When your processes or business rules aren’t up to the job, don’t blame the customer #BusinessRules

Defining and implementing processes and business rules can be a complicated task, as I know from years of experience of data and process modelling.  I’ve been on the receiving end of some incompletely-defined processes and business rules recently, and was made to feel as if it was my fault, and that’s not a good feeling.

This isn’t intended to be a rant against the supplier, though it’s very tempting to go on at length about what went wrong, the promises that were broken, and the amount of time we had to spend on the phone to get it sorted (at a cost of 5 pence per minute).

The topic is the unwritten assumptions that lie behind some process and business rules, and what happens when those assumptions prove to be false.

Here’s the scenario – a family have an integrated dishwasher, built-in to a line of cupboards in the kitchen. The dishwasher has a major fault, so the family decide to replace it, and order a new machine from the web site of one of the biggest electrical retailers in the country. The unusual step they take is to order a free-standing dishwasher to replace the existing integrated machine; they pay extra for the new machine to be installed, and for the old one to be removed.

Here’s the supplier’s description of the service that they paid for.

Insstalling free standing dishwashers

That’s a straightforward process – it says quite simply that they will install the new dishwasher and remove the old one. No conditions specified.

The following morning, the delivery / installation team turned up with the new dishwasher, took one look at the existing one, and refused to touch it. Apparently, removing and installing integrated dishwashers is the job of a specialist team, and it costs the customer a lot more money – 4.5 times as much for installation. The fact that they weren’t being asked to install an integrated dishwasher, just to disconnect it and take it away, was irrelevant.

The family were not impressed – the installation team promised to call the office when they had a mobile signal to arrange a visit by a suitably-qualified team, but the family left nothing to chance, and called Customer Support themselves straight away. They were promised a call back which never came, so they called again in the evening. During that call they were told about the additional cost for installing an integrated appliance, and accused of not reading the terms and conditions when they ordered the installation service. These are the terms and conditions shown above, the ones which don’t mention the assumption that the installers would be replacing like with like.

By the time the family made the evening call to Customer Support, they had discovered how to detach the integrated dishwasher – there were three screws attaching the dishwasher to the worktop, which took about a minute to remove. Now it’s no longer integrated, it’s free-standing; why didn’t the professional installers know how to do that?

If the family had ordered a new integrated appliance, here’s what the installation service would consist of.

Insstalling integrated dishwashers

Again, a straightforward process, and you can see the additional tasks necessary to remove and replace the plinth and the panel door. In the family’s case, none of these tasks were necessary, as they had already removed the plinth and didn’t want to keep the old panel door.

Anyway, as the dishwasher had been converted from ‘integrated’ to ‘free-standing’ by the family, the supplier agreed to honour the original installation agreement and send a new team of installers.

At the time of writing, the family are waiting for the installation team to arrive, with all fingers crossed.

What lessons are there in this unfortunate story, apart from making sure you become an expert in somebody else’s job before they turn up?

  • When defining business processes, document your assumptions, and work on the exceptions (use cases are a great technique for doing this)
  • Make sure that the affected parties (in this case, the customers paying for the service) are aware of the assumptions and exceptions – include them in the definition of the service, perhaps asking the customer to call Customer Support before placing an order if the assumptions aren’t true.
  • Make sure that Customer Support staff don’t blame the customer for the supplier’s own lack of information
  • Let installers use judgement –the original team could have worked out how to remove the existing machine if they’d looked at it instead of just saying “Not my job, mate”

Whatever happened to Information Management at this bank? #DataQualityFail

Yesterday I set up SMS alerts for my business bank account for the first time. When I registered for the service, it showed me the last four digits (9901) of the number they proposed to use for messages advising me of activity on my account. That worried me, as I stopped using that number several years ago when I changed providers, and the bank are well aware of my current number. In fact, they already send me text messages to confirm certain activities via internet banking.

With trepidation, I registered for the service, and there was an option to update my contact details, so I took it. Lo and behold, the ‘9901’ number is not in my contact details; the mobile number is correct.

Here’s my mobile phone number in my “Personal Details” (there is nowhere to record a second mobile number):

my banking mobileSo, I decided to carry on and sign up for a couple of ‘text alerts’. Here are the choices I’m given when setting up a ‘text alert’ – note the first phone number:

two numbers for text alerts

Interesting that, I can choose from a list of mobile numbers, though I’m only allowed to record one mobile phone number.

I was careful to select the correct number, and expected the service to work OK. My first email alert arrived at 02:06 this morning, but no matching SMS arrived. This may have been due to the patchy mobile service I’ve had in the last few days, but I decided to ring the bank anyway. I called at 10:20 and explained the issue to the customer service representative, and she promised to get back to me today.

I asked her for the contact details for their data protection team, as I wanted to raise this concern with them, in case other customers’ alerts were going to the wrong people, and also because this is very obviously a data management problem. I was told that the bank does not allow customers to contact data protection directly, that has to be done via customer service or by making a complaint.

Well, the missing text alert arrived at 11:57 this morning, nearly 10 hours after the email. The time is now 22:20, and I’m still waiting for my call back from the bank. I’m not surprised they haven’t sorted it yet, it’ll take a while to sort out.

I used to work for this bank in an information management capacity, leaving ten years ago when the new owners guillotined the Information Management department. I’ve heard a few things from the inside since then about how effective their information management is these days; this definitely would not have happened in ‘the old days’, there was a business department in place to make sure of that. I wonder what happened to it.

P.S. Why is there a drop-down list of phone numbers? Here’s a suggestion from a friend of mine, which I’ve paraphrased – “during project testing a developer found >1 mobile number, so they decide to add a drop-down list. Not scenario-checked. Unit tested but no end to end test.”  Could be true.

But that’s just experience bitching.

PowerDesigner training now available via IRM UK

So you’ve bought Sybase PowerDesigner, and your experienced data modellers are flummoxed. Why did we buy this tool, they exclaim? It doesn’t work the way I think it should! They’re bound to be familiar with other data modelling tools, and they soon realise that PowerDesigner operates differently – it has its quirks, and they need to know how to make use of them. They’ll also need to know how to take advantage of the features that they may not have seen in other tools, such as the Dependency Matrix.

IRM UK can now provide a 2 or 3 day in-house PowerDesigner training course, which I’m very pleased to provide for them.

The course commences with a discussion of the different types of data model supported by PowerDesigner, followed by a detailed explanation of the PowerDesigner working environment.  Once you’ve got to grips with the environment and facilities, you’ll work through a detailed case study, creating a chain of data models from Conceptual to Logical to Physical, applying normalisation and de-normalisation techniques where appropriate. In the case study. you’ll see how PowerDesigner Projects enable you to visualise and manage your chain of models.

In addition, you’ll see features added in version 16 and 16.1 – the Glossary and Reference models, and the improved Web Portal.

Visit the IRM UK web site to find out more.

Essential reading for data modellers – new book by Ross and Lam

Check the book reviews page for a review of a must-read volume for data modellers – “Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules” by Ron Ross and Gladys Lam.

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