Weeknote 17/2021: Not yet digitally transformed

This week I’ve been struggling to focus but still moved a few things forwards. I also kept bumping up against some bizarre (non) efforts at “digital transformation”, courtesy of Standard Life (abrdn), Costco and the UK Government.

This week’s highlights included:

  • Realising that digital transformation hasn’t reached Costco UK yet – and no membership card means no entry and no shopping:

Looking ahead to the (long) weekend, I have no races to take the eldest teenager to and the weather ins’t looking wonderful. So, just the usual Youth Cycle Coaching on Saturday and, hopefully, some relaxing and pottering at “geek stuff” in the Man Cave…

This week in photos

No Insta’ from me yet this week (maybe there will be over the long weekend) so here’s a Line of Duty meme instead:

Shop local when buying a new bike

Back in 2013, I bought myself a road bike. It’s a Bianchi Via Nirone 7 C2C and it was the first road bike I’d had since my teenage years when I had a 21-speed “racer” (complete with shifters on the down tube).

My Bianchi has served me well but, after nearly 12000km I’m starting to notice some hairline cracks in the paint, a bit of corrosion on the chainstay – and I recently had to cut out one of the upgrades I’d made as the carbon fibre seat post had bonded itself to the inside of the aluminium alloy seat tube.

I’d been saving up for a new bike for a while (promising myself that I could have a new bike when I lost some weight…) but I decided to retire the Bianchi (or at least just use it for Zwifting) and get something new (maybe I can lose some weight by riding more now I have the new bike).

For a long while, I was tempted by a Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 Di2. Canyon make some lovely bikes but they are mail-order only (unless you can visit them in Germany). Not having distributors reduces the price, but it also increases the risk of buying the wrong size, etc. added to which, recent experience (buying a frame from Planet X for my son) showed me that sometimes you get what you pay for.

I also feel guilty every time I shop at Wiggle – we’ll miss our local bike shops (LBS) when they are gone and I’ve relied on a few for parts at short notice recently (including Corley Cycles and Chaineys in Milton Keynes). But, just like buying from Amazon instead of a high street store, sometimes the economics mean it just makes sense. Even so, with a new bike purchase, I wasn’t entirely comfortable buying online.

I looked at some of the other mainstream brands too (how about a Trek Domane?). But what about the price difference?

Well, there were a few things to take into account there:

  • Online sizing tools are good, but not perfect and the Canyon would need a bike fit before I could be sure I was ordering the right size. Corley Cycles included not only the sizing fit but also an advanced bike fit with the new bike.
  • Then, membership of my local cycling club got me a further discount (10%).
  • At this point, we’re getting close to pretty much the same price.
  • Chuck in some bottles, cages, and a lot of advice – plus I’m helping to keep my LBS in business and I decided that I’d rather have the “purchase from a shop” experience.

So, I’m now the proud owner of the new Specialized Roubaix Comp (2020 edition). Sure, the lightweight endurance bike with electronic shifting became a lightweight endurance bike with mechanical shifting and front suspension instead but my conscience is clear – and it is pretty damned awesome.

Poorly-targeted InMail on LinkedIn…

A good chunk of the email I receive is either:

  1. Spam from SEO specialists who can’t even present a well-written email (so why would I let them loose on my website?).
  2. Spam from people who want to advertise on my website or write content to link to their client’s dubious sites (no thanks).
  3. LinkedIn requests from recruiters I’ve never even spoken to (read on).

Now, let me be clear, there are some good recruiters out there: people who build rapport and work on relationships with people. Maybe one day we’ll work together, maybe we won’t but when I hear my peers talking about recruiters that I know, then I know they are well-connected within our industry and they will be my first port of call if I find myself looking for work (or to recruit).

Then there’s stuff like this, a real email, received tonight via LinkedIn’s InMail feature. I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty but apart from that, it’s a facsimile:

“Hi Mark,

[Do I know you?]

A leading global provider of retail software solutions is seeking an experienced EPOS Architect to join the European Portfolio team in a key leadership role at the heart of a massive digital transformation programme.

[Doesn’t appear to be very well researched: I’m an Enterprise Architect, not an EPOS Architect… I know very little about EPOS systems. Sure, maybe EPOS might be part of something I do put together but I’m no EPOS specialist. Well, it starts with E and ends with Architect – so it must be related! Does this recruiter even know what they are recruiting for?]

You’ll be working closely with the technical leadership of tier 1 global retailers such as huge retailer name removed, and leading national retailers across Europe to shape and deliver next generation cloud and on premise point of sale systems.

[Minor point but it’s “on-premises”, FFS. It’s a place, not an idea.]

An excellent package of £75,000 – £100,000 + car + bonus is on offer, plus extensive European travel to the headquarters of the continent’s leading businesses.

[Since when was “extensive European travel to the headquarters of the continent’s leading businesses” a perk? This is the sort of benefit dreamed up by people who never leave their office. What it generally means is “spend lots of time away from home travelling economy class to a business park but never really see the city you’re going to…”]

Further details: website/Job/Detail/epos-solution-architect-leeds-en-GB

[So it’s in Leeds. Leeds is 3 hours from where I live]

For a fully confidential discussion, contact someone.i.dont-know@recruiter.co.uk

 

Someone Else
Senior Recruitment Consultant @ leading global specialist recruitment group | Specialising in Testing across Yorkshire | someone.else@recruiter.com

[Why am I getting email on a Friday evening from one person I don’t know to ask me to contact someone else I don’t know? Mind you, if their specialism is “Testing across Yorkshire”, maybe that explains the poor targetting of this role to a guy 150 miles away in Milton Keynes…]”

Luckily, I’m not looking for work (or to hire anyone) at the moment but, when I am, this agency will not be on my list… sadly, this is not an isolated incident.

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.