IT Failure and Social Computing

I’m not a lot of things that people might assume. For example, I’m not that much of a technologist that I can’t see when technology fails. Often it’s the little things that hurt and I have a mistrust of anything labelled self-service (“self-service for whom? Me or the guy I’ve just entered that data for?”).

Take the case of my local train station. It has a ticket machine that accepts $50 notes, but will only give change up to about $20. Unfortunately the cost of a peak return ticket to Sydney is itself only just a little over $20. And there I was with my crsip, new $50 fresh from the ATM.

I had already watched some guy shoving in $2 coins this morning for his ticket, but the machine rejected them all. It accepts coins but decided it didn’t like his.

Luckily for both of us there is a HTBBCS in place at this station. What’s that? You don’t know what HTBBCS is? But I think that you do… It’s a “Human Technology Based Business Continuity Strategy”. Or in this situation better known as, A Bloke with some Change.
A Bloke with some Change is needed because if you travel without a ticket you naturally risk a getting a fine from a ticket inspector. You see the technology doesn’t fail everyone often enough that it can be accepted as an excuse, but it’s not reliable enough to not have the Bloke with some Change.

It could of course be better – they could accept other forms of payment – but you know what, I quite like the Bloke with some Change. In a way he is a much better class of technology because he is multipurpose – he can tell you when the next train is due for a start or why it’s running late. Old Mr Ticket Machine just looks blank if you ask him anything.

In the past you had two choices with information technology – pretend it is perfect, or accept it’s imperfections (and in many case, this becomes a factor in adoption failure). Today, social computing can help fill that gap. It’s not going to solve every problem of course, but in some cases it might just be your Bloke with some Change at a point of failure in your systems and processes. Customer service comes to mind, but there are so many other possibilities.


2 thoughts on “IT Failure and Social Computing

  1. Very true James.I often remind people that if you take the digital technologies out of an organisation it can still function – albeit slower and more inefficiently. However if you take the people out of an organisation it stops working. Period.Sometimes people forget that only a short-time ago in human history offices were full of secretaries with typewriters and carbon paper and a ‘computer’ was a human job description. A little before that it was scribes with ink and pen and abacuses. Those organisations also functioned perfectly adequately, meeting the needs of the societies they functioned within.Therefore organisations need to always consider the human element alongside the technology element and look for human-based ways to solve issues and meet the needs that digital technology isn’t good at filling.

  2. Well, you better enjoy the bloke with the change since Cityrail is likely to sack most of it’s station staff and you will have to rely on old (new?) mr ticket machine with maybe some change…if you can get it! I wonder why the customer experience is rarely considered in these great modern solutions….less cost for the authorities and more costs for the public (time wasting, having the right money, no on-station assistance). Same goes for most big “service” industries – push the costs onto the consumer…and don’t get me started on the banks….

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