Saturday, May 31. 2008
......Kylie Minogue looks the same on her 40th birthday photo as she did on her 20th; Alan Bond is one of Australia's richest men again, Kevin Rudd is channeling Bob Hawke with identical pointless 'consensus' discussion', "summits" and absolutely stupid and pointless decisions and addressing problems that don't exist and thereby creating new very real problems:
Signiing the Kyoto Protocol (just before it expires)- committing Australia to reach carbon emission targets it was already well under
Saying "Sorry" to Aboriginal Australian people - immediately escalating the legal climate for more unearned financial support that was a prime cause of him thinking he should say "sorry" in the first place.
Taking a world wide trip and making a total goose of himself in every place people were kind enough to give him a hour of their time while the decisions that neede to be taken by government in Australia were put on hold for six weeks.
Holding an "ideas summit" - that, like Hawke's, produced no ideas but only demonstrated that Rudd's Labor hadn't got any of their own.
Producing a first budget that addressed nothing that was needed to be addressed and pointlessly raising tax on teen mixed spirit cans - immediately teaching teens that you can make stronger drinks mixing your own; if you don't count appeasing his doctrinaire puppet masters by raising the luxury car tax, just as Hawke did - producing a frenzy of new luxury car buying before June 30th.
but why go on; the current prime minister of this country has comprehensively demonstrated himself to be inept, bereft of either ideas or even common sense and totally up himself in the six months a few misguided Australians gave him the opportunity for posturing to a wider audience.
If you remember 1988 the parallels with Hawke are almost eerie....right up to the looming recession that will make so many people's lives in this country so miserable by Christmas.
Looking at the communications companies there is a similar feeling of 'deja vu' - although some of the names have changed over the past twenty years. On the positive side, depending on who you are of course, Telstra and Optus shares keep trending upwards to their 52 week highs. On the negative side every other communications company's shares are at or continue to fall towards, their 52 week lows.
Pretty much sums of the telco market at the moment....right down to the uncertaainty of what a major change to "Telstra" would mean in the telecommunications supply businesses. (hard to realise now that today's 'telcos' other than Telstra didn't exist in 1998) Then - the major change was issuing carrier licenses and the 'privatisation of Telecom Australia. Now - it's the mooted FTTN and the considerations of whether that will reverse the 'privatisation' or wil it, after 20 plus years in fact bring about 'privatisation'?
No-one, at least no-one I know or whose opinions I read, is now prepared to make a call on that crucial, for many telcos including Telstra, way that will go or by when. Which I suppose is a good thing because up to quite recently the consensus, and it may well be a consensus of the uninformed, was that Telstra would re-establish its monopoly and consign Australia back to the 1980s in terms of access to new technology and affordable prices of communications services.
Roll on July - holiday time.
Friday, May 30. 2008
....might allow the next two years to be spent more profitably and more interestingly than dithering around in Australia waiting for the dust to settle.
As the current FTTN fiasco proceeds along the easily forecastable lines it was always doomed to do (from the moment those turkeys masquerading as a national government were elected by the 15% below average intelligence people in Australia) I have revived Exetel's interests in using our 'expertise' outside Australia.
Now you may well think that it would be absurd for a tiny company like Exetel that has barely scratched the surface of its target markets in Australia to have the hubris to even briefly consider that it could compete with any sort of larger market in a foreign country - and you may very well be correct.
However you could also look at it another way.
Telstra and the current Labor government and the absurd FTTN 'tender' and the Terria et al vested interests are pretty clearly going to ensure that no decision is reached on what can be done in terms of a "national broadband strategy" (and by the way - no-one needs such a thing as a "national broadband strategy - least of all Australia) for the next two years - at least. In the mean time the various protagonists will do their best to tear each other apart commercially and make what semblance of regulated access to services that now exists seem like 'the good old days' by the end of 2009.
There is no way that a small company like Exetel can invest any real money in Australia until (and even if) the current total uncertainty is resolved and, if the result is really bad, no way to invest even then. The opportunities for Exetel in Australia are limited at the best of times but sufficient for us to continue to make a small contribution to both the Australian economy, keep residential communications services at the lowest 'real' cost for those tens of thousands of Australians who want to use them and, for every day we stay in business, contribute to protecting Australia's flora and fauna and 'atmosphere' by spending a large part of our small profit on the various protection and restoration schemes for endangered species in Australia.
Despite our very small size we do have some quite interesting characteristics that no other Australian, and more importantly from my 'investigations' to date, no other UK company has in providing internet and other related services to their various marketplaces. We are incredibly more efficient than anyone we compete with in Australia and we are therefore able to deliver services at lower costs than any other company (even taking in to consideration other larger companies much better buying power for base services).
Depending on which figures you personally believe, Exetel has around a 1% 'marketshare' of the Australian market which we would expect to continue to slightly increase over the next two years - not a very impressive effort in the wider scheme of things but we had to go through, to some extent are still going through, some very severe growing pains and had to overcome some fairly major 'problems' along the way to reach that tiny market share.
I doubt that if we opened an operation in the UK we would face the same difficulties we faced in setting up Exetel in Australia and I'm pretty sure we would be able to use everything we've developed in Australia, in terms of systems, procedures, automation and the Sri Lankan support services (same time difference between Colombo and London as Colombo and Sydney - just the other way round).
I have done this twice in 'past lives' with nothing like the advantages and knowledge we have now, and on both occasions it was successful so I don't have any real concerns about the 'hows' of doing it. Of course time moves on, marketplaces and perceptions change and I'm certainly no younger - but........
.......there are three times the number of broadband users in the UK and they spend more, on average, than Australian users do and the companies that provide services are as equally inefficient as the Australian service providers - from what I have seen and enquired about.
I have made preliminary enquiries with our legal advisors venture capital partner and yesterday I briefly raised the issue with DeLoittes. From those initial enquiries I doubt that there would be too much trouble raising the money needed to start up a 'trial company' and that may be the best way of investing money (ours and other people's) rather than pursuing the investments we were considering prior to the curse of being saddled with Crazy Kevin and Stupid Stephen and their pointless interference in the Australian communications industry.
Maybe I'm just getting carried away with the imminent set up of Exetel in Sri Lanka but I'm very tempted to see if we could get some financial backing to provide communications services in the EU. I doubt it would take more than $A3 - 5 million to do and that sort of money, even in today's tough investment environment, is easy enough to find.
Perhaps we should just do a pre-trial trial in New Zealand?
Thursday, May 29. 2008
It's the time of year when all 'good men' (and quite a high proportion of 'bad' men and presumably women of both kinds these days) who are involved or responsible for their company's business planning are reaching the key decision time each year when they have to start 'putting in concrete' (not mafia style) the assumptions and therefore the resultant month by month figures for the forthcoming financial year.
