Editorial: Every Office an Island

I've become tired of slow dial-up Internet access and figured a 640K connection would be great. I thought about ISDN, but after hearing horror stories of people waiting 60 to 90 days just to get called back from the telephone company I was leery of that experience. The word on the street was that Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Lines (ADSL) had none of the problems that ISDN installations were plagued with, so I opted to step blindly into the 21st century and in mid-October ordered ADSL Internet access from Bell Atlantic.

Everything started out OK with the order being placed around October 10 with a two day installation set for the 21st and 22nd. Not bad, I thought. You can hardly get a regular phone install scheduled on 12 days notice let alone ADSL. I was a little concerned, however, that I had to talk to two people to get the process started. One, a Bell Atlantic sales rep who placed the order and scheduled the install, the other a person at BellAtlantic.net--the ISP arm of Bell Atlantic--needed to set up my Internet account. I gave my credit card information to the BellAtlantic.net person for the monthly access fee of $49.95.

What I didn't know was that there was another person I needed to talk to about buying the ADSL modem. I'd already spoken to the Bell Atlantic sales rep about what modem I wanted, but they never asked me how I wanted to pay for it. When I gave my credit card information to the BellAtlantic.net person, I figured the modem would be taken care of at the same time.

Well, to make an already long story short, the wiring guy showed up on the 21st and inquired whether I'd received the modem and I said I expected the modem guy to bring it with him the next day. He informed me that modems are shipped directly to the customer and I'd better call Bell Atlantic and straighten the whole thing out or the modem guy wouldn't be able to do his job.

Everything up to this point has been background; the real meat of the column concerns my interaction with Bell Atlantic and why I didn't have my modem. First I spoke to a Bell Atlantic rep (department unknown) who told me the modem hadn't been shipped, but didn't give a reason why. He told me not to worry; they would ship one via Fed Ex Overnight to my place of business. I breathed a sigh of relief and went about my business.

About an hour after I got off the phone with that rep, another Bell Atlantic person called me. This time they told me they hadn't shipped the modem because they didn't have my credit card information and connected me to the customer care department where I gave the information to the friendly operator.

By now wary of Bell Atlantic's ability to carry out this transaction successfully, I inquired where they were going to ship the modem. They said, "Your home address." I found it interesting that I'd already given another Bell Atlantic person my work address so they could ship it there, yet this person had no knowledge of that information. So I gave them my work address again and hopefully the modem will show up tomorrow morning.

By now you're asking what lessons can be learned from my experience ordering ADSL service for my home. That's easy to answer. My experience highlights why e-business should become an essential part of every enterprise.

As near as I can tell, Bell Atlantic has no computing system that ties all of its corporate siblings together into a unified data network that shares information seamlessly, without the customer even knowing. I figure they write stuff down on little slips of paper (my preferred method of data entry) and hope the information gets to everyone that needs it.

Of course, my transaction was not an e-business transaction, but if Bell Atlantic can't coordinate interaction between humans, how can we expect them to coordinate interaction between computers?

The ultimate e-business system will be one that ties all the applications of a company together so that data entered into one part of the system is available to all parts of the system.

In the case of Bell Atlantic's ADSL ordering process, I would suggest the following scenario.

  • 1) I enter my phone number into a form on a Web site. The number is checked for ADSL availability and if available passes me to the next screen.
  • 2) The next screen gives me my service options and possible installation dates.
  • 3) Because I need a modem for this to work, they can try to sell me one, and if I buy it use my credit card info that's on file to place the order.
  • 4) I next get sent to BellAtlantic.net where I'm assigned a userid and password and given my payment options.
  • 5) I choose a payment option and, in my case, use my credit card info that's already on file.
  • 6) The order is completed and I'm given a confirmation code.
This process involves no people, only machines. I wouldn't be asked to enter information more than once and if I wanted to track the status of my order, such as whether my modem has been shipped, I could enter my confirmation number and get the info pronto!

I know all these computer systems exist within Bell Atlantic, but the question is, "Is Bell Atlantic smart enough to make them all work together seamlessly?" The answer to that question isn't clear, but as you think about moving your applications to the Web, remember this: Don't just give those computing islands a Web face, think about bridging the gap between them so the customer doesn't have to.