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If You've Been Good, Press One (22 February 2005)

If You've Been Good, Press One
by Daniel P. Dern, www.dern.com
Copyright 1990 Daniel P. Dern
Hosted and used with permission of the author. All rights reserved; contact author (Daniel Dern, ddern@world.std.com) for any other intended usage.

My schedule this fall was been too hectic for my annual visit to the North Pole Toy Works, where I see what new information technologies "Pops" Kringle, NPTW's technophilic CEO, has brought on board in the intervening months (and, as often as not, what's gone awry).

So I reached out and called.

Instead of the usual cheery operator's voice, a deadpan recording answered.

"Hello, you've reached the North Pole Toy Works. If you've been good, press 1. If you've been bad, press 2. If you aren't sure, or need other assistance, please press 3 or stay on the line. Happy holidays -- we'll be right with you!"

I pressed the "3" on my phone, and started reading yesterday's Wall Street Journal while New Age holiday melodies danced in my ear.

After twenty seconds, a familiar voice broke in, garnished in speakerphone acoustics.

"So you've moved," Pops commented without preamble. "How's your new video system working out? And the robot coffee-maker?"

"How'd you know that, Pops?" I asked. "For that matter, how'd you know it was me on the line?"

"Voice technology," he chortled proudly. "Automatic number ID -- we didn't even need ISDN! You're on the list who gets routed to me automatically, and the system also did a lookup to the consumer purchases and credit record CD-ROMs, and popped the highlights on a window at my workstation. Piece of cake! By the way, it says you've been good, more or less."

"Thanks for the readout, Pops." I made a mental note to pay by cash more often. "It sounds like you've gotten pretty strong into voice and phone processing applications."

"We couldn't get by without them," he responded. "Those letters to the North Pole take five to seven handlings each. We're working on document scanning and image management for next year -- but voice processing takes much less elfpower.

"We've gone totally cellular," he continued. "We've given pagers to all our staff, and installed cellular phones on all the delivery vehicles, with voice, fax and modem capability."

"That's quite an investment."

"It's worth it. After all, we positively, absolutely have to get there overnight."

"What else have you been up to, MIS-wise, Pops?" I asked.

"CD-ROM is big this year, as you've seen. We're getting a lot of population demographics from the Census bureaus, map graphics, and airline flight guides so we know where to steer. Next year, we'll probably add CD-ROM players on the vehicles, and have in-house facilities to put our naughty/nice lists and routing schedules onto disk for them."

"So you're planning ahead," I observed.

"Yes -- but not too far. You should see the stack of five- year plans we've never gotten more than two years into. We're currently working twenty months out. In February, we start rolling in any new systems -- and at the end of May, we do a freeze on all mission-critical stuff till after Delivery Day, which gives us about four months to get the bugs out. But we still have our all-nighters -- and up here, that's a long time!"

"But it sounds like you've got things under control," I said.

"Well, yes and no," he acknowledged. "The individual new technologies we deploy have gone in pretty smoothly. But the business and operational environment has been wicked flaky this year. For example, deregulation meant we could pick our carriers of choice ... but try getting one of them to bring a line this far north. And the walruses keep nibbling on the cable, which doesn't take the cold that well anyway. We've tried VSAT, but the aurora borealis zaps the heck out of the signal. I'm thinking strongly of moving some of the service centers closer to our user base concentrations."

"Have you tried out-sourcing?" I asked.

"Grrrrr." I heard a background sound, like teeth grinding on a pipestem.

"Problems?"

"Let's just say, I don't recommend out-sourcing for critical, non-standard resources. Instead of reindeer, I nearly had a mish-mash including moose, caribou, two Scottish Highland cattle, and a gnu. 'Just as good, and more cost-effective,' they told me. When I heard they were going to use these mutant 'stealth' turtles, I hit the roof! I don't care if they're fast and invisible. Total control is worth the effort. But we are exploring a joint service bureau effort with EasterBunCo and a few others."

"Have you made a decision between Windows 3.0, OS/2 or Unix?"

"We've got one of each in the test lab, and are trying to decide if they're bad or good."

"What's hot for this year in the gift department?"

"We've combined the Virtual Reality glove with those eyeglass-size video screens, and come up with something we call a Look and Feel Suit. I may try one myself -- but I'll have to do a little personal downsizing first. Whups, the backbone just crashed again -- see you next year!"

Daniel P. Dern (ddern@world.std.com) is a free-lance writer specializing in technology and business, in Newton Centre, MA This is the fourth year he has chronicled Kringle's computer woes.

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