I am one of those people who do it the lazy way of not recognising artificial dates such as June 30th in terms of planning (except for 'tax planning') and therefore subscribe to the planning concept of a 24 month forward operating plan that is quite accurate for the immediate next six months and tends to be extrapolated forecast rather than plan after that. Nevertheless it is a serious document that is reviewed in greater or lesser detail prior to each monthly board meeting and, at least to date, has been a fairly accurate document in terms of revenue and reasonably accurate in terms of profit.
As Exetel gets slightly larger (though of course we are still very, very small) the dependencies and future ramifications of other company's actions in our marketplaces have more significant effects and therefore introduce higher levels of uncertainty.
One of the things I do, and I'm sure many other people involved in planning do, is to look at the published results of companies in similar marketplaces to us to see what, if anything, can be detected from the results that they, being public companies, have to make public. I commented a few weeks ago that there seemed to be very, very few public companies that actually made a profit providing communications services and I wondered why anyone would put themselves through the heavy workloads of running a company that seemed to have no point in existing.
This scenario was reinforced yesterday when I looked at the latest half yearly figures for Macquarie Telecom Group Limited (prompted by a press announcement that they now had deployed 250 DSLAMs round Australia). It made depressing reading in the context that they lose money on revenues approaching $A250 million a year. It seems to me that if you've been in business for well over ten years, have revenues of a quarter billion and haven't increased year on year and are losing money with accumulated losses of $A44 million you should have worked out by now that you made a really bad decision in selecting a business to start up.
So, adding Macquarie to the list that includes iiNet (at the higher end) and the penny dreadfuls at the low/tiny end, all you seem to see is that starting up a telecommunications company in Australia only results in costing your shareholders mega millions of dollars and you serve absolutely no purpose in existing if dividends for your shareholders at a rate above savings bank interest is part of your/your shareholder's objectives.
The exception to this was, at the time, TPG who had made their main shareholder (interests of David Teoh) somewhere between $A150 million and $A250 million - depending on how the shareholding worked out over time. A great result for David Teoh but a really bad result for the shareholders of SPT who lost their cash in paying for TPG - winners and losers - but no nett wealth increment. Since the 'take over' the SPT shares have lost one third of their value having fallen from mid 40s at the time of the offer to around 30 cents today and it will be interesting to see whether the handsome profit predictions made in the 'merger document' actually come to fruition - I'll take any bet they don't.
Their current cash situation after paying so much for TPG may be illustrated by this:
...sounds like a company that either can't pay its bills or, perhaps worse, a company that doesn't know what bills to pay (one that doesn't know which staff to pay sounds like one very screwed up company).
Why would any sensible person/shareholder decide to invest their time and money in this business which has a long track record of consistently destroying shareholder value and almost always results in 'take over' (for the larger companies) and going out of business for the smaller companies?
Of course Telstra and Singapore Telecom's share holders get realistic dividends (though their share values aren't that flash at the moment). These companies can't really be taken in to consideration as Telstra was funded for 100 years by Australian taxpayers and Optus was purchased for $A18 billion by Singapore Telecom after racking up billions of dollars of write offs and contributed to the demise of some 'icons' of the Australian company community (anyone remember Cable and Wireless, Mayne Nickless and Ansett Airlines?) who collectively lost their 'shirts' in trying to make Australia's second carrier license make a financial return. There is little doubt that Optus itself would no longer exist if it hadn't made the huge additional investments in building out its mobile network to finally allow the company to reach profitability - some 8 years after the initial prospectus estimates and after writing off some ten times the estimated cost of delivering that result.
So, now I look at the almost final version of the Exetel business plan for FY2009 I can't help but wonder why I, and a little later in June the other shareholders of Exetel, should believe that we can continue to make a month on month profit where it has clearly been not possible for almost every other communications company to do so? Perhaps it's simply the 'tyranny' of spreadsheets like Excel whose neat arrays of densely packed figures in columns and rows hide errors of logic and assumption?
Only time will tell and hope does spring eternal. Let's hope 2009 is an easier year than 2008.
Wednesday, May 28. 2008
In a different 'life' I made a handsome living by checking large company's telephone bills at no charge other than a 10% fee of any reductions in the bills subsequently credited to the client by the telephone service provider/carrier. Two events over the past two days reminded me of just how long this, and I don't think there's another word to use, FRAUD, has been going on.
One was this brief article in the Australian:
and, more tellingly several of the on line comments made below the article.
The second event was the receipt of yet another large credit (of $A189,000) on bills we paid to a supplier for services that have been in dispute for getting on for two years now. Over the two years that we have been disputing billed charges with that supplier we have managed to 'claw back' $A1,348,044 in incorrect charges on bills totaling a little over $A7 million - an error, in the supplier's favour, of over 18% and more than enough incorrect payments to have sent us broke by now if we hadn't refused to pay the bills at their 'face value'.
The billing problems with EVERY major supplier add a very, very significant over payment every month to almost every corporate and government entity's bills and has required many of them to employ people or retain 'consultants' to check their telco bills to attempt to prevent ongoing massive over paying.
What do the suppliers say about this?
I can only go on my own experience, both for companies I've been directly involved in and those I've provided services to. The invariable answer is always the same:
"If you wish to dispute any part of your bill please use the appropriate process and with hold payment"
Sounds fair enough? You have to be joking. Why should ANY commercial enterprise think it's "OK" to consistently over bill its customers and demand that the customer check huge numbers of line items to determine the basis for establishing what the correct charge should be?
More than one person who commented on that Australian article pointed out that the same error types appear on successive bills showing that the invoicing software contains endemic calculation errors. This means that the telco(s) concerned knowingly issue bills each month that contain millions of dollars of errors which the management of the telcos concerned know is happening and do nothing about.
Knowing this situation has meant that from its very early 'life' Exetel has been writing bill checking software for each of the suppliers we use which checks all aspects of the bills we receive electronically (and, yes, some suppliers still send very hard to check 'paper' bills in quasi electronic form). Our methodology is to write a 'reverse' billing process that checks each line item on the bill against the contracted rate per service component. We have been writing these bill checking programs for almost 4 years and they have saved us, literally, millions of dollars in over charges.
However, the cost to us of writing the software and then the people time involved in disputing the charges with the different suppliers has been very, very expensive - and we shouldn't have had to incur such expenses.
In any other circumstances, based on my brief, incomplete and quite possibly wrong, knowledge of Australian criminal law this seem to me to be deliberate fraud or obtaining money by false pretences.
These aren't "human errors" nor are they "transient and quickly corrected minor coding issues" which are the rote statements always offered as a 'defence'.
Why aren't they?
Because if they were, the 'laws of averages' would suggest that over millions of dollars of bills the errors in the telco's favour would be offset by the errors in the customer's favour - which, very clearly, isn't the case - in Exetel's case with a single supplier the errors are 18% in favour of the telco every month and known "coding errors" are never corrected.
I think that any reasonable, and reasonably intelligent person would struggle to find any other explanation for such a circumstance other than the billing code is written deliberately to over bill.
