This weekend I was booking a hire car online from the UK. I went to the website of a highly reputable organisation and selected the airport in Florida from where I needed to collect the car. Next drop down box is where I wanted to drop it off. Click. Next box - the dates and times.

All good. Except that at this point I noticed that the collection point in the drop down menus had now switched to an airport in Las Vegas. Nothing I’d done. It just switched. And Las Vegas is a long way from where I needed the car.

I tried again. It switched the drop off point this time. Third time I was, proverbially, lucky.


So was the company. 

Let’s leave aside the wrath I would have incurred from my family as they were waiting at an airport in Florida whilst the said car was waiting at an airport in Las Vegas. It would have been... ugly. 

Let’s instead focus on not so much what happened, but what could have happened.

First off, I could simply have had less patience than I had and given up. That’s a lost sale. And if the error is replicated time and again for other people it could be hundreds of lost sales.

Secondly, and here’s the thing, frustrated by the company’s technology I could (I didn’t as it happens, but others will) have used the same technology to spread my dissatisfaction though the social media. A few clicks here, a hundred and forty characters there, a share, a poke and……it’s viral. A major company has a serious PR problem on its hands because of a misbehaving drop down menu. And with supreme irony its technology driven error becomes public - through technology.

Several points emerge from this. That drop down menu is the sharp end of the company’s IT. It’s the customer interface. And no matter how grand or great their strategy, that little detail is the tipping point into lost revenue and PR problems. Which, because of technology, could become vast. Quickly.

It’s also a demonstration of the most profound point of all. The IT has simply got to work.  And it’s got to work simply.

Now picture the day this doesn't happen. The company’s Twitter feed and phone lines are humming with discontent. And inside the company the blame culture kicks in. Whose fault is it? The IT guys? The marketing guys? The buck gets passed and, probably, whilst it’s ricocheting around the corridors nobody is actually resolving it.

If, though, the company uses an external resource, the route to resolution is a lot shorter and infinitely more direct. Call the people directly responsible and it will be sorted because their reputation, and contract, are on the line as much as the company in question. Inter-departmental strife is not on the agenda. Immediate, accountable, trouble shooting is.

Working as an informed but objective external provider of technology driven solutions, I know this situation. Thankfully I don’t often have these problems, but in a real world they will happen. If they do, I have only one goal. Sort it. Now. The internal issues are of no concern to me, and become of no concern to you.

I’ve implemented vast projects for huge organisations, and aside from delivering the IT and infrastructure needed I’ve provided that other vital mix of benefits. Informed and accountable management. 

I’m not putting myself in the firing line, nor am I putting a ‘The Buck Stops Here’ sign over my desk. What I’m doing is two things.

I’m reminding you that the most sophisticated IT strategy in the world is still only as good as the customer facing details. And that a highly specialised, accountable, external resource is the best way to achieve both the grand strategy and the essential tactics.

I’ll be travelling next week. (Still working - thanks to technology).  If the car is at the wrong airport I’ll let you know. And I may just be a little less reticent about letting others know, by the use of social media, by then…