Weeknote 5: Playing with Azure; Black Friday; substandard online deliveries; and the usual tech/cycling/family mix (Week 47, 2017)

This weeknote is a bit of a rush-job – mostly because it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m writing this at the side of a public swimming pool whilst supervising a pool party… it will be late tonight when I get to finish it!

The week

There not a huge amount to say about this week though. It’s been as manic as usual, with a mixture of paid consulting days, pre-sales and time at Microsoft.

The time at Microsoft was excellent though – I spent Tuesday in their London offices, when Daniel Baker (@AzureDan) gave an excellent run through of some of the capabilities in Azure. I like to think I have a reasonable amount of Azure experience and I was really looking to top up my knowledge with recent developments as well as to learn a bit more about using some of the advanced workloads but I learned a lot that day. I think Dan is planning some more videos so watch his Twitter feed but his “Build a Company in a Day” slides are available for download.

On the topic of Azure, I managed to get the sentiment analysis demo I’ve been working on based on a conversation with my colleague Matt Bradley (@MattOnMicrosoft) and Daniel Baker also touched on it in his Build a Company in a Day workshop. It uses an Azure Logic App to:

  1. Monitor Twitter on a given topic;
  2. Detect sentiment with Azure Cognitive Services Text Analytics;
  3. Push data into Power BI dataset for visualisation;
  4. Send an email if the sentiment is below a certain value.

It’s a bit rough-and-ready (my Power BI skills are best described as “nascent”) but it’s not a bad demo – and it costs me pennies to run. You can also do something similar with Microsoft Flow instead of an Azure Logic App.

Black Friday

I hate Black Friday. Just an excuse to shift some excess stock onto greedy consumers ahead of Christmas…

…but it didn’t stop me buying things:

  • An Amazon Fire TV Stick to make our TV smart again (it has fewer and fewer apps available because it’s more than 3 years old…). Primarily I was after YouTube but my youngest is very excited about the Manchester City app!
  • Another set of Bluetooth speakers (because the kids keep “borrowing” my Bose Soundlink Mini 2).
  • Some Amazon buttons at a knock-down £1.99 (instead of £4.99) for IoT hacking.
  • A limited edition GCN cycle jersey that can come back to me from my family as a Christmas present!

The weekend

My weekend involved: cycling (my son was racing cyclocross again in the Central CX League); an evening out with my wife (disappointing restaurant in the next town followed by great gin in our local pub); a small hangover; some Zwift (to blow away the cobwebs – and although it was sunny outside, the chances of hitting black ice made the idea of a real road bike ride a bit risky); the pool party I mentioned earlier (belated 13th birthday celebrations for my eldest); 7 adolescent kids eating an enormous quantity of food back at ours; and… relax.

Other stuff

My eldest son discovered that the pressure washer can make bicycle bar tape white again! (I wrote a few years back about using baby wipes to clean bar tape but cyclocross mud goes way beyond even their magical properties.)

After posting my 7 days 7 photos efforts last week, I saw this:

I’ll get my coat.

I also learned a new term: “bikeshedding” (nothing to do with cycling… or smoking… or other teenage activities…):

It’s scary to see how much we’re cluttering space – not just our planet:

There’s a new DNS service in town:

I’ve switched the home connection from OpenDNS (now owned by Cisco) to 9.9.9.9 and will report back in a while…

This ad tells a great story:

Curve is now available to ordinary employees and not just business-people!

We recently switched back to Tesco for our online grocery shopping (we left years ago because it seemed someone was taking one or two items from every order, hoping we wouldn’t notice). Well, it seems things have improved in some ways, but not in others…

On the subject of less-than-wonderful online shopping experiences, after I criticised John Lewis for limiting website functionality instead of bursting to the cloud:

It seems they got their own back by shipping my wife’s Christmas present with Hermes, who dumped it on the front doorstep (outside the notified delivery timeframe) and left a card to say it had been delivered to a secure location:

It may be silly but this made me laugh:

Finally, for this week, I borrowed my son’s wireless charger to top up my iPhone. Charging devices without cables – it’s witchcraft, I tell you! Witchcraft!

Next week, I’ll be back with my customer in Rochdale, consulting on what risual calls the “Optimised Service Vision” so it was interesting to see Matt Ballantine’s slides on Bringing Service Design to IT Service. I haven’t seen Matt present these but it looks like our thinking is quite closely aligned…

That’s all folks!

That’s all for this week. I’m off to watch some more Halt and Catch Fire before I get some sleep in preparation for what looks like a busy week…

An open letter to John Lewis (and other retailers who charge for Click and Collect)

As the retail sector has adapted to meet the demands of Internet-based commerce, many retailers have found home delivery to be expensive and unprofitable. Free delivery may close the deal but what does it actually cost the retailer to ship to personal addresses? Probably far more than that £3-5 P&P charge…

New Delivery Models for the age of Internet commerce

To address this, many traditional retailers have integrated with their existing operations to provide “Click and Collect” services whereby customer deliveries are sent to a nominated store. Sometimes this is done well. Other times the divide between the online business and the brick and mortar stores is painfully obvious – particularly when handling returns.

Meanwhile, Internet-only retailers have created pick-up points (e.g. Amazon), partnered with retailers (e.g. eBay and Argos/Sainsburys), or developed premium services (e.g. Amazon Prime) to subsidise delivery. Others (like Doddle) have created a business model around providing somewhere to have parcels delivered for collection on the way home from work.

Charging for Click and Collect?