So why aren't the CEO's of such companies prosecuted and jailed just as all other criminals are? Don't they authorise the writing of the billing systems and their implementation and don't they know that the billing systems consistently over bill and that therefore their company receives money to which it's not entitled?
Tuesday, May 27. 2008
......with acknowledgment to Bill Conti and Carol Connors.
I have been making the 'final' adjustments to the 'design' of the projected HSDPA plans that Exetel will offer from July 1st 2008 (all being well) and have not been very happy with what we can accomplish in the short term. My unease is partly due to the 'me tooism' of offering a service that begins by being constrained by the wholesaler's 'models' and therefore what is already available to end users from the carrier itself and their 'early to market' wholesale customers and, more importantly to me in terms of looking at the whole of FY2009, what I see happening in the USA and to a lesser extent in Europe.
I'm taking time off in July to look at some of the wildlife re-introduction and protection programs in the UK - mainly in Scotland and, despite the disapproval of my 'traveling companion' I will make an effort to 'stay in touch' for which I need a sensible broadband connection which, based on the locations we will be visiting, is going to prove difficult unless I can use a wireless service. (However, given the West Coast of Scotland is devoid of HSDPA services that is not going to be as useful as I thought it would be).
One benefit of doing this 'research', in looking up various wireless options in Europe, was that I became more fully aware that there were much more flexible HSDPA plans available from European carriers than there are, currently, from Australian mobile carriers. The US carriers are a lot more flexible than Australian carriers. This interests/concerns me to the extent that all previous trends point to the Australian carriers adopting the more successful mobile plans developed by the European carriers with a 3 - 6 month lag.
The HSDPA plans I thought were particularly useful were those that charged a monthly access fee and allowed the user to choose an amount of downloads they wanted which could be used on an as and when basis with the ability to buy more downloads on line to keep the service operating. Basically you buy a USB modem for around $A120.00 and select a service which has a monthly cost plus an amount of downloads (different carriers varied, but the range was from 1 gb to 9 gb at a rate roughly equivalent to current Australian mobile carrier's charges but with no monthly cut off).
Of course, if you do the math on less than monthly maximum usage, these plans don't work out to be any cheaper than the current crop of Australian plans from Optus, Vodafone and 3 but what they do offer is the chance of being less costly which would, I think, be what a pretty large sector of the Australian marketplaces would prefer.
If we can get one final accommodation from our currently preferred Australian carrier, Exetel will offer a single HSDPA plan based on a fixed monthly service charge plus charges for actual usage per month rather than playing with the 'included usage' basis that works well with ADSL but not, in our circumstances, with HSDPA. I've never been comfortable with the sorts of plans that, for instance, DODO has put in place using the Optus network - in fact I'm not comfortable with the whole chicanery of mobile plan marketing in Australia generally which has, of course, now 'spilled over' to data over mobile.
Ideally, I would like Exetel to offer one HSDPA plan which would be:
Modem - $125.00 (still having trouble with that price point)
Monthly service Access Fee - $5.00
Usage charge - 1.5 cents per megabyte
No tricks, no smoke and mirrors, no false claims, no 'shocks' - just a simple to understand price for a very useful service.
At current carrier pricing it wont suit anyone who uses more than 3 - 4 gbytes a month (which is probably less than 20% of the current ADSL user base) and at around 1.8 mbps downloads it wont suit some ADSL2 users - but they tend to need more than 3 - 4 gbytes per month anyway so that isn't really an issue.
Why come up with such a simple offering?
It will suit the majority of unit dwellers (no wire line installation costs and monthly rental costs, no 12-24 month contract)
It will suit anyone who travels and spends their own money on internet connection.
It will suit many corporations who do pay for their employees traveling internet charges
It's a better solution than ADSL for most people who use less than 4 gbytes a month (and who pay for a telephone line)
....and there are many more advantages of such a plan that need to be carefully thought through and worded.
Having one simple plan also meets Exetel's overall business objectives of 'plain and simple and very low cost'.
Exetel remains a 'marketing blonde free environment'.
Monday, May 26. 2008
.....an absolutely negative affect on broadband progress in Australia.
There have been several very negative articles in the various print and electronic media over the past few days but I thought Bruce Billson's summary in today's Australian:
summed up the various non-Telstra industry views on the uselessness of the Crazy Kevin election sound bite. Billson has obviously been corresponding with a number of Australian telecommunications industry spokespeople and/or has diligent staff who have 'vacuumed up' the various opinions expressed in different media.
While all these manouverings are of little interest to small companies like Exetel (we will do our best to make whatever we can out of whatever eventually transpires - if in fact this pointless exercise in fact continues to a conclusion) there are two aspects that have a significant bearing on decisions we have taken or are about to take.
The first is the fact that the Tasmanian Government appears to be going to bid on a 'partial' basis - i.e. taking advantage of the apparent Stupid Stephen shoot from the hip comment that 'part tenders for specific geographic areas will be considered." As Telstra (and presumably past Federal Governments) have consigned Tasmania to a broadband wasteland via the Telstra monopoly of connectivity between Tasmania and Victoria and its subsequent breathtakingly high per mbps cost of using the Telstra cable, it makes eminent sense for the Tassie government to put its hand up for a chunk of the Federal funding to actually deliver broadband at affordable prices to Tasmanians by having its own network.
Good idea - but it'll never happen because, of course, it would be the start of the AT&T - Baby Bell break up in the USA some 40 years ago. If Tasmania was allowed to build a broadband network using Federal money then what about the other States? Of course TransACT would (I think it's said they already are) registering to bid separately for the ACT separately to the other parts of Australia. (I wonder what the federal tender means to the WA Government Staewide broadband roll out?)
Apart from that; if both, or either, Tasmania and the ACT get to bid and, more ludicrously, actually somehow get to 'win' what a total mess that will make of a "national" broadband strategy and which CEO of a private company in their right mind is going to try and compete with a government owned service in a small State or Territory - assuming the government's concerned found some people competent enough to operate it?
But you get the drift of what is now happening with this mad woman's breakfast concept of a "National" FTTN for $A4.7 billion of your tax dollars? Bear in mind this is from the mental midgets who can't see that a $A21 billion tax surplus couldn't take the hit from the reduction/elimination of petrol excise to reduce out of sight petrol prices in their desire to help "working families" (I assume that's because it would also make it cheaper to fill up the Mercs and BMWs of their class enemies on the Sydney North Shore and Eastern Suburbs).
For a contrary view on reducing fuel excise Ross Gittins argues persuasively here:
Apart from both Telstra and Terria saying "we may not bid and we really don't care if we don't win (a pretty certain outcome if you don't bid) you now have the prospect of separate "State" bids not to mention a bid from one of the most rapacious merchant banks in Australia.
With the tender dead line already shifted back 12 weeks (and that won't be the last extension of time) and the rag tag and bobtail list of potential bidders fragmenting to a crazy extent the other issue is also becoming more obvious - the slow down/cessation of building out current networks by some of the larger carriers as they try and work out what's really going to happen.
