There have been a number of different events in my life right now that have caused me to start to looking back in my career. One of the biggest changes for me is the switch from having a very technical role to non-technical roles. Looking back, the change wasn’t as revolutionary in my career as I first thought; it was merely evolutionary. The main reason why technology development appealed to me is because it is one of the few ways that I can actually be creative in the way I solve a particular problem. When I first started out in development, much of the problem solving and creativity was isolated in the sense that both the problems and solutions were constrained to technology. The nice thing about technology is that it is binary. Things either work or don’t work for the most part. As my career evolved, my problem solving involved a mixture of business and technology; I was now using technology to focus on solving business problems. The business problems were interesting because the answers were not as concrete. There were a lot more variables to consider. In the past few years, my career has been more about building technology teams by setting up people, process and tools.
One of the worst kept secrets in the Canadian Mobile industry is that both Telus and Bell are going to be launching their W-CDMA network in 2009. The launch is now imminent with the announcement that both Bell and Telus will soon be launching with iPhones on their networks in the not so distant future. Competition for wireless in Canada is about to get really hot in the next few months and maybe even years.
I won’t claim to be an expert on wireless; I’m more of an observer. My sense tell me that when the dust settles in a few years, price points would remain about the same as they are today. We will get more features due to the evolution of technology but they will eventually stay about here. A large reason for that will have to do with our Canadian geography, the lack of population density and lack of population mass making this business a relatively expensive venture to undertake in comparison to other countries. Companies like Rogers and Bell might be in better shape to provide content delivery by leveraging their media divisions but in general, every other company will have very similar risks, costs and revenue opportunity.
The one factor that every company has control over is the customer experience. Being someone who is very interested in mobile, one of the Twitter searches I follow is “#telus #bell #rogers” and with a medium like Twitter, they can be vocal about how they feel. One thing in common is that people are extremely frustrated and are looking for alternatives from the big 3 today.
Good customer service is the tip of the iceberg for a great customer experience. This starts all the way from the start of a sale all the way through the time a customer chooses to leave a service. I can’t speak for any other service as I’ve been solely a Rogers customer for about 8 years now. Rogers has vastly improved its customer service from when I started using them. It used to be a pain to call them because customer service reps (CSR) could be extremely rude and unhelpful. Today the fear of calling 611 is no longer there and Rogers has gone as far as to hire a Social Media team to help deal with issues on Twitter. It’s still early on but I have high hopes of its success.
Beyond customer service, this is where Rogers falls down and needs to seriously shore up the organization to stem the tide of negative comments. It’s frustrating to call a CSR to know more about plans, features and products of the company that the CSR is representing. It’s also frustrating that there is more knowledge of Rogers on sites like HowardForums.com then in Rogers itself. This problem also extends to the technical side too. One such incident that sticks out in my mind is right after Rogers announced that they too were now able to send and receive Tweets via SMS. The transition was rocky at best. For myself, it took almost 5 days for it to work. One particular person on Twitter had an iPhone and the technical support rep insisted that the problem was with the iPhone and had the individual call Apple multiple times for support. It was pretty clear that if the person was receiving other SMS messages that the iPhone was not the issue. The resolution for the issue ended up being an issue with Twitter not entering all area codes needed to send via SMS. CSRs and Tech Support reps need to be armed with information and knowledge that will make them effective in their job especially when it comes to new high profile features. The truth is that things go awry and customers can accept that. What customers don’t expect is incompetence.
I’m really excited about the Microsoft Courier. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, I have reluctantly gone back to using my Asus R1F tablet and have indirectly given up on my Macbook Pro. Don’t get me wrong – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Macbook Pro or OSX. It’s still my desktop OS of choice. Everything just seems to work on the Mac.
Given then I’m no longer a developer, a lot of my work life is involved in meetings with the business team or the dev team to discuss new ideas, work out issues or discuss design. In meetings, I often find it a lot easier to use a notepad instead of typing on a computer to communicate or describe ideas. The tablet is both the happy medium and extension of these two solutions. It has the flexibility of a notepad and the ability to store and distribute digitally. The downside of my current tablet is that it is extremely heavy weighing at almost 7 lbs. The weight isn’t bad if all I’m doing is lugging it from home and to work. It’s a bit weighty to be lugging it around the office and sometimes across the street. The weight is not bad if you consider what it does but today, it is more powerful than what I need it to be today.
Here’s where I think Microsoft Courier comes in. From the demos on Gizmodo, the product looks more like a paper notebook or portfolio which I take to my meetings right now. It has two “pages” and the way it is designed to work is that one page is used for searching and research while the other is used to work on. The form factor is ideal and I love the idea of having both stylus and finger touch. The really interesting thing about the product is that most of the function that is being displayed here already exists within the Microsoft realm of products. The note writing, embedding of images, handwriting recognition, OCR and concept of pages is embeded in a combination of OneNote and Windows 7. If you’ve never tried, the tablet function in Windows 7 is phenomenal. The gesture support is already used in the Microsoft Surface products.
As there are still a number of things that are unknown about the product, there are also a number of things that I’d love to see incorporated into the device. Synchronization to a central service is key. Notebooks are really good to start ideas however at some point, most ideas need to be finished on a computer. Also for me I tend to work on multiple computers and other peripherals so inter-device accessibility is key. I’m not sure I would install a lot of different applications on the device but the additional applications that I would use on this device are instant messaging, email and multimedia player. Bluetooth integration would be a nice touch to connect to a wireless headset. While having the ability to do both multi-touch and stylus is really nice, I hope that the hardware is able to differentiate the two as when writing, my hand tends to touch the paper and could cause the device to go awry. The biggest unknown about the product is hardware. For me to be able to use it, it would need to weigh at 2 lbs or less. It also can’t be too big or too thin as this would be a device to supplement my MacBook, not replace it. Given that I’m usually moving around for meetings, it will need to last at least 4 hours and have the ability to change batteries.