support the business needs of our company. ShareFile is a tool that I am using to meet those needs.

Be the buffer – If you think your head is swimming in a sea of technological change, think about your non-technical coworkers. You might be able to (I’m dropping the metaphor before I have to talk about someone drowning) deal with the pace of change, but they can’t. They shouldn’t have to. Remember, they have a day job. Even if you are using a cloud-based solution, you can control the pace of change through the solutions you build.

Avoid kit solutions – I buy a lot of tools, but the ones I won’t buy are the 18-piece battery powered every-tool-you-ever-need kits. I don’t buy them because when the batteries die and the new-fangled batteries aren’t being made to fit that kit, I’ve lost 18 tools. SharePoint might be a kit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy it, but we have narrowed our plans to use SharePoint to stay closer to what we think are its core capabilities. ShareFile basically does one thing. It’s a thing we need, so we’re good.

Avoid capital expenditures – One side-effect of cloud-based solutions is a move to subscription fees vs. capital expenditures. That’s a good thing. Large capital expenditures have to work over a long enough time to provide the return on the investment that you made to acquire them. The return on investment ends when those 18 inoperable tools have to be carted to the curb.

Communicate – Even though you can’t introduce change to your coworkers as fast as it’s being introduced to you, you have to change things faster than they want you to. Let people know what you’re thinking and where you are heading. Let people know when your plans start to change. Let them know that you’re managing rapid and uncontrollable change on their behalf.

Buckle-up, keeps your hands in the car at all times and enjoy the ride.

Liking Nintex

imageSummer is a funny time in most small shops. Projects start and stop as people take time off and attentions get diverted to the periodic crisis or to fill-in for an absent coworker. The downside for someone trying to craft a blog entry at the end of each week is that there isn’t much to work with. Those of you that come here don’t come to hear about the meetings I attended or the fires I put out. The upside is that this post will be short.

One of the interesting things I did this week was to build a SharePoint Workflow using Nintex Workflow. I’ve used Nintex before, but this time, I was teaching someone else how to build a “proper” workflow. The workflow is another part of our Payables process and it allows our accountants to delete a payable that has been submitted and approved for payment. Yeah, sometimes people make mistakes. To prevent someone from making those mistakes worse, this workflow needs to verify that a series of conditions are true. The payable hasimage to be at a specific status. The person running the workflow has to be a member of accounting. A bunch of people have to be notified, the activity has to be logged and we also have to let people know if any of those conditions aren’t met and the workflow has to be stopped.

All of those things can be done using a SharePoint Designer workflow. So, why does the title point out that I like Nintex Workflows? Well, that’s the point of this post. Here is my list of the things I like about Nintex Workflows:

I can add multiple logical conditions into the kick-off point of a single “Run if” block. You can see that illustrated in the image at the top.

I can act against multiple list items in one step. For example, I can say “go find all the allocations that have the same payment_request_ID as this imageitem and delete them.” You can’t do that in SharePoint Designer in SharePoint 2010

I can give an intelligent name to each workflow step. So, the above example step can be called “Delete Allocations” – I like that.

I can copy steps. We need to create a log entry regardless of the imageend-state of the process. Since some of those states cause the workflow to stop, I need to have the “Create Log Entry” step in multiple places which is very easy to do. Copy. Paste. Configure. Done.

I can drag and drop steps in and out of Condition blocks and Impersonation blocks which is very helpful when you realize that you have the right action but that it’s happening in the wrong place.

I can export and import entire workflows. In fairness, I think I can do this in SharePoint Designer, but I have had problems with that process and this worked like magic. I built the basic structure of this workflow from an earlier workflow that lets the person who submitted the payable to delete it before it’s approved.

And, my favorite thing – you work in a browser as opposed to a somewhat finicky, somewhat unpredictable and somewhat predictably bad stand-alone product.

That’s it for today. Not much of a product review, but I think you can understand why I like Nintex. And, I said it in fewer than 600 words.