As I said, this whole mess is irrelevant to Exetel with the exception of what really should happen in Tasmania and, to a lesser extent, the ACT where we have just signed long term agreements to put in PoPs and back haul and Telstra Wholesale connections. Our investments may well be 'trivial' in terms of other companies infrastructure investments but they are big chunks of cash for private equity providers (us).
While I fully understand that the chances of a FTTN actually being built at all are now are now less than they were a month ago and the chance of anything being actually available in Tasmania and the ACT in less than 2 - 3 years is equally uncertain it has become something that we have to consider for the first time - as opposed to doing what we have done to date which is to take the view that it'll never happen in any realistic time frame so there are far more important things to worry about.
Because Rudd is clearly crazy enough and Stephen is certainly stupid enough in these early stages of ignoring the reality that government means you actually have to do things (rather than criticise the opposition for not doing things) to cling tenaciously to their stupid, completely unconsidered 'election promise' there might well be some funding for separate broadband structures in places like Tasmania, the ACT and the NT and 'rural Australia - anyone remember OPEL?
I mean - it makes perfect sense doesn't it - by giving money to 'remote areas' to build separate networks and point out that all capital cities and large regional cities already have ADSL2 - hey presto - 98% of Australians DO have access to high speed broadband!!
And you also get to break the Telstra monopoly with Telstra's total complicity - or should that be implicity?!
This shambolic nonsense is going to run for a very long time yet.
Sunday, May 25. 2008
......"we want the lowest possible prices" vs "it must be made in Australia"........for any product or service we may choose to purchase.
I was reminded of this issue when I read this earlier this morning:
I don't know who 'Exelior' is (though there's some chance their management skills are in line with their vocabulary skills) but I'm assuming that it's a company that 'trains' call centre staff for placement in large or start up call centres. The fact that AAPT (who announced this decision over a year ago from memory) are moving their Australian out sourced call centres to off shore outsourced call centres simply acknowledges the reality of manufacturing products or delivering services in a 'global economy'.
I don't know who the first Australian manufacturer was that did this but my father in law suggested it was Hanimex (who once made low cost cameras in Australia) in the 1970s but then shifted all manufacturing to an outsource manufacturer in a succession of SE Asian countries following skills availability and labour cost reductions. Certainly US manufaturers have been doing it for decades and Indian call centres employ hundreds of thousands of personnel providing call centres to US and European (and Australian) service companies including credit card issuers, banks, airlines, PC manufacturers, etc, etc.
As the article suggests, Telstra, Optus and TPG have already moved parts of their call centres to the Philippines and iiNet recently made an announcement that it was going to open a call centre in South Africa though it was unclear whether iiNet was planning to hire its own personnel or outsource that.
All of these companies (plus Exetel in its very minor way) make these decisions based on economic realities and, in Exetel's case, the difficulty of finding, and retaining, competent engineers (as opposed to script readers) to take and remain in call centre support roles for a realistic length of time.
I doubt that Telstra. Optus and TPG and now AAPT have done anything more than replace Australian script readers with Philippine script readers at a lower cost per script reader managed by foreign managers/organisations with no real knowledge of the companies for whom they provide services to. What iiNet intend is unclear.
Exetel haven't followed the 'offshore outsource' path but have recognised, after four years, the impossibility of building a sensibly skilled call centre irrespective of the cost due to the lack of desire by people who would be needed to staff such a facility not wishing to do that sort of work beyond their initial entry into the work force. Of course there are exceptions but not enough to staff a large call centre consistently.
We could get Australian graduate engineers to stay in a call centre position for three years (the time that is required to ensure true knowledge and skill is delivered to the customer consistently) by paying much more money (2 - 3 times what a call centre engineer currently gets paid). However if we did that then we would need to increase our prices to a point where customers wouldn't buy from us.
Or we could do what we plan to do which is to pay three times the going rate for a graduate engineer in a country that has lower wage structures than Australia has which makes such over payments possible. This is what we have done, planned to expand doing in the future.
In my, current, judgment it delivers the best possible scenario to Exetel's Australian customers, both in terms of the cost of their services and the quality of the support of those services, and avoids the 'bad English speaking script reader traps' of the vast majority of off shore outsourcing. It has worked well over the past years for Exetel in its trial form and I see no reason, at this stage, why it won't get better now we are expanding it to a 24 x 7 operation over the coming year.
All of the engineers we employ in Sri Lanka, or will employ in Sri Lanka, will be employed by Exetel with the same future career path opportunities that an Australian graduate engineer employed by us in Australia has or will have. In terms of remuneration a Sri Lankan engineer will be paid 2 - 3 times what other employers pay in Sri Lanka and that differential will be maintained throughout the time the engineer remains employed by Exetel.
In doing this sort of 'outsourcing' everyone wins:
1) The Sri Lankan engineers earn much more money than any other Sri Lankan employer will pay for their services for three years
2) The Australian customers will get more expert help than would otherwise be possible
3) The Australian customers will get longer support hours than would otherwise be possible
4) The Australian customers will get lower product/service prices than would otherwise be possible.
5) Exetel will become more cost/efficient which will give it a better chance of surviving to continue to deliver the lowest cost communications services in Australia
6) In terms of access to other personnel, training, systems resources or management an Exetel employee in Sri Lanka is the same, in every respect, as an Exetel employee in North Sydney, Canberra, Gosford, Mosman or Perth. Exetel continues to decentralise its personnel locations and it really makes no difference whether a customer call is answered from any particular geographic location.
If there's a fallacy in this planning then I am not aware of it.Our experience in developing this solution over the last 2+ years has allowed us to obtain detailed knowledge of the issues to be addressed and the best ways of addressing them and our gradual, but constantly, better understanding of the very different circumstances pertaining to operating a familiar business in a totally unfamiliar country is equally valuable.
I definitely don't believe that most of the current 'call centre outsourcing options' provide any real benefits to anyone (though I only have observational knowledge of that process) but I think the approach taken by Exetel is clearly very different and very clearly addresses the real issue - which is to provide BETTER customer service, by people who ENJOY their jobs more at LOWER costs.
Saturday, May 24. 2008
........some thoughts on the value, or otherwise, of this strange activity.
While I was in the UK in July of last year I caught up with a very old acquaintance that I had worked with for the best part of ten years in the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s. He was trying to put together a 're-union' with some of the people with whom we had mutually shared many of the best years of our young professional lives and had got my contact details from someone who knew of my involvement with Exetel.
He had gone on to much bigger and better and infinitely more responsible things in Japan and then the USA but he remembered the 'good old days' in IBM just as I do and, I would think, a fair number of other people who shared those always interesting and sometimes amazing times.
During our inter changes over several days, during which we found time to discuss a wide variety of 'historic' and current topics he mentioned the "power" of writing blogs in commercial environments and how he wished he could devote enough time to doing it and also persuade various other people within his international organisation to do the same. He shared with me some very interesting statistics about how a regular and 'basically informative' blog can, and almost invariably does, positively affect many aspects of a commercial organisations performance and, as his analysis showed, actually increased sales and internal morale among other key benefits.
