Over the weekend, when it was negative five degrees, our neighbor’s power went out in the middle of the night. Some trees along the line grew into the power lines and had been abrading the line for some time, and a handful of arborists had to come out and try to trim the tree back. In the dark. At negative five degrees. Not the most fun job I could imagine, and the ironic this is it was the same team that had been out in the summer to clear trees along a stretch of the power lines a bit farther down.
The problem, it seems, is that it’s terribly time consuming to have arborists walking along the line to see where things actually need to be cut. Instead they just hit every section once per unit time. Sometimes that’s a quick couple branches snipped in a hardwood grove. Sometimes that’s serious maintenance in softwood groves. And sometimes delta-time is too long for, say, our line of pine trees. And sometimes the team doesn’t do a particularly good job of trimming the trees.
Made me wonder about having drones fly along the line – you’d still need someone to drive out, and I’d recharge the batteries in the van/truck so they’d be ready to go when I got to the next site. A single person flying a drone over a stretch of power lines could generate more realistic work orders for the arborists – skip the bits that didn’t grow much, realize these pine trees are endangering the lines before you had to call out a crew on Sunday night. They could also run through the same line post-maintenance and verify the work was done well.
Don’t ignore your customers. Seems obvious, but failing to engage customers undermines large corporations. I worked for one of Novell’s last big customers back in 2000-2010. We had the misfortune of being in the same territory as their biggest customer, FedEx, so got little sales attention. We were having problems managing computers without using the Active Directory domain — the dynamic local user Zen component that hooked the Novell GINA and created/maintained local user accounts had been used before an NT4 domain even existed within the company. In perusing their web site, I identified a product that perfectly met our needs *and* managed mobile devices (which was an up and coming ‘thing’ at the time). Why, I asked the sales guy, would you not pitch this product to us when we tell you about the challenges we are trying to address? No good answer, but it really was a rhetorical question. There wasn’t a downloadable demo available, you had to engage your sales rep to get a working demo copy — I asked for one, and he said he’d get one to me when he got back to his office.
Nothing. Emailed him a week later in case he just forgot. Oh, yeah, I’ll get that right out to you. A few weeks later, emailed him again. A few weeks later — well, let’s be serious here. We started using Exchange in 2000, and had an Active Directory domain licensed for all users anyway. We were willing to consider paying real money for the Novell product because the migration path was easier … but from a software licensing perspective, switching workstation authentication to AD was a 0$ thing. Needed a few new servers to handle authentication traffic – I think I went with five at about three thousand dollars each. Deployment, now that’s a nightmare. I wrote custom code to re-ACL the user profile directory and modify the registry to link the new user.domain SID to the re-ACL’d old profile directory. It got pushed out via automated software deployment and the failures would call in each morning. Even a 1% failure rate when you’re doing 10,000 computers a week is a lot of phone calls and workstation re-images. (At a subsequent employer, we made the same change but placed workstations into the domain as they were re-imaged for other reasons. New computer, you’re in the domain. Big problems with your OS, you’re in the domain. Eventually we had a couple hundred computers not yet in the domain and the individual users were contacted to schedule a reimage. Much cleaner process.)
The company didn’t last much longer — they purchased SuSE not much later. The sales guys came back – we used RHEL but would have happily bundled our Linux purchases into the big million dollar contract. How much are you looking to charge for updates? Dunno. How much is support? Dunno. Do you know anything about the company’s sales plan for SuSE? Not a thing. Well … glad you could stop by? I guess.
As far as software companies go, this is ancient history. But it’s something I think of a lot when dealing with Microsoft these days. There’s a free mechanism that allows you to use your existing Active Directory to store local workstation admin account passwords. Local workstations manage their own passwords — no two passwords are the same; you can read the individual computer’s password out of AD and provide it to the end user. Expire the computer’s local admin password and next time it communicates with the domain, the password will be changed. Never heard of it from the MS sales guy – someone found LAPS through random web searching. Advanced Group Policy Management that provides auditing and versioning for group policies – not something our MS reps mentioned. Visual Studio Code – yet another find based on random web searching. I know it isn’t the sales guy’s job to tell me about every little bit of free add-on code they have created, but isn’t it in their best interest to ensure that the products that we have become an intrinsic part of our business processes? I tell our SharePoint group that all the time — there are a lot of web based content management platforms. If all you use it for is avoiding web coding … well, I’ve got WordPress that does that. Or some Atlassian wiki thing. And some Jive wiki thing. And some Xerox document repository that has web pages. You need to make something unique to your product intrinsically entwined with business oeprations so no one would ever think of replacing your product.