Letters to the Editor

Regarding Ken Hanley’s article, “Allowing For Exceptions Can Be Costly” (Jan 11, page 20), I sympathize with his plight at IKEA. One should never be held hostage by a computer application no matter what the circumstances. This is beside the point, but some IT people are very narrowly focused and don’t consider the fact that although their application runs smooth as silk, the real world doesn’t always co-operate and therefore they neglect to plan for exceptions.

I think that if a system can handle 98 per cent of the normal business circumstances then you have a very reliable system. As for the other 2 per cent, why is it necessary that the system be involved at all? I believe that proper manual procedures can complement a sound application. In your case they issued you several pieces of paper and told you to return when the item was scheduled to arrive.

Suppose the truck never arrived that day. How many times would they expect you to return to their store before you decided to buy the item elsewhere? It would have made more sense to tell you that they would contact you once the item had arrived and their system had been made aware of its arrival. A minor modification to the system might allow items out of stock and on order to be held for a customer and then when the item arrives and the new inventory is entered into the system it would flag this item as “on hold” and issue a reminder to call the customer.

If the store wanted to be fancy, the system could generate an email to the customer automatically or even a phone call. The Toronto Public Library issues automated calls when it fills an order for a book on hold when it arrives at the branch that the borrower designated.

No system can ever be perfect but it should never restrict the normal course of business. Not only is it frustrating to customers but it’s very unflattering publicity.

I hope you’ve since had success acquiring your mattress and that you didn’t lose too much sleep over it.

Dennis Day


Managers not asking for right skills

In response to the article “Computer education is problematic” by Bob Fabian in your March 8, 2000 (pg.31),I agree with Mr. Fabian that business has a need for people with a balanced view of the role technology plays in organizations. Pointing the finger at educational institutions and saying that they are slow to respond is not an accurate representation of the reality of the situation. Mr. Fabian wanted the following themes woven into computer educational programs:

– Familiarity with the consulting approach,

– An understand of high tech markets,

– Financial analysis,

– Project management,

– An understanding of organizational change management,

– Agile development processes,

– Integration of different business and technological components,

– An understanding how technology is changing society and business.

I would like to point out that many universities have indeed incorporated these themes into their programs. The problem is that managers are not asking for the right skills. When looking for an employee, they specify a long list of attributes and knowledge that have little or nothing to do with the position. The qualities that Mr. Fabian is looking for are found in a business systems analyst, not those of a computer programmer or computer electrical engineer. Would you expect a lawyer to design and construct a building? Then why expect a programmer to understand the ins and outs of how the business operates! Is it reasonable to expect a university graduate to have expertise in all the competencies it has taken the manager years of experience and training to develop?

Managers need to be aware that each position has a set of competencies (attitudes, behaviours and knowledge) that the job incumbent needs in order to do his or her job well. Not everyone needs to be an expert in every competency. Sometimes an acquaintanceship or proficiency level is sufficient. A CIO is expected to be capable of dealing with a much broader range of situations than a data entry clerk. The higher in the organization an individual functions the greater the number of competencies required.

Managers need to identify what competencies apply and the level required to perform at a satisfactory level for a particular position. Once the manager has established what is required he has a much better chance of finding someone or training existing personnel to fill the position. A good suggestion might be to stop looking for God to fill the vacancy. God already has a job and isn’t applying!

Nathan Crocker, Centre for Workplace Dynamics

Maidstone, Ont.