I had barely heard of 'blogging' at that time in more than a cursory understanding that it's use was increasing. I was intrigued about what he had said and even more intrigued at what the research he sent me subsequently pointed out. So without ever having written a word in 'blog', nor having any idea about how to go about it, I thanked him for the information and said that when I returned to Australia I would write a daily blog. He laughed and said that the number of people who could write a weekly business blog of any relevance for more than a month could be counted on the fingers of two hands and he didn't know of anyone who had attempted to write a blog more often than that in, or outside, business.
My response was that I couldn't see a problem in doing that at all and I would do it for a year to prove out the research claims; to which he replied he would bet me a case of wine of my choice against a single bottle of Scotch of his choice that I couldn't do that. We quickly settled the rules that I would commence within a week of getting back to Australia and I would be allowed to miss 10 single days over the year to allow for long distance travelling and sheer communications impossibilities and each entry must be relevant to Exetel's business and be an average of 500 words.
Today is my 300th consecutive blog and winning the bet is in sight with the slight problem that I'm going to take a holiday in early July for a month and both the 'demands' of my holiday 'traveling companion' and some of the very remote areas we will be visiting will pose a serious threat to the very end of this endeavour (but not remotely as serious as me attempting to defer or dumb down the trip itself).
Last week I received a request to provide some information to a person who was about to give an address to IT professionals on the value of blogs in a professional environment, an edited version to protect the enquirer's name and occupation appears below:
I've been reading your blog for some time, and thought it would be great to share some of your thoughts about the blog with other people working in IT. I'm speaking to a gathering of professionals about blogging later this month.I'm staggered you find the time, and the will to post so regularly, and in such depth.
It seems there's a huge number of programmers, business people, Web devs, database admins, server experts etc. who could be doing the same as you, and posting interesting regular blogs, but mightn't know why they should bother. It might help to get some perspective from someone who's doing it:
- What specific benefits do you get from your blog? Money? Business contacts? Product ideas? Is it just to share ideas?
I hope you don't mind me being so upfront. I thought it'd be a great opportunity to get some opinion and advice to share with other business people. Hopefully you can share some comments in a reply to this email if you have the time."
I replied in as much detail as I could and I really hope that he does manage to open the eyes of other people to the value of blogging just as an acquaintance from my long past opened my eyes some 10 months ago. I can now say with the actual knowledge of having done it that a daily blog actually does produce the results claimed in the research I read getting on for a year ago now.
(to those kind people who have written to me publicly and privately with words of encouragement over the past 299 ramblings - thank you for showing an interest and your comments have given me a lot of assistance - and more often than some cynics might think - some really good ideas which have helped Exetel).
Friday, May 23. 2008
....something that proved to be infinitely more difficult, and take much longer than I had expected.
We received the advice late last night (because of the time difference between Colombo and Sydney) that the Sri Lankan Board Of Investment had approved our application to invest in Sri Lanka by setting up a company there and would like to arrange a 'signing ceremony' to formally sign the agreement. That was really good news because we have already spent a not inconsiderable amount of money on six month deposits on office space rental and accommodation for the Australians who will be managing the Sri Lankan operation as well as 50% of the fit out costs and it would have made it very difficult for us if we had not received approval and the tax and other benefits that confers.
We had intended to start operating from an office in Colombo from 1st June which we have now pushed back to 1st July - not a big deal but, of course, another unanticipated expense when we started this process over two years ago....doubtless it won't be the last.However we can now proceed at full speed to recover the lost time and attempt to finish all the logistics of operating a complex facility ten thousand kilometers away from our other facilities.
We have never done business in a third world country before and the learning curve has been steep and convoluted and we have made many incorrect assumptions and a lot of mistakes that have led to long delays and, on not a few occasions, resulting in a 'start all over again' scenario. However we seem to have finally overcome our own inadequacies in this long drawn out process and, hopefully, things will get a bit easier once the office is operational.
One thing we have found very hard to deal with (and will find this equally hard moving forward) is the 22 public holidays that exist in Sri Lanka including 13 holidays each year on the day there is a 'full moon'. This will pose some interesting problems in managing an operation that requires 365 day staffing.
The other really hard situation to deal with (and one much harder in terms of operation than it was on our visits to Colombo) is the frequent power outs (it's like Melbourne in January or August in the 1970s only worse) that make having a shower in your hotel or eating a meal in a restaurant something that needs more planning than in Sydney.
Apart from those two issues there is the 27 year old civil war in the North and the repercussions in Colombo (another bus was bombed last week) and the associated security checks and the curfew in the centre of Colombo (where our office will be located).
Having said all of those things both Annette and I found 'living' in Colombo really interesting and we loved the food which costs next to nothing and tastes so much nicer than any curries we have ever had in Australia and, on a much briefer acquaintance, India. Certainly better than Singapore or Malaysia. In many ways I envy the people from Exetel who will go to Sri Lanka over the next 12 months.
Our principal reason for operating a company in Sri Lanka is to provide an expanded support service in Australia. If things work out as we plan we will provide Exetel's Australian customers with 365 day a year support of 12 hours each day by some time in the first half of 2009.Our other major objective is to do all/most of of our program development in Sri Lanka and Exetel, surprising though it may seem, has always done a great deal of programming since we started the company - mainly on our automation but more recently on application development.
The actual office space is really good (much, much better than we have in North Sydney) on the 9th floor of Colombo's biggest office complex with a curved floor to ceiling window that looks out over the Indian Ocean and really good shops, banks, food court on the ground floors - makes me very envious as I look out over a large hording and the back end of another building.
Again, if everything we plan happens roughly on schedule we will employ in excess of 30 people in the Colombo office by the end of 2009 and will have as many people in Sri Lanka as we currently do in Australia.
I'm sure the difficulties we have experienced to date will intensify over the next 6 - 8 weeks but it's been a really interesting experience and one that, if it ultimately proves successful, will make Exetel Australia much more cost/efficient company than it is today.
Thursday, May 22. 2008
.......appears to be the question that isn't going to be answered all that quickly.
I read the various current 'positioning statements by Telstra and Terria (the renamed G9 for those who don't bother reading about these sorts of things) this morning and everything is going predictably - almost laughably if it wasn't so serious.
(By the way 'Terria' isn't a mis-spelling of a type of small yapping dog - its a cringe inducing shortening of 'Terra Australis' - you just have to hope their technical resources have more ability than the marketing moron who came up with that name)
I particularly liked the new head of the Terria's statement that:
"I'd be as happy as Larry" if a bidder other than Telstra or Terria won the $4.7 billion tender to build the national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network" which was reported in The Age:
.......nothing quite like saying you really don't want to win a competitive bid before you put 'pen to paper' on the opening words of your tender document - sort of statement made most often in primary school playgrounds rather than in corporate board rooms - though come to think about it......
