IT innovation demands a more human face

Isn’t imagination a wonderful thing? This weekend I felt the power of such an imagination. I read the obituary of the American novelist Ray Bradbury, and it spurred me to buy a collection of his short stories on i-Book.
Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

Isn’t imagination a wonderful thing? This weekend I felt the power of such an imagination. I read the obituary of the American novelist Ray Bradbury, and it spurred me to buy a collection of his short stories on i-Book.

My goodness, what a brain! And what a labourer! Living proof that success is part inspiration part, perspiration. He wrote 27 novels and over 600 published short stories. His work has been translated into 36 languages and been the subject of films, stage plays and TV series.

Bradbury wrote eerie short stories that touched upon horror, and opened people’s eyes to science fiction. He wrote of the colonisation of Mars, and imagined innovation like large screen televisions, cash dispensers and microwave ovens. All this from a man who never learnt to drive a car, never used lifts, and thought that the internet was a waste of time. But read his stories, and they will immerse you in the rich worlds of his imagination.

And in his trail, technologists continue to innovate, and consumers to adopt, far faster than marketers seem to understand. Take The Cloud. Wikipedia defines it as  “the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients.”  Snappy. You can tell no adman touched that copy!

When you Bing or Google The Cloud, within a fraction of a fraction of a second over 1 billion links are there for you to peruse and ponder and picture in your mind’s eye. But although it’s trendy, The Cloud is far from new. Many attribute it John McCarthy, a computer scientist who came of the 1960s, who wrote “computation my one day be organised as a public utility.’

The truth is the idea goes back to the 1950s when there were only a few mainframe computers and universities and governments needed a way to share computational power. It’s also a fairly accepted that the term actually refers to the diagram IT men use to represent the Internet and its role in their configurations. And most of us are now using “The Cloud” seamlessly and intuitively to access information and games, and make calls and send texts and share pictures without a thought.

But it’s not perfect, and it may not be permanent. Which is why I think we need to reapply the basic human element to all that is The Cloud.

A little over a year ago Amazon, a major Cloud provider, had a problem. The loss of their system caused serious downtime for a number of businesses, but worse – cost them long-term damage.

It took Amazon a couple of days to explain, and this was their basic statement of cause:  “As with any complicated operational issue this one was caused by several root causes interacting with one another.”

 Snappy. As I have been heard to say before. But wait, it got worse. In a letter sent to affected businesses, Amazon wrote:

“A few days ago we sent you an email letting you know that we were working on recovering an inconsistent data snapshot of one or more of your Amazon EBS volumes.  We are very sorry, but ultimately our efforts to manually recover your volume were unsuccessful.  The hardware failed in such a way that we could not forensically restore the data.

What we were able to recover has been made available via a snapshot, although the data is in such a state that it may have little to no utility…

We apologize for this volume loss and any impact to your business.

Sincerely, Amazon Web Services, EBS Support”

That is customer service gone mad. It’s only missing the familiar ‘To our esteemed customers’ that usually presages disaster.

Another great imaginator, Arthur C Clarke, wrote: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

Time we put the magic back into customer relationships.

Chris Harrison is Chairman Young & Rubicam Group Africa

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