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A Dinosaur Theme Park

Entry 1595, on 2013-11-21 at 20:19:44 (Rating 3, Computers)

As you, my valued readers, probably know, I work as an IT consultant/programmer, so I often have to solve problems and fix issues related to the programs my clients use. There are various techniques I use to solve problems: just use my experience from similar problems in the past; apply updates, re-install, delete preference files and other more generic solutions; and maybe eventually contact the developer for help.

It's the last process I want to talk about here. When contacting a company or individual for help on a problem with software I get a wide variety of different responses. Sometimes the experience is very positive and the problem is quickly solved, but other times the opposite is true and I end up in a frustrating dead end or maze of conflicting actions.

The interesting thing is that it is usually the smaller companies and individual programmers who provide the best service and the big corporations which give either no help at all or such poor help that you are better off not even attempting to access it.

Recently I discovered that an astronomy program I bought a few years ago now, called "Starry Night" had stopped downloading comet orbit updates and other information and that the updaters on-line didn't work. This program wasn't really over-priced but it wasn't cheap either so I thought "OK, let's see what the support is like" half expecting to be told that the version I had was obsolete and I would need to buy a new one.

So I left a request on the on-line help system and within a few hours had a reply requesting extra information which I supplied and a few minutes later was downloading a new version which worked perfectly. So that was a positive experience, although I do think that when the old version stopped working I should have received an automated email telling me about the new version with a download link.

I have had similar fast and useful exchanges with other smaller developers too. I use a backup and synchronisation program called "ChronoSync" and have emailed their support staff on several occasions and got helpful responses, including having suggestions of new features treated seriously (although not actually implemented yet!)

But what about some of the bigger, more prominent companies? Yes, that is quite a different story. Try getting meaningful support from Adobe, or Microsoft, or Hewlett Packard, or even Apple and you will probably be disappointed. Occasionally I get reasonable results from them, but usually it takes a lot longer and is far less positive overall than with the smaller companies.

And I think I know why.

It's because of their "corporate mindset". This affliction is common in large organisations and it always involves having overly complicated procedures, precisely formulated responses, and a low level of personal responsibility and freedom to offer creative solutions.

So after contacting a large organisation you will often be processed by an automated system, followed by a helpdesk, followed by an "expert" chosen from a large group. If you do talk to a real person it wil often be obvious that they are following a script and might not even have ever used the product. And even if you tell them what they need to do to fix the problem they won't do it unless it's on their list of pre-defined "solutions".

I fully understand that a large company processing thousands of requests a day can't use the same system as a smaller one with much smaller load can but I can't accept that they can't create something better than what we usually get.

Over they years I have rejected the products of one big company after another. First it was Microsoft, then HP, and most recently it was Adobe. I now use alternatives from smaller companies (or Apple which is the only big organisation I still like, although it certainly has its problems). I have never regretted doing this. Not only do I get better, cheaper products with great support, but I am also supporting smaller, more innovative companies instead of the big dinosaurs.

That reminds me of a joke: What's the difference between IBM and Jurassic Park? Answer: One's a theme park full of old dinosaurs and the other's a movie! Yeah, that could apply to Microsoft or Adobe sometimes too!

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