Not to be outdone on the "let's make a complete dog's breakfast of the whole process before it gets started" stakes El Trujillo joined in the 'I'm not going to play nicely' game by saying:
"When you look at 98 per cent of the nation - we have already said publicly that it would cost us about $4.5-5 billion to do the five big cities of Australia, and we all know that the first 50 per cent is a lot more cost-effective than the last 50 per cent. Assuming that the cost of the last 50 per cent was roughly twice as high, the total could quickly run up to $15billion." Mr Trujillo told a Reuters conference in Paris yesterday - according to this morning's Australian:
Crazy Kevin and Stupid Stephen should have double checked with their Telstra buddies before making their grandstanding election 'promises' and then opening their even crazier tender process it would seem as Telstra, at least in the pre submission chest thumping appears to be positioning itself for an opt out pressure play on Labor based on, what will clearly be seen as, ridiculous and completely undeliverable economic assumptions made by politicians during an election campaign.
You can be sure that Labor will be desperate to meet with El Sol on his return to Australia and will make even more under the table concessions than are already in place based on that overt threat that Telstra will bid at a cost that Labor can't accept forcing them to accept another bid that just can't be delivered.
I mean - what a fiasco; the only two parties that could, just, make it happen are saying 'we'll bid but don't want to win' while the other is saying "we'll bid but it'll cost at least 50% more than you've budgeted and we'll have to charge end users twice as much as they currently pay."
Oh dear oh dear....we'll all be rooned - again - it doesn't sound, at least during the chest thumping phase, that Australia is going to get a FTTN 'solution' any time soon. Yet another Labor triumph of show over substance and sound bite over actuality.
Perhaps the DSLAM manufacturers that Exetel dealt with last year had pre-knowledge of this scenario. I say that because, out of the blue, I had calls from both of them yesterday enquiring whether there was any change to Exetel's decision to put our decision on building out a small DSLAM network on 'indefinite hold'. I said that nothing had changed but did agree to meet with both of them before the end of the month to 'consider some interesting developments'.
Time will tell - but I think that the best solution, assuming there is sufficient spectrum is for remote areas of Australia to use an HSDPA solution as I've said so many times before. It doesn't require billions of taxpayers dollars and it will always be provided at competitive pricing.
Doubtless the dummies in Canberra will be forced to extend the tender deadline and then they'll be forced to change the conditions and then they'll............ and the chances of there ever being a FTTN within the life of however long this Labor 'government' lasts recede each day. The only upside is there's every chance that Telstra will make such an unholy brouhaha that they'll manage to bring on themselves their worst nightmare - separation in to wholesale and retail - now that would be truly ironic - turning a slam dunk win into the end of life as they know it and wish it.
Ditch the bitch - don't give her aging carcass a make over and pretend mutton is lamb or that it's better to keep attempting to hold back technology because (if you're Crazy Kevin and Stupid Stephen) you don't understand the first thing about it; or (if you're Telstra) you want to re-build a telecommunications monopoly, collect an obscene amount of money and get the hell out of this Godforsaken country as quickly as possible.
Wednesday, May 21. 2008
.........with apologies for plagiarising a memorable line from the beginning of one of Arnie's lesser known movies.
Data over 3G appears to be becoming a reality for Exetel...........maybe global warming is responsible for melting the glacial speed of progressing this implementation encountered to date?
After almost two years of trying to find a suitable mobile data service and getting absolutely nowhere either in Australia or overseas there appear to be some signs that some sort of HSDPA service will be available from Exetel before the end of the 21st century - all being well of course.
We now have the 'luxury' of considering three different services (though the way the Australian market is currently operating there is very little differentiators between the three services we are considering). I am unenthused by the likely final scenarios and even less enthused about the contract conditions that are being sought but I think I'm worn down by the efforts, not to mention the time, it's taken to reach even this point.
However, my very firm belief is that HSDPA is the only way to go for 'low end users' of broadband services and as the ADSL wholesale providers continue to make life more and more difficult for small companies like Exetel it's essential that we plan for an ADSL-less future within some not too distant timeframe.
None of the options currently available to us allow Exetel to provide the sort of HSDPA services that we believe the Australian marketplace requires but, if we actually do make a decision to proceed with one of the current three options we will be able, just as we were with our initial 'ventures' into VOIP, to set up the procurement, delivery and support processes that will enable us to have some realistic chance of continuing to survive and, hopefully, continue to grow in the Australian communications marketplaces.
My view is that there is no medium/long term way to compete with Telstra/Optus in their 'fight to the death' war over selling to the low end ADSL markets they both seem so desperate to obtain by giving away more than each other and my personal view is that they will continue to give away even more in their attempts to retain their wire line call revenues and line rentals.
However both Telstra and Optus, in their need to retain wire line rental and wire line call charges, do reveal a major weakness that HSPA ideally exploits. That is, of course, the need to keep charging for a telephone line and high priced telephone calls that they hide away when promoting their 'free' ADSL offers. HSDPA, on the other hand, allows the end customer to ditch the 'bitch' (telephone line cost and the ridiculously high call costs and use VoIP or mobile).
Ignoring the huge advantage of no installation costs and the ability to use HSDPA in different places (when you go away for the weekend, when you go on holidays (both in Australia and overseas) you save $20+ a month by not needing a telephone line and no matter which way Telstra tries to get round that issue they have the cost of the wire line monthly rental weighing down their 'give away' offers like the proverbial millstone round their metaphorical marketing necks.
So - HSDPA - no wire line telephone rental and no hugely expensive wire line telephone calls if the customer is prepared to use VoIP (which is a no hassle option for most people these days). With speeds now solidly approaching 3 mbps in many areas (against a theoretical 7.2 mbps which is planned to go to mid teens early in 2009) and included data allowances becoming more than usable for lower end users right now with some chance of becoming suitable for medium users in the not too distant future, it is a welcoming thought that might well become reality.
Looking at the current 'retail' HSPA offerings from the more aggressive Australian carriers and comparing them to the latest round of 'bundled' giveaways from Telstra and Optus an HSDPA service with VoIP would be less than half the price of the current Telstra/Optus ADSL giveaways with their line rental 'millstone'. Obviously HSDPA won't suit every lower end broadband buyer but, as far as I can see, you can make a very compelling case for it both economically and in its flexibility compared to wire line based services.
In fact I would think it would be the easiest 'marketing' job to put forward the advantages of HSDPA over ADSL that I've ever considered.
We will spend some time 'negotiating' some required changes to the various contracts and depending on the final outcome of those 'negotiations' Exetel will, hopefully, be in a position to make a decision by the end of this month.
I wonder how many times I have said that over the past 18 months?
Tuesday, May 20. 2008
I don't know when it happened exactly, my guess is some time in the last 1 - 5 years, but truth is no longer found in communications between the overwhelming majority of organisations and people involved in Australia's telecommunications industry or between them and their customers or, perhaps even more strangely, between personnel within their own organisations.
