Five seconds can save you up to £1m

Computer Weekly reported today that Barclays introduced a five-second cut in their call centres that should save them up to £1m over five years.

I’ve always been a great fan of reducing the amount of time it takes to do something, especially in a commercial environment because time really is money. If I can re-design a form layout such that you (the user) can do something with less mouse movement, or with few keystrokes, then I’ve effectively saved you some time…and thus your employer some money. Of course, tracking this saved time is somewhat difficult and can actually take so long, it negates the time saved. However, if you are able to track it and quantify it, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Design with the customer in mind (or preferably, present in the process!)
I recall writing a time and expense administration application for my employer, circa 1998. The existing paper-based process required us to fill in four sheets of paper in order to record our expenses, mileage, hours, overtime, etc. For a frequent traveller, the time taken to fill in the four sheets of paper could easily amount to 3 or 4 hours, or half a day…each month. You might not think that’s very much, but when you factor in 400+ employees, of whom about 300 will spend 3 hours per month dealing with their time sheet, that amounts to 900 hours or 120 man-days per month.

The application enjoyed lots of “little” time-savers. If you worked for a couple of hours on one project, 15 minutes on another, etc. it would display a hyperlink that automatically setup the hours input form with however many hours (or fractions) were left over. It would track your mileage readings from month-to-month – for some reason our paper-based approach required the vehicle’s mileage at the end of the month and at the beginning of the next month, which are one and the same! For expenses, it would remember the places you went to regularly, remembering the VAT no, what you bought (meals, tickets, etc.) It had a simple “copy for today” option that allowed frequent entries to be duplicated for use in the current day – useful if you found yourself going to the same place on a frequent basis. And it offered a simple Excel export which prove useful when creating client time-sheets or invoices. Lots of little things, tweaked via customer input, and a lot of time was saved.

Despite computerising the existing paper-based process to the letter (that was the specification), the application meant that even the most complicated month could be processed in less than 60 minutes, often a lot less. Of course, these figures are based on observation rather than hard facts, so a pinch of salt is required. That said, the time savings were “of that magnitude” and weren’t something to sneer at. But what did we do with that time saved? Well, one might suggest that the time saved could be spent on billable projects, in which case not only have we saved the time, but now it becomes revenue generating.

The question is: “what do we do with all the time that we save by using IT effectively and efficiently”? I imagine the question is both rhetorical and recursive…in a Dilbert sketch Scott Adams noted that any time saved as a result of IT is simply re-invested. I suppose this is just human nature, nonetheless, application usage scenarios are something that we all should consider when we’re looking at form layouts. And of course, the customer is with us every step of the way. The customer should be the first folks to react to an efficiency gains that you (as designer/developer) have to offer – after all, you are in the enviable position of being an “outsider looking in”, perhaps you can see things that they can’t, you bring to the table the ability to think out of the box.

Related Posts
What’s your most optimal process?
Jon Boxhall posts an amusing tale of a process that is less than optimal (via Mark Wilson).

Silence is golden…but not in a blog

Silence is golden, but not in a blog.

I’ve got eight fresh posts almost ready to go…I’m having a little trouble finishing them off, there’s just something in each of them that I can’t get quiet right!

My mind has been elsewhere this year: I effectively change jobs mid-to-late February, which meant January saw me resign from my position of eight years. More about this later.

Dell Outlet PC…

I ordered a new PC via the Dell Outlet last week.

I went for the outlet option because my existing AMD Athlon 1200Mhz desktop (midi-tower) was starting to groan at the slightest bit of hard work. Even a rebuild didn’t seem to help it. I’ve since found out that the northbridge chipset fan has given up the ghost…which is interesting because this particular motherboard was swapped out because the original motherboard also had a dodgy northbridge chipset fan. After my first motherboard was swapped out, I went out and bought a Zalman heatsink for the chipset – looks like I’ll be fitting it after all.

So my search for a replacement base unit started late 2005 and saw me looking at the likes of Mesh, Evesham, eBuyer, Vadim and a handful of others. I really fancied a AMD 4400 X2 (dual-core) processor with a couple of gigabytes of memory, a decent sized hard drive and a couple of graphics cards. However, all the machines that I spec’d up were coming in at well over £1,000. Even dropping back to a single graphics card and a smaller hard drive didn’t shave much off that price.

Then I noticed the Dell Outlet – granted Dell [currently] only deal with Intel, so my hopes for a AMD 4400 were dashed. I had a frank conversation with myself (yes, yes, a sign of madness I know) and realised that what I needed was a reliable machine that was fast enough for my needs – it didn’t have to be all singing all dancing. So I browsed through the options at the Dell Outlet – they’ll let you reserve a machine (by putting it in your shopping cart) for 15 minutes prior to purchase, after that, it goes back on to the shelf for others to see. Initially I lost the machine I wanted, I guess somebody else put it in their cart after I had let my 15 minutes expire. Luckily, it came back on the market and I was able to order it.

