Any readers who think the Brits lead the world in incompetence, think again. Without even trying, I?ve found out about two examples of total and utter stupidity in IT since I have been in Silicon Valley.
The first involves a double-deck freeway which ran around the edge of the city of San Francisco and was flattened in the 1989 ?Big One? earthquake ? a phenomenon I prefer not to think about while living within a few miles of two enormous geological faults.
The authorities decided not to deface the skyline by rebuilding the freeway on the edge of the bay, so they decided to replace it with a trolley bus route. After years of construction and laying miles of track around the heart of the city, someone noticed something was wrong. The rails were laid two inches too close together. Naturally, some people blamed the computer designers, and the track is still there, half finished and unused, while everyone argues over what to do about it.
The second of my two discoveries concerns one of the public libraries, which has just paid a fortune to a Var to help put in a state-of-the-art computer system. I promised not to mention the company. The system works perfectly and books can be found anywhere, along with information and searches, as soon as they are returned to any library in the city. Fantastic.
The problem is that this system has introduced so much new administration to the librarians that it takes six weeks for any books to physically appear on the shelves again, so you can find out anything you want about a book, but forget about trying to read the thing.
According to my sources, a librarian there said she has been employed in libraries all her life and this brand new showpiece system makes this one of ?the most screwed up place I?ve ever worked in?. Amazing, isn?t it? I think it?s quite comforting to know that huge cock-ups happen everywhere, even in the Mecca of IT.
Perhaps it was luck. Perhaps it was judgement. I thought nobody read this column, but Apple?s board members obviously do. I?m glad they had the sense and guts to admit they were wrong about Gil Amelio and get shot of him. It happened just after I was heavily critical of a man who fits the expression ?fat cat? perfectly.
Amelio?s job was a rich travesty. Apple paid him a massive salary, superfluous share options and even forked out to hire his private jet. In his time there, Amelio was paid a total of roughly $23 million while the company lost $3 billion.
He earned a reputation for leading Apple out of a lull, but who can possibly justify his income plus $3.5 million compensation for his dismissal given his company?s performance?
Amelio?s is the perfect illustration of executive salaries gone mad. The way he made a sickening fortune out of a sick firm is enough to make you sick. If I were one of the 4,100 people who lost their jobs at Apple under Amelio, I?d be really sick of hearing about him.
A Halpin hand
Does your vendor undercut you by selling against you? Does it pledge undying allegiance to the channel and sneakily take away your co-operative marketing funds? If so, enjoy hearing about giant US retailer Comp USA. It was so pleased to see indirect vendors deciding to sell direct and steal its customers that it has decided to begin selling its own PCs.
Jim Halpin, president and chief executive of Comp USA, stated bluntly: ?Our goal is to sell computers any way our customers want to buy them.? He isn?t worried about squeezing out his vendors. ?We don?t do anything unless we expect to make money. We?re not Saint Comp USA.? Halpin sounds like good value ? but in retail, I suppose you have to be.
I was pleased to see Allan Mack has made a break from Computer 2000 and joined Persona, or Ilion as it is now. The dream team of Mack and Graeme Watt could not last for ever. When they were appointed, they answered a lot of my questions about how they would work together ? they are a team, they are friends, they have different strengths, and so on. It was feasible. But looking back, someone had to go. How could a 6ft 5in former Derby County centre half and a qualified accountant agree on everything?
Bang to rights
The latest Silly-con Valley expression I have heard is quite entertaining. ?Percussive maintenance? is the art of repairing a piece of hardware by smacking it against an immovable object. You may be tempted to begin percussive maintenance on your head when I tell you another gem of local phraseology will be in next week?s VFTV.
And finally, to quote Trevor Macdonald, despite the subtle differences of life surrounded by IT and IT people, some aspects of living in the Valley are exactly the same. On the way home last night I?d had enough of computers. I passed ads full of the usual boring rubbish, slagging off Oracle, promoting Excite and asking software engineers to join Hewlett Packard. When I got home, I was greeted by a familiar sight ? my official California Reader?s Digest prize draw entry was waiting for me. Ah, the comfort of boring rubbish that you get at home too.
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