An end user would see the most obvious evidence of this in the advertisements placed in the print and electronic media with the series of 'head line' claims all having a symbol after them (*,+,-,#,^, etc) - I actually counted 9 such symbols in one insert last Sunday (there must be special keyboards for marketing people as mine doesn't have that many) - as well as a maze of words in minute print at the bottom of the ad explaining the symbols and adding further disclaimers to what the ad's 'head lines' were clearly conveying - except they weren't of course conveying what the average casual reader was being persuaded they were conveying by the double speaking marketing people of the advertiser concerned.
I realise that these symbols are now used to "fully explain" the meaning of the 'marketing catch phrases' in the large print and are only there because the relevant government organisation stepped in to attempt to limit the outright misleading nature of many advertisements used to promote telecommunication services. Or put another way - in an attempt to reduce the outrageousness of the lies being rammed down the metaphorical 'throat' of the reader.
The ad I thought should win the prize for for most blatant lie ever perpetrated by an Australian communications company was the Optus/Virgin:
"We Think It's Time The Internet Was Free For All To Enjoy".
That just took my breath away.
was a close second - that also confirmed my view that Telstra's marketing personnel really DO think Australians are totally stupid.
However that's just the most obvious, to everybody, indication that telecommunications companies have driven the truth to extinction and replaced it with either tortuous obfuscation or, for the most part, just down right lies.
As a buyer of services from a relatively large number of telecommunications providers I don't think I have received a single answer to a straightforward question that has been true for, well, since I can remember. Starting with the unbelievably straight forward type of question such as "when will this new service be available" to the harder questions such as "why did your connection to our PoP fail" the answers provided bear no resemblance to the truth and take weeks to be provided.
So entrenched is 'truthaphobia' embedded in the base methodology and processes of telecommunications companies and their personnel at every level I have dealt with over the past ten years that every statement made by an employee of a telecommunications provider may as well be spoken in Sanskrit for any resemblance to understandability is concerned.
( "truthaphobia = a new word coined by me just then but shortly to be included in a
The lies told by telecommunications personnel, in almost every utterance or written communication on any subject regarding service activation dates or service performance, would astonish someone used to a more truthful environment of, say, the personal descriptions provided in an on line dating site or chat forum.
With one exception in the past 5 years that I can remember (mainly because it happened yesterday) no provider from which Exetel has purchased services has ever had anything go wrong with any aspect of any service they have provided that was their fault and further more they have in fact always provided far more than they were contracted to do. No telecommunications service provider has ever under-provisioned any service at any time and no telecommunications service provider has ever missed a committed activation date or ever sent a bill that was wrong in any way.
The only reason(s) why Exetel may believe such dastardly lying implications to be true would be because a piss ant, tiny company like Exetel has such stupidly incompetent people and laughably inadequate systems that we wouldn't be able to tell whether any of our inadequate people actually turned up for work or if they did their technical skills would be so abysmal they wouldn't be able to find the on on button on their computer work station let alone correctly read and understand any data on their screens.
I don't know what it is that prevents employees of telecommunications companies telling the truth - the simple assumption is that the lawyers within these companies have insisted that no statement is ever made that can in any way be seen as being detrimental to the company and therefore no employee can ever admit that anything is ever late or incorrect. I sometimes wonder whether this inability to articulate anything negative about their company's performance spills over in to their personal lives as it must be really difficult to look at life devoid of the truth for 7 hours 20 minutes each working day without it impacting on other times of the day or week.
For instance: what happens when these employees go to see their doctor during their normal working hours? When he asks them "what's wrong?" - do they, without thinking, reply "there's obviously nothing wrong with me a**hole - where on Earth did you get your medical training to form a view like that? - one more slur from you on my health and you'll be facing a legal bill you won't be able to jump over"
Or when they go on holiday? When the check in clerk at the airline counter asks them if they still plan to return on their booked date do they glare ferociously at the innocent lady and yell "Don't you try and tell me what date I've asked to return on girlie - all dates are subject to a great many scenarios that a menial job working dummy like you couldn't begin to comprehend!"
It must be hard to work for a telecommunications provider and have a relationship with any person outside the company you work for.....
.......almost as hard as being a person who buys services from a communications company who employs such people.
Monday, May 19. 2008
I counted eleven separate major advertisements or inserts in the three newspapers that are delivered to our house on a weekend. I didn't get around to reading the Saturday AFR or the business section of the Saturday SMH until Sunday evening due to other events taking precedence earlier in the weekend so I also didn't look at the end of week share prices until then either. Perhaps the languishing share prices of the various publicly listed telcos are causing the spending on advertising?
Mercifully, I don't watch very much commercial or ad prone cable television so I don't notice whether electronic advertising has also increased recently.
The 'penny dreadful' telcos listed on the ASX continue to stave off reaching the de-listing points but show no sign of ever being anything but penny dreadfuls. The SPT/TPG merger has managed to quickly drive down the the SPT share price from around $A0.45 to $A0.285 and shows every sign of falling below its lowest ever price of $A0.24 in the near future. AAPT continues to show the total lack of interest by 'investors' and even Optus and Telstra are aimlessly drifting.
I seldom bother to try and analyse the various advertising strategies (assuming there are any) being carried out by Telstra and Optus as it always seems to me they are addressing marketplaces I can't believe really exist except in their marketing personel's fevered imaginations. ( I also realise that I have no real idea whether those ultra low usage customers are in fact real (for Optus and Telstra - and DODO etc) or whether the fact they buy cripplingly low download allowances with punitive excess charges or crippling sped limiting therefore create such users so in fact they do 'become' real).
So, assuming they do exist, the latest Optus ad must be a compellingly successful offering:
ADSL2 at $25.00, Phone line at $20.00, free wireless modem, speed limiting rather than excess charges and 4 months free over a 24 month contract.
It doesn't say what the telephone call charges are (doubtless very expensive but I don't know as it doesn't tell you where to find them).
The included 400 mB allowance is almost unusable but presumably some people might only use their internet at such levels.
There was a similar ad from Telstra (even harder to work out what was being offered) and AAPT and the usual TPG ad as well as ads from three smaller ISPs.
I haven't bothered to look at the web site 'specials' from the smaller ISPs recently but doubtless there are similar promotions being offered by most of the other larger companies.
As something like 3,000,000 Australian users buy their internet services from Telstra and Optus there must be an awful lot of people in this country who don't begin to understand what they are paying for. While I understand that's true for every product and service type in any country in the world it's still depressing. The fact that Telstra and Optus can actually increase their shares of the internet marketplace in Australia rather than having their market shares continually diluted after their users realise they aren't getting value for money remains a mystery to me - and I have some grasp of the conventional reasoning as to why that might be.
Apart from the 'free modem' content of the ads I looked at (which I have to assume won't really mean much to someone who already has an ADSL modem (some 4,000,000 current users) the prices (let alone the included downloads) offered by Optus and Telstra just aren't any better than those offered by other ISPs - in fact the prices are higher and the included downloads are less those offered by many ISPs.