Whilst charging for delivery is commonplace (perhaps with free delivery over a certain threshold), one major UK retailer (John Lewis) charges for Click and Collect under a threshold value of £30. Their systems have the business intelligence to email me after failing to complete a transaction but sadly not the intelligence to understand why that might be (a £29.90 order that attracts a £2 click and collect charge, when a £30 order would be free).

This was my response, by email – and now here in public:

“Dear Sir or Madam,
Earlier today, I received the email below, based on a transaction that was not completed. I would complete my order, if it wasn’t for your policy on Click and Collect. My order is 10p short of your threshold for free Click and Collect.

 

Because you will charge me £2 for this, I will simply purchase elsewhere. I can have free shipping with Amazon, to home. Or I could just walk into your store and hope you have stock…

 

I understand that shipping to home is unprofitable – that’s why many retailers offer free Click and Collect and charge for home delivery. Charging for Click and Collect is short-sighted and, frankly, not acceptable. You have deliveries to store anyway, whilst it costs me to drive to you, then you charge me £2 for the privilege!

 

I would much rather support John Lewis than a faceless US-based Internet retailer and I urge you to reconsider your policy on charging for Click and Collect – not just for this transaction but for all customers, all of the time.

 

Yours Faithfully,

Mark Wilson”

I could buy another item to take me other the limit. There are even threads on Internet forums advising of the cheapest item to buy! I could even return the extra item immediately after collection (increasing costs to John Lewis as they process a refund). All of this is gaming the system though and it increases friction in the transaction, which translates to inconvenience to me as the customer.

Call to Action

If you, like me, feel John Lewis needs to take another look at its Click and Collect policy, feel free to use the text above as the basis for your communication. Contact details for John Lewis are on their website (or you can email Customer Services directly). The John Lewis Partnership website also has a list of Directors who manage John Lewis’ commercial activity and develop the strategy and business plan for the company.

Some thoughts on modern technology: email, gadgets (and how children view them)

I haven’t found much time to blog recently, but this post pulls together a few loosely related streams of consciousness on technology – how we use it (or does it use us?), how it’s sold to us, and how the next generation view the current generation’s tech.

on Email…

Driving up to and back from Manchester last Friday night gave me a great opportunity to catch up on my podcast backlog – including listening to an entire series of Aleks Krotoski’s The Digital Human (#digihuman). The “Influence” and “Augment” episodes are particularly interesting but I also found that some parts of “Intent” sparked some thoughts in my mind. That episode featured comments by Douglas Rushkoff (@rushkoff) of Program or be Programmed fame, which I’ve paraphrased here.

Email can be seen as a [broken] game with many unintended consequences coded into it. For many of us, our working life is a game called “empty the inbox” (in the process, filling the inboxes of others). Email has a bias to generate more email – even when we’re away we auto-generate messages. In effect, all problems become a “nail” for which email is the “hammer”.

We’re almost entirely reactive – and we need to understand that it’s a person on the other side, not a computer – someone who is expecting something of some other person. So, standing up to your Blackberry is really standing up to your boss/colleague/whoever, not to the technology. It takes a brave person to send an out of office response that says something to the effect of “I’m deleting your message, if it was urgent, send it again after I’m back”. But that is starting to happen, as people realise that they are the humans here, with finite lifespans, and that a line needs to be drawn “in the digital sand” to show their limits.

I was also fascinated to learn that the average US teenager sends 3000 texts (SMS messages) a month – a stark contrast with ten years ago, when I had to explain to American colleagues what SMS was. At that time, the USA still seemed to be hooked on pagers, whilst SMS was really taking off over here in Europe.

on gadgets…

I spent a chunk of this weekend shopping for a (smart) television and a smart phone [why does everything have to be “smart” – what next, “neat”?].

The experience confirmed to me that a) I’m officially “a grumpy old man” who doesn’t appreciate the ambient noise in John Lewis’ audio visual department (nor, I suspect, do many others in the department store’s target demographic) b) John Lewis’ TV sales guys do not deliver the “well-trained and knowledgeable” confidence I associate with other departments in the store (i.e. they don’t really know their stuff) c) Samsung reps attached to consumer electronics stores are trained to up-sell (no surprise) d) Even John Lewis’ under-trained TV sales guys are better than Carphone Warehouse’s staff (who told my wife that the difference between the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 starts off with the operating system… at which point I bit my tongue and left the conversation).

Incidentally, Stephen Fry’s new series, Gadget Man, starts tonight on Channel 4 – might be worth a look…

on the way children see gadgets…

Of course, the shopping experience had another angle introduced by my kids, who decided that it would be a good idea to change the channel on as many TVs as possible to show CBeebies (it kept them amused whilst we talked about the merits of different models with the Samsung rep who was in store) but I was fascinated to see how my boys (aged 6 and 8) reacted in Carphone Warehouse:

  • The switch from “oh phone shopping – that will be boooooring” to “oh, look, shiny things with touch screens” was rapid.
  • They liked using a stylus to write on a Galaxy Note.
  • All tablets are “iPads” (in fairness, my wife pointed out that that’s all they’ve ever known in our house).
  • An e-ink Kindle is a “proper Kindle” and the Kindle HD (which they had been happily playing games on – it took my six-year-old about 30 seconds to find “Cut The Rope”) was “the iPad Kindle”.

The irony…

After slating email as a “broken game”, I posted this by email using the new post by email functionality in the WordPress Jetpack plugin. I guess it still has its uses then…