@Orcon, Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Life used to be so easy when it was just Telecom who looked after landlines. Now when something goes wrong it’s all like, “your call is really important to us and is there anything else we can do for you?” BUT:

Our connection, which is unbundled, (so there is no dial tone and if the Internet is down, so is the phone) started playing up on Friday. Saturday it was on and off intermittently. I rang the nice man at Orcon who said that they would put a monitor on the line and he could see that it had disconnected about 9 times so far that day. So there was definitely a problem.

He said they would monitor it for 24 hours and see if they could find the problem. I was OK with that. I’m not an unreasonable person.

But I never heard back from them and it continued to be on and off all weekend until this morning, as I was trying to sort out emails and confirm my hydrotherapy for midday for my back injury, it all died. No phone, no internet.

So I rang them again and told them I suspected it could have been something to do with the company who looks after our water who had done some repairs for a neighbour and I asked if anyone else had any problems. “No” they assured me, Chorus had not advised of any other problems.

So they said they would try to get someone on to it today BUT:

  • If it was on our property, it would cost us $130 for them to locate it.
  • If they had to come inside and fix something it would be $230; and
  • If I wasn’t home when they had to come in to check it out, and they therefore couldn’t come in, they would charge me $130.

So I had to cancel my hydrotherapy which I had been looking forward to. If you’ve ever had a serious back injury, you know how good it is to be in water and not have gravity pressing down on those bulging disks. The therapy is very important and I am doing it to either avoid serious surgery, or at worst be strong for a speedy recovery if I need it. I don’t need the stress on top of the pain.

Chorus I went up to the end of the driveway to see if there was anything obvious and found an engineer who was working on a fault for my next door neighbour who apparently had reported problems since Friday and also had no Internet or phone!

The problem is that her account is with Vodafone and it seems that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. With so many companies busy clipping the ticket of old copper wires, you have to wonder what happened to the ‘Kiwi Share’.

Given that I couldn’t go and do my physio, I got my daughter to stick around so I could at least go for a walk around the block and not get ‘fined’ if Chorus needed to get into the house.

When I got back I learned that yet another neighbour also had no phone. He didn’t report it because he knew that Chorus were working ‘on the line’. But he was with Spark, who don’t share information with Vodafone, who don’t share information with Orcon. It seems that internally Chorus don’t escalate things unless they are widespread, so they treat each call from the various ‘providers’ as isolated events.  My third neighbour didn’t realise that if he didn’t report it, nobody would know he had no phone or Internet and it wouldn’t get sorted.

So he is now ringing Spark and between us we don’t know if there are any other neighbours with a problem.

OrconI did get a nice email from Orcon  saying “We’ve Got This’ and suggesting that I might want to reboot my modem as this often solves ‘problems’. I was thinking more that the telecommunications systems of virtual telecommunications providers might need solving.

I replied to the email from Orcon telling them how annoyed and frustrated I was with all the advice of what everything could cost me, when I know the problem is not on my side of the network. I then got a nice automated response telling me that they usually deal with issues within one working day and there were a couple of websites with “loads of answers for some of the most common questions”.

Chorus vanNext thing you know, as I am writing this, a Chorus wagon comes down my drive with another engineer who apparently knew nothing about the first engineer that had the plinth off, working on my neighbour’s line. No wonder they need so many lots of $130. I can’t imagine the overhead this all takes.

What I also don’t understand is why so many people have to be manually engaged in help-desks (at least one for each brand), manual testing and logging calls whilst not communicating with each other. Why doesn’t the network have some sort of intelligence that monitors lines and reports faults and outages?

I’m not being silly here. My first job was as a Technical Service Officer and I was the guy on the other end of ‘Faults Service’. I was highly trained and given a very thorough knowledge of all aspects of telecommunications. Now that was a long time ago and the systems were already reasonably sophisticated.

It was very easy to run ‘line tests’ and if there was a fault, we could usually see what type of fault it was from the ‘Test Room’ and what type of person (faultman, lineman, cable jointer etc) we would need to send out to check on the problem. The types of tests they do today are not dissimilar because much of the country still uses those same copper cables that haven’t been replaced in many decades.

I explained to the new Chorus representative what had happened. He went and had a look and eventually came back and told me that there was a problem in the neighborhood and that he would  report it to Chorus so they could send the right kind of engineer, probably tomorrow.

He also said that for a small monthly fee I could have a service agreement maintaining the telecommunications system on the inside of my property and house. I have never had a single problem in my house except for faulty Orcon routers! With today’s systems I don’t need to use the slick Cat 5 cable system my house was wired with, everything is wireless. I don’t use any of the other jack points. They are now redundant.

So now, he has told me they will hopefully send someone else out tomorrow!

So what do you think? Should I stay or Should I Go