The Dell Outlet was the solution: I found a current-build Dimension 9150, Dual Layer DVD writer, 2 * 1024MB (533DDR2), 250GB SATA hard drive, 24-bit SoundBlaster Live and a 256MB ATI Radeon graphics card, keyboard and mouse…all for £530. I was able to re-use my existing monitor, 5.1 speakers (keyboard and mouse too). Delivery was rapid, from order to delivery, the turnaround was less than six days (I ordered late on a Friday night, the delivery was the following Thursday – four working days.)

Yes it’s an Intel, and yes it does run hot, but with a processor heatsink that is the width of the unit (pretty much 6 inches) it’s nowhere near as hot as the Mesh with the faulty fan! Now things are happening (or not as the case may be!) even faster! And it’s oh so quiet.

Ann – Community Event: 19-Jan-2006: The London Girl Geek Dinner!

On behalf of Sarah Blow, Founder, London Girl Geek Dinners:

The London Girl Geek Dinner!

The London Girl Geeks are having a dinner to get together and discuss technical stuff and generally mix and mingle with each other, and we would like to invite you to join us. If you are male and would like to join us all you have to do is find a tech female to bring with you. The details for the event are as follows:

Date & Time: 19th January 2006 7:30pm
Location: The Texas Embassy Cantina, 1 Cockspur Street, London, SW1y 5DL
Theme: Open Mic Night – There will be sign up sheets on the tables for people to choose a topic and a speaker to talk on any subject. It is up to you what you discuss this time, you could make it mobile, wireless, comms, wiki’s, up and coming devices & technologies. Whatever you wish! Come and have some fun and shape the evening as you would like. (share the knowledge!)
Price: £20 for food

To attend, Sign-Up here!:

Subscribe: girlygeeks-subscribe AT londongirlgeekdinners DOT co DOT uk

I look forward to seeing some of you there!

DVD Recording and PVRs…

Over here, Mike talks about his experiences with a Humax PVR 9200T – and it seems he rather likes it. It’s a 160GB personal video recorder that can handle the UK’s digital TV implementation, Freeview. It has two tuners which makes it rather useful.

Whilst I’m in the market for a PVR, 160GB probably isn’t big enough, so I’m holding off for now…although the Humax units are very tempting indeed.

So in the short-term, I’m using a DVD recorder. We plumped for a Samsung unit, pretty much in keeping with the Samsung TV that we bought some five years ago. It’s a great little unit, there’s some fan noise, but you have to mute the TV (and silence any screaming baby’s that you may have close by) in order to hear the fan…it has that satisfying “Hitchhiker‘s” hum about it (“With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him”)

Recording is now a delight – no more fast forward, play, rewind loops to find the right spot to record. The unit create a disc menu that makes navigation so much easier than standard the VCR. And we can watch a DVD whilst the VCR is recording or vice versa. So far I’ve been using Philips DVD+RWs, I reckon for day-2-day re-use DVD-RAM might be the better route.

The only thing it lacks is a digital TV tuner…surely it’s about time we got a magical all-in-one unit that combines VCR, DVD recording, digital TV, a nice big hard disc and a USB port? Now that would be nice’n’useful…however since the manufacturers of the individual bits of kit want to make a profit, we’ll have to wait a while before we see it! I’m sure that there’s a conspiracy theory going on here somewhere!

Anyway, Samsung VR320, it’s a great unit, especially if you can source it for less than £180 🙂

Namco retro arcade games…

I received a Namco 5 in 1 Stick for Christmas…from my wife, what a good choice 🙂

It’s a joystick containing five retro Namco arcade classics: Pac-Man, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Rally X and Bosconian.

It’s rather addictive! I’ve never been a fan of games that take days/weeks to play (like The Sims for example), so these quick-to-load-easy-to-play games work for me. That said, I did play Elite to death Elite on the BBC Micro. (Elite in wikipedia)

snapper galaxian

Of course, I could have downloaded a BBC Micro emulator and played most of these games on the PC, in a window:


Anyway, here’s the Namco unit:

It has one small problem…there’s no pause button! So, mid-game, the ‘phone rings (or some other important event occurs), what do you do? You have to commit the all-time sin of “leaving the game mid-play”. Oh the pain. Actually, it has another minor issue, but it’s one that can be worked around: the reset button is too close to the rest position for the left hand…it’s easily pressed mid-game…more pain.

Despite the fact that it relies on batteries (no PSU), it’s a great little box, I can strongly recommend it!

I have very little graphic ability…

I was trawling an MVP newsgroup today and came across this image, by Ester Memoli – Microsoft MVP – Word. The picture of me was taken December 2004, the same month our son Cameron was born – I had polished off a few beers by the time my wife took this picture!

Ester’s details:

Risorse Word:

By  Ester

Happy New Year…

Happy New Year!

I have a lot of new content for this blog “in production” for 2006 (some will come in to land early next week too!).

Look out for postings covering IT security (aimed at the home user).

There will be one “extra special” posting “real soon now”, I can assure you, it will be worth reading!