Posts tagged ‘efficiency’


The Luddite side of me

14.05.2017

This might make me sound like an old fogey, but doing things the electronic way is only good if that way happens to be more efficient. Not so the AA, which I see has switched to notifying me about my membership renewal via email.
   Here’s what I told them tonight after spending 20 minutes doing it this newfangled way.

Hello there:

I see the AA has sent me an email reminder to renew my membership. Please can you switch back to sending these by post? The electronic experience was terrible.
   1. I never saw the email. It was only checking through the spam folder that I saw it had arrived on the 10th. That was only by chance.
   2. While renewing was simple, the renewal notice that comes electronically does not become a tax invoice when paid—unlike the posted notice.
   3. To get the invoice, I had to go online into the MyAA system.
   4. To get into the MyAA system, I had to sign up again, because my username had expired.
   5. I signed up again but couldn’t have my username because it was taken. No kidding: it was taken by me. Frustrating.
   6. The site isn’t that easy to navigate, sorry. Took ages to find the invoice (‘receipt’). To my surprise, all my old receipts are there, too—so what’s all this about my account having expired? Come to think of it, if it had expired, you’d never have been able to send me any emails over the last few years.
   7. I have to do my own printing, which I’m betting is less eco-friendly than offset printing.
   The old way: the notice would arrive, I would send back a cheque or renew online, bingo.
   If I wasn’t looking through the hundreds of emails in my spam folder—something I do not do regularly—I would never have seen your notice and I would have failed to renew my membership.
   There’s a lot of merit to the old ways, and if it’s not a burden, please continue sending the notices to me via the post—that way [they]’ll arrive.

Kind regards,

Jack

   The expired account BS is something I really tire of. Nvidia did that to me not too long ago, forcing me to sign up again and then saying my own username was taken—despite also saying that I needed to update my drivers. Therefore, (6) above is a very pertinent point, and applies to both organizations. There’s a remarkable lack of logic in claiming an account has expired when you are using the very data from that account to reach that person.
   I find it baffling that companies will lose user data—the Telegraph newspaper springs to mind, as I had signed up there in the 1990s—which makes you wonder just how secure they are.
   At least in the US, the NSA kindly keeps a copy for you …
   It’s not unlike banks telling us that cheques take five to seven days to clear. In 1976, this process was overnight. But if you work for a bank, maybe your computers do work seven times more slowly than the advanced machines Databank had 40 years ago … Sorry, bankers, pull the other one. Some of us actually have functioning memories.

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, technology | No Comments »


Volkswagen is a case for critical thinking, not blind following

16.12.2012

Here’s an article from Autoblog that combines several of the themes I enjoy writing about: cars, leadership, management and education.
   I’ve already hinted at this on my Facebook fan page, where I seem to post some of the pithy things these days. I sometimes try to avoid blogging about the same thing—a lot of what you see here are ideas that haven’t changed, especially a lot of the posts about social responsibility and branding.
   I don’t want to dissuade anyone from getting higher education but one has to remember: education, especially tertiary education, is meant to open your mind to other possibilities and to get you thinking about them critically. It’s why I enjoyed papers at law school like public law and jurisprudence: both had lecturers (Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Assoc Prof Ian Macduff) who enjoyed a well reasoned argument, even when it didn’t agree with their own thinking. It’s also why I didn’t appreciate banking law, or several other papers, where you had to agree 100 per cent with the lecturer, and to hell with independent thinking.
   The MBA, then, can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those who treat it as it should be: a skill set, providing a framework, from which to analyse things. A curse for those who believe that certain case studies must be followed religiously, failing to take into account the conditions of their own organizations. Which brings us neatly to the Volkswagen case.
   It may be a bit of a simplification to say that MBA thinking killed GM, and Volkswagen has eschewed that to become one of the world’s greatest car manufacturers, but it’s not too far from the truth. If you read period American books on management—or even one of my favourites, Lee Iacocca’s autobiography—there is this idea of what ‘efficiency’ is, usually with a lot of outsourcing, finding cheaper and cheaper bases of manufacture, with another eye on how to raise the share price for the quarter. Not the best way to run a firm, especially when visions need to be set for years, decades or quarter-centuries. I’ve written about that aspect before.
   But the way John McElroy puts it in his article, ‘efficiency’ means an absence of overlap and vertical integration, yet with them, Volkswagen AG is the world’s largest car company ‘if you measure it by revenue and profits. Its revenue of $200 billion is greater than every other OEM. Last year’s operating profit of $14 billion is the kind of performance you expect from Big Oil companies, not automakers.’ Yet:

   Any efficiency expert would tell you that VW is too vertically integrated, has too much overlap and duplication, and has way too many brands. VW, meanwhile, keeps growing bigger, stronger and more profitable …
   Efficiency experts will tell you that on an employee-per-vehicle basis, Volkswagen looks hopelessly inefficient. Financial analysts will tell you that the company woefully trails its competitors on a revenue-per-employee basis. But VW will tell you that it makes more money than any other automaker—by far.

