Running on two cylinders

If only half the people and half the technology in half of the organizations out there operated at half their ultimate capabilities, the economy would hum so loud it would deafen us all. And any company that could run at this level would take over corporate North America in a month, and the world two weeks later.

Unfortunately, the only place you see an organization firing on all its people and technology cylinders is in the ads on CNBC – you know the kind, where the guy in the sharp suit breezes off of an overnight flight to some scenic European capital (business class, of course), looking freshly pressed and clean shaven, and he pops open his wireless handheld thingy and starts an immediate (and apparently high speed) exchange of critical business information (graphics included) with a cool, well-dressed woman intently staring into a flat-screen monitor in a sleek conference room in a chic New York office, and with another guy in a hardhat with another wireless device, this guy standing in the middle of a busy but spotless robotic manufacturing facility in Asia. Cool music in the background.

Armed with this technology, our guy in the suit makes a call back to his young daughter at home just to show us that he’s not only king of the business world, but a hell of a father too.

As the girls in my daughter’s Grade 8 class would say: As if!

Hey, I’d be happy if I could get my Palm Pilot to consistently synchronize with Outlook, and if my cell phone wouldn’t drop a quarter of the calls I’m making when I go anywhere near above-the-ground phone lines.

Having lived through a week of less than stellar performances, my own, the people around me, and the technology I count on included, I figure that we’re collectively firing on about two of the eight cylinders in the engine.

Me? I could have been out of bed at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and gone for a run instead of staying under the sheets ’til the last minute and having them send up room service.

I could have ordered a chicken salad at Smith and Wollensky’s last night instead of that steak and a glass (OK, two glasses) of wine. And if I’d had the salad and ice water, I probably would’ve had the energy to tighten up that presentation I needed to make the next day in Boston.

The technology? Dial up access to the office works (most of the time) but, gawd is it slow, and high-speed access options have been mostly expensive and unreliable.

Yeah, yeah, I should get GRAS/VPN installed, but that would mean I’d have to be somewhere near the damned office to get it loaded. I left for Toronto on Sunday afternoon, returned from Philadelphia at about 11 p.m. Friday night, and headed back to the East coast on Sunday at noon – you think I’m going to spend my Saturday in the office installing and learning the complexities of a new access technology? So I wouldn’t be a good candidate for a CNBC commercial – sue me.

Fact is, the technology only works near its potential under perfect circumstances, with the fortuitous intersection of the right people in the right place at the right time. In my experience, this happy collusion of circumstances doesn’t happen very often.

Instead of getting frustrated because my world doesn’t run like a Nokia ad, I’ve started fixing the problem one small bit at a time. Herewith, three simple things I’ve learned about the maze of personal convenience (hah!) technology out there.

Voice mail: I could (and have had) three or four different voice mail boxes; one for the office, one for each of two cell phones (one business, one personal), one for the line at home. And I was driving myself nuts – I can’t even remember my social insurance number, let alone dial in numbers and access codes for four sets of voice mail.

So now I share the same voice mail for both my office and my one cell (and I’ll do it for my home phone too, if I can figure it out). If you don’t get me on my cell, your call will roll forward to my office voice mail where, if I’ve been smart, my phone has been forwarded to voice mail after one ring. After all, if I’m out of the office, why should you wait for my office phone to ring four times before voice mail kicks in? Call me at the office or on my cell: same message, and I pick them all up in the same place.

Passwords: Unless money or big privacy issues are involved, I’m sticking with one logon ID and one password wherever I can – don’t know how many different login IDs and passwords I could have potentially, but more than one is way too many.

Schedules: Want to know where I am and when I’m available? Ask someone who works with me to check my Outlook calendar; better yet, I’ll give you access so you can check it yourself. And while we’re at it, why don’t you give me access to your calendar too? I don’t know about you, but I don’t go anywhere secret, so my calendar is open to view (not to edit, mind you) by anybody – much easier than trying to line things up through our harried and overworked assistants.

And if one of our appointments really is private, if you want to get together with me to offer me a job, for example, we can both check the little private box in the bottom right hand corner of the appointment dialogue.

So here’s what I’m learning about mastering that personal technology monster: reduce and simplify: by my count even three cylinders are 50 per cent better than two.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at