It obviously works (Telstra/Optus claimed ADSL marketshare increases and their share prices support that).
Another reason to believe there is no future in the ISP business if you aren't Telstra or, possibly, Optus.
I've been looking at how Exetel can get out of the ADSL business for a while now but have not found any easy solutions so far.
Perhaps it's time to seriously examine the hard solutions?
Sunday, May 18. 2008
........acknowledging shameless plagiarism from Arthur Conan Doyle's short story - Silver Blaze.
I was reminded of this story because I received an email from a supplier account manager at 9.45 pm last night. It was a terse, and pointlessly obfuscative reply to a mild query I had made by email some two weeks previously.
I was having a quiet Saturday night (having had a day out driving a possible replacement to my aging car in the Blue Mountains on a pleasantly sunny Sydney Autumn day) and as has become my custom I leave my laptop on while relaxing and I reply to emails as they come in and deal with other on line issues as they arise in between more sensible leisure time pursuits.
The supplier concerned is not known, in my personal direct experience over many years, to have personnel who work beyond 'standard business hours' and if you count the endless "training sessions", RDOs, sick leave (this particular supplier apparently hires very illness prone personnel) and other 'events' getting any communications from them outside the hours of 10 am to 12.30 pm and 3.00 pm to 4.30 pm on week days (except public holidays) is unusual to the point that if it had been daylight I would have checked the sky for winged, plump pink animals.
To get an email sent at 9.45 PM on a SATURDAY is as unusual as the apearance of Halley's comet in the Southern night sky.
In terms of the subject matter of the email enquiry and its subsequent partial reply - there was no urgency that required a reply at such an unusual time and the reply itself was pointless in that it didn't address the second of two questions contained in the original enquiry which was the main thrust of the original enquiry.
I made a comment to Colonel Ross, sorry, Annette that I had received this curiously timed email but she showed no interest so I settled in to my corner seat of the Pullman car and before we reached Clapham Junction I had unravelled the mystery for him...I mean her. (Or actually after thinking about the unbeleivable concept of an acount manager for this supplier working late in to a Saturday night while getting two cups of coffee I was able to find the only reasonable explanation of why the dog didn't bark in the night).
Was the content of my email enquiry of such vital concern to the legal eagles at the supplier that they had worked tirelssly for the two weeks to arrive at thir view and, having validated their conclusions with outside SCs, deemed a response so important it had to be conveyed to the possible litigant at the very earliest moment?
Has a new 'regime' been put in place at this supplier that requires all sales (and I use that word lightly) personnel to work tirelessly at their desks throughout weekends and public holidays to ensure that their customer's slightest wish is thoroughly researched and then full information conveyed to their customerss irrespective of time or type or day?
Could the words 'customer service' have, via some telco version of the Rosetta Stone finally have been translated as meaning that when a customer asks a question you, supplier account manager, are required to actually provide either a reply or a progress report on a regular basis until the question has been fully answered to the customer's compete satisfaction?
Of course not. The reason that the dog didn't bark in the night Silver Blaze was apparently stolen from his stable was...........
.....that the supplier clearly had an email server failure which delayed emails submitted on the afternoon of Friday 16th from being sent until the problem was resolved late on Saturday Evening.
Elementary, my dear Watson (Annette). ....and I think there's still time for a last cigar before we reach Paddington.
I guess what incidents like this underline is that there is a huge difference between the people who work extraordinary hours to just make ends meet in this industry and the people who work for the major duopolists who earn large amounts of money working less hours a week than the average lazy uni student spends studying for his least favourite subject each semester.
Just another reminder of 'what's the point of being in the ISP business' if you aren't Telstra?
I must find an answer to that question in the not too distant future.
Saturday, May 17. 2008
I often wonder why so many suppliers that a small company such as Exetel deals with have so many inept people working for them and so many poor quality provisoning, supply and fault rectification systems. 30 years + in to the 'digital age' so many of the suppliers to Exetel have, effectively, manual systems for so many aspects of the interactions between themselves and their customers.
Sure, their billing is 'automated' (assuming you are prepared to live with an average of 10% errors in the suppliers advantage and a 'credit granting' system that takes longer to process a single transaction than it took the Egyptians to build a medium sized pyramyd for one of their less demanding kings) as are the extreme edges of the front ends of their provisioning and fault reporting/fault resolution systems - but, for almost all of them - that's it - it's an automated veneer on a still completely manual set of processes.
And much worse.....
......the people who you then have to deal with know so little about their own systems and are so incredibly defensive about those systems failings that trying to actually get them to take some sort of responsibility for addressing the issues is about as easy as getting teenage girls in Salem in the last years of the 17th century to volunteer to be tried as a witch.
In previous lives I have got myself badly financially burned by the probems with supplier billing systems in Australia so when we created Exeel back in January 2004, and being well aware of my personal failings inthe past, I was determined to use automation to the 'nth' degree in running every aspect of Exxetel that could possibly be automated. It's been over four years since wemade that decision and its been an incredibly expensive and, for long stretches of time, an extremely difficult and often very dispiriting set of processes and overcoming the proverbial 'balnk walls' imposed by so many suppliers.
We still have a long way to go, and this is a process that never ends of course, but we now have automated 'reverse billing' systems for all of our major suppliers and have also developed automated bill checking rocesses for many of our smaler suppliers. These systems have found, and had credited back, almost $A2,000,000 in overcharges over the past three years and, without them, we would not have survived - as I suspect so many small companies in this industr don't survive because they have no idea that they are paying more for the various services they buy than they should be.
Exetel have done nothing particularly clever, and truth to tell, nothing too clever in developing these systems - perhaps all we've added to the process is an unwavering determination to get it done irrespective of the road blocks imposed by suppliers but we have achieved a level of autoomation (and automated systems accuracy) that is far superior to anything put in place by the companies we deal with.
And....if you're a reasonable person....you have to ask yourself why/how can that be?
How can a very samll company with very limited personnel resources and even less money write more accurate 'reverse' billing systems than not one butfive major telcos or service providers? If it's hard to write one accurate billing system how much harder is it to write five completely differently based but far more accurate 'reverse billing' systems?
There can be only one real answer.
The only reason that a major carrier's or a major service provider's billing system is so inaccurate is that it is/they are designed and programmed that way to ensure that the carrier/service provider surreptitiously obtains some percentage of 'additional' money from each bill it sends out.
What other explanation can there be?
That some Australian carriers's managements are so incompetent, inept and uncaring and employ so many incompetent, inept and uncaring programmers that they put and leave in place billing systems that regularly over bill their customers?
Not a 'pretty' choice of explanations.
On balance I favour the incompetence/inept/uncaring explanation because the same levels of inaccuracy and 'cumbersomity' are evident in their provisioning, fault reporting and fault resoluton systems.
I was going to also write about the issues with those carrier systems today but my word counter' indicates I've already stretched yourpatience too far for one 'reading' so I'll save those views for another day.
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