In fact, McElroy goes on to say that Volkswagen looks a lot like the General Motors of Alfred P. Sloan—before the MBAs got hold of it.
   The idea of ‘efficiency’ is often a misnomer. Most of British industry was dismantled with the mantra of efficiency, essentially giving it up to globalist, technocratic forces, helped along by the Slater Walkers and the governments of the time. Those decades, too, were driven by “experts”—and what resulted was neither efficient nor productive. The decline of British Leyland is perhaps one of the most telling examples of period thinking applied disastrously to the British motor industry, its skilled workers now happily picked up by the Japanese, Germans and Indians.
   By all means, if real savings can be had and long-term goals achieved, then efficiency is a wonderful thing. There are areas where technology should aid productivity. But watch out for that word efficiency. It doesn’t always mean what the experts say it means—and if revenue and profit decline as a result of it, and corporate culture is harmed, then you may be better off heeding the lessons that Volkswagen’s management has. Use that MBA as a framework, not as a playbook.

PS.: I took the same stance when arguing over how to save General Motors, as published as a reader letter in Condé Nast Portfolio magazine when it was still running. Naturally, GM followed the downsizing, brand-stripping route because it’s more efficient. Time will tell.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, leadership, media, politics, USA | 6 Comments »


Is super-city opposition super-softening?

31.05.2012

Earlier this month, I attended a session on the potential of a Wellington super-city, and was interested to note that the mood, that was so dead set against one in 2010, had begun to shift. In fact, in the previous month, the outgoing chairman of Price Waterhouse Coopers (I can’t bring myself to write that as a single month), John Shewan, presented a session where he outlined the pros and cons. Super-city is in the Zeitgeist for Wellington now, and where the moves have come from, I don’t know.
   The concerns in Wellington seem to surround the issue of representation, as the popular image of super-city seems to be a tall managerial structure where a super-mayor (God help us if that term is used) sits over earlier structures. I don’t think the Auckland experience has borne this out, but there are definitely concerns over the unfunded community boards, something that Wellington might learn from.
   Judging by the responses from the session, those for a super-city seem to be around the 40 per cent mark, while those sceptical of one hover around 60—and this is a totally unscientific count. But the fact that proponents have moved from under 5 per cent to around 40 in the middle of Mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s first term is probably heartening for the super-camp, who might wish to extrapolate it heading further north come 2013.
   Our table seemed to be more pro- than anti-, and we were the last to report in. I was asked to speak on the table’s behalf and I noted to Garry Poole, CEO of the Wellington City Council, that if there was one thing worse than coming third, it was coming last. However, the efficiency argument held some sway among our participants, and that Auckland itself, according to John’s figures, was forecast to make some real savings in administration. The present system, it might be argued, is flawed anyway (what system isn’t?) so should we really wait till Wellington is in crisis mode before we consider change?
   I did add one note about the efficiency argument, perhaps lost on the audience. I pointed out that Slater Walker, the corporate raiders in Britain of the 1960s, got away with a lot because of the same argument—that its actions were necessary for the efficiency of British industry. As it turned out, it led to the demise of British industry (if I were to generalize). But, as long as we were talking about true efficiencies forced into being through legislation—for getting two councils on to the same software system is hard enough without a concerted effort—then that might be a good thing for ratepayers.
   The popular image of the super-structure might not be that relevant, and this is where technology could serve us for a change. Representation is the biggest concern of those who are against the super-city, so why not adopt technological measures, such as capturing ideas and intel electronically from around the Wellington region, so they can be used by the council? (As in 2010, I maintain that 130,000 voters are far smarter collectively than a single council.) Flatten the structure so mayor and council can hear the concerns of citizens—and keep it flattened, just as we were taught at business school. If Auckland’s biggest mistake was in community board funding, is it possible to investigate how they can remain funded properly here?
   There are way too many issues to discuss in a single blog post, but I’m just flagging some for discussion. What are your feelings out there? Is the mood shifting? Can I stop prefixing words with super-?

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Posted in business, leadership, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »