Friday, September 21, 2007

Service? I’ll give you service …

I’m starting to put my things together and am getting ready to head up to the Bay area to drop in on Cupertino, as well as my own head office in San Francisco. I like my Simi Valley office – and here it is! After a few days in the Bay area, I will head back home to Boulder. I need to catch up with my good friend Lyman, one of my business partners, and I have to take our motorcycles in for service.

And as I was thinking about getting the bikes checked in for routine services, it occurred to me that service, any kind of service, is just going downhill. Like most of you, I have to believe there’s just not too many 1.800 numbers we care to call anymore. I find it so much easier today if I can just go online and punch a few keys on someone’s web site. This was brought home to me recently when, as a result of my own mistakes, I have to admit, I put myself into a situation that I am still trying to sort out.

As the Memorial Day weekend arrived (that’s back in late May, for my international readers) I bought a car. Not a very difficult transaction these days – although the paperwork is ballooning out of site. But I toughed it out, and just took a car right off the lot. Sharing time between Colorado and California, I thought I should do the right thing by my Californian friends, and slip into a two-seater ragtop – with a Beach Boys CD in the player!

From this point on, everything began to fall apart. I planned on driving the car back to Boulder, register it in the State of Colorado, and simply add it to our existing insurance plan. Pretty normal, and seriously, nobody really wants to deal with California insurance rates these days. My Colorado agent processed my request over the phone, no worries!

So, after I had driven back to Boulder, I walked into the local branch of the Motor Vehicle department (the Colorado DMV) and began the process. Yes, I had the proof of insurance firmly in my hand. I paid for the registration, picked up the new Colorado plates, and then took a quick look at the documentation I had to keep in the car. My wife’s name was wrong!

“It’s not our problem – you need to correct it back in California!” was the response. “You’re OK and the car is now registered here, in Colorado, and with Colorado insurance, you should have no problems driving it in California.”

My insurance company agreed, after they checked with a California Highway Patrolman they knew – and don’t ask me how, in Colorado, they were good friends with a Californian Patrolman. Still, I wanted to have the paperwork corrected.

But how do you change the title – when you financed the purchase? Who made the error and where do you start? I had to fill in the right forms to get my finance company to request a title name change in California, get the DMV in California to issue an amended title for the finance company, and carry the temporary validated new California registration back to Colorado. It took two trips to the Colorado offices and four trips to the California offices, before each party was satisfied.

In the meantime, California suspends the registration (that they thought they had, as we were still updating it) as they never received the insurance papers – a completely separate item that fell through the cracks as the paperwork was being ferried around.

And no, none of this could be done over the phone or even by mail – and no, there was no self-help kiosk available that could guide you through the process. On two separate occasions I almost lost it when it was suggested that I should consider starting again at the beginning! And on one occasion I was given a completely wrong set of instructions.

In today’s “Service-Oriented” world, why couldn’t I just sit down at a self-service kiosk, or even my own PC with Internet access, and walk through a process that sorts out this mess? Yes, I am aware of the security implications, but I had all the information in hand and could answer any random questions on file (and yes, I do remember what my first car was, which city I was born in, and what is the name of my favorite pet!).

I would have liked to have been able to walk up to such a kiosk, probably located in a state government building of course, and been able to select car registration transfer. I would have let the kiosk read my encoded California receipt, and then I could have double-clicked on a car icon in the state of California (courtesy of Google maps) and dragged the car icon to Colorado, swipe my credit card for payment (yes, I know – that’s an issue today as well), watch for my month / year stickers and a new replacement encoded Colorado receipt to be printed, and then take the receipt to the kiosk that dispenses plates?

But really, couldn’t I simply log on to Colorado DMV from my office PC – initiate a transfer, check the names on the title, click the request for change (with replacement title going back the finance company, as it was already on file), pay the fees and rest easy? All the while, calmly sipping a glass of wine?

Gimme a break – this is not hard to do today! And to do it securely!

But you are trying to smash together applications from different departments; you want to cut across a number of different networks, public and private; and you have to be authenticated at every step. Yes, I know – but it’s all there. I have it all!

Why do I need to make multiple visits to a bricks-and-mortar shop-front?

A couple of reports and magazines arrived in my office this week – inside of InformationWeek there were the results of a survey that they just completed across 229 companies on Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) / Web services. I also received a survey report “The New Mainframe: Data Integration and Service-Oriented Architecture, Big Iron Style” that was conducted by Unisphere Research (publisher of Data Base Trends and Applications) and where some 431 responses were collected. All up, pretty healthy numbers for both research pieces.

These reports went on to say much the same thing – even though SOA has been with us for a while now, and has had a lot of time to get traction inside many corporations, the results were proving to be a little disappointing.

While the initial goals of most users was application integration and service reuse, as InformationWeek noted, its perceived complexity seemed to be the culprit. The Unishere paper still pointed a finger firmly in the direction of the protocols, XML in particular, and how this text-based language, with its parsing requirements, was proving to be too much for many servers.

But the goals of SOA are right on the money. We really do need to unlock many of our applications, turn them into services, and think through better ways to integrate with other systems and services. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet, and the Web, has effectively removed the complexities of the network from our subconscious and we can get to anything we need these days. So now it’s up to us to push more of our interfaces out to our clients and users.

There’s a slow but sure revolution going on among end users themselves however – they are beginning to understand how to integrate multiple feeds right there, on their desktops. Many applications and services that they can access are now providing feeds and API’s that are pretty easy to use. End users are combining, or “mashing”, their own applications and these “mashups” are turning up in lots of places, and pretty quickly.

The hope with SOA, and now with Mash-Ups, is that end users will gravitate to those corporations who just make it easy to work with. And yes, I would advocate that “mashups” are moved closer to the center and onto IT managed, highly available, servers rather than out on the client devices.

Let’s be blunt here – systems like the HP NonStop server should be more seriously considered for functionality like this, given how critical this is to any corporation’s image. Nobody comes off looking good when a service goes offline for any reason. And I am a huge supporter of SOA, and have been for many years. Isn’t it time we pushed more of the systems supporting our end users back out to them, for their benefit?

I have to believe we all see the value of doing it ourselves? Even if some of us experience glitches and gotchas, the rest of us could prove very useful in the QA testing of early roll-outs. Just give me the displays and let me sort it all out – once I have satisfied you that I am who I am, then just get out of my way! I just don’t need hand-holding here; save your money.

Our knowledge of SOA has had a lot of time to take hold – aren’t we at the stage where we can leverage it to better serve our clients? Hopefully, as we work through the issues and begin to open up more applications this way, I will never have to go back and explain what I need to have done – mind you, I am not there yet.

This story is not finished by any means – I still have one more trip (I hope) to the Colorado DMV. Maybe there are more forms I need to complete. I am optimistic that we can figure this all out, and that I will never have to stand in line again!


Kelvin Anderson said...

I'm sympathetic to the DMV Mess, A similar experience was had by me involving both automobile registration as well as drivers license while working a short stint in Portland, for US Bank. Living in Washington, automobile registration and drivers license from Utah and working in Oregon...what a mess. Take a Number!...Now serving 2,589,672!

Anonymous said...

yes been more easy and fast way only if you have your own gadgets to search on of what you wanted to know,.

Anonymous said...
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