Thursday, February 23, 2012

Service Catalog

This post kind of corresponds to a friend's blog post here but is also from things I've encountered over the past few years of parenting and medical bills.

Would medical providers please get their act together and give us a service catalog? Bob's post in the link above discusses the account management and billing on the back end of the service. I want something on the front end while services and treatments are being discussed and decided.

Here's what I want: A service menu with retail costs along with service description and how the service will be provided.

Nothing too complicated. The problem I have with the current procedure is that those of us with high deductible insurance plans (who can afford anything else these days?) have to manage our own costs to some extent. People without insurance have an even larger degree!

Not long ago my wife went to the doctor for an ailment. The doctor initially wanted to run a battery of tests after giving her a possible diagnosis. In the end, only a small subset of the tests requested were actually done and we promptly got a bill just under $1000. What would the cost have been if more tests had been performed? Because there is no service catalog we have no idea.

As a diagnostician myself I fully appreciate the necessity of tests to narrow the problem down to a few likely suspects. I don't suspect the doctors of running unnecessary tests. When the stakes are high you want to be sure of your diagnosis to protect your customer and yourself.

The real issue is that I cannot be a partner or good consumer in the medical process without knowing cost, test function, or test method.

I suspect that if my wife had known what all the tests were, what they tested for and how much they cost she could've talked with her doctor about what the best process for testing would've been. In the end we would've known upfront what to expect when we were billed.

We in the technology field have to provide this sort of information to our organizations. If we try to obfuscate the cost and anticipated results of projects we get called out quickly and the business units that depend on us get pretty frustrated that they are not equal partners in the process. I don't see how we can continue to let medical providers get away with treating us this way.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sometimes the Problem Isn't Technical

Let it be known for all time that I am militantly opposed to printers.

There, I've said it.

If we are to bring about the glorious future we must sever all ties with these cursed devices. Sure, there's a monetary benefit to ridding ourselves of printers and the reams of dead trees covered in toner. That's only part of the story.

Printers and paper represent employee indifference and organizational inertia. I've known employees that wouldn't walk down a short hallway to retrieve a print job to save money by using a cheaper printer. I've seen organizations that wouldn't embrace new methods for delivering their services for fear of losing their paper.

Trapped by expensive archaic mechanical monstrosities and dead plant cellulose. Worse yet, trapped and paying good money to stay in that situation. 

Cut out paper and printers and you might find that all those MS Office licenses are no longer needed. Workflows that were merely for supporting paper become unnecessary. New methods for providing services to your customers aren't encumbered by prose and templates, network drives, and office workers. There is nothing to stop you from creating new mobile tools to use your data in the field to provide service. Better yet, your tools can deliver the service directly to customers.

It all starts with getting rid of printers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sometimes They Surprise You

I'll admit that sometimes I don't give the users I work for enough credit. They're really trying to do their jobs the best they can (sometimes no thanks to the technology that I support). Its very easy to get into the Us VS Them line in the sand game.

We've been revamping our web presence with many more great things to come in the future hopefully. One of the processes we go through every spring requires some notices and frequent updates of lists online. In the past this was all done manually with either IT or another department producing Word docs (in the past) or PDFs (since my arrival). Yes, every day, documents were re-generated and posted manually to the website. Its was every bit as tedious as it sounds.

We already had an application in-house that would have done most of this for us. For a variety of reasons it was never implemented and they were someone opposed to using it.

This month, as we spoke about how to streamline some of the things they're doing, the question arose - "How can we update this stuff daily without having to involve IT?" My answer was that we should use the application that integrates with their current project management software and posts it online in real-time.

The answer was a resounding "Let's try it!"

I tied up some loose ends on my part and they read up quickly on how to use the tool. In less than two weeks project documentation was successfully being posted online in real-time and they have complete control over the content.

Wow. For as much as there was unwillingness to use the tool before I was surprised they went for it. And we are using the tools we already owned to lessen the work. I wish this is always how it worked.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Music - Not Optional

I played accordion for the first time in public today. The one I have is a wonderful instrument loaned to me by one of my bandmates at church. Played along on a couple of songs and my wife told me it sounded great and. really, her opinion is the only one I care about anyway.

Our routine for a Sunday service is to rehearse, set up in the sanctuary, then play through some of the more critical songs before people start to find their seats. After we got done with setup and the on-stage quick run-through today the son of a friend was asking about our music.

"You want to see an accordion, Connor?"

He pressed a couple keys while I explained how it worked. We made some crazy sounds with it.

This of course attracted even more kids. What shocked me is that none knew what an accordion was! What does not shock me is that nearly all the kids were interested in the music it could make.

Give a kid a chance to make music an they will. They're fascinated by instruments. They need to create and express themselves. Music is a language everyone has some capacity to communicate with.

We don't give kids enough chance to commune with music. In my perfect world every child would know what an accordion is. They wouldn't get to college not knowing how to attend a large ensemble performance (phones off, don't applaud between movements, and so on).

Eventually you'll have to stop playing football, but you'll always have music. We should be giving our kids the chance to create their music, not just pay to consume it. They're craving it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interrupt Based Working

At a recent @NUgeeks meeting, a friend mentioned that his life was interrupt-based. He was referring to how he often had trouble with project work because of all the small task interruptions that occur during a typical work day. (He described nested interrupts within interrupts!)

This was a wonderfully liberating thing to hear. I have much the same problem and always assumed it was a personal flaw. It seems, though, it could be a common problem in IT particularly among folks in generalist type positions that have a lot of project styles tasks.

A typical day consists of a series of tasks to fulfill for ongoing projects. This would be great except for the plethora of interruptions.

The phone rings. Forgotten password.

Phone rings again. Unexpected error message.

Phone rings. How do I this task again?

Email arrives. Some horrible meltdown.

Instant message.  No I can't try the solution you suggest. I demand that you come to my workstation and do it for me.

Every interrupt causes a the list pointer to be reset to the beginning. End of the day arrives and you're no further along in any project than when the day began.

Time management is a tough problem no matter how much experience you have in a career I think. I know that I have to work really hard to not resent the people looking for help. They just want stuff to work so they can too.

Its really about service. Make stuff work so the business works.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Compensation IS Part of The Package

Listened to an employer lamenting their situation the other day. They were on their fourth posting for an IT job and were still having problems finding candidates. The person also mentioned that they had changed the job description a few times to try to attract more applications. Despite this there were few takers, let alone qualified ones.

While we listened another person leaned in from across the table and said, "Then why don't you offer more money?" Well, he could, but...

That's the problem there. So many organizations don't understand that unemployment in IT in the US is generally less than 1%. If you want qualified people you're going to need more than a nice job description and title. This is particularly true in public sector for a variety of reasons.

Apparently the CISO for Minnesota agrees with me to some extent.

While we're at it, maybe we should try to understand why qualified young workers are fleeing public employment in general (at least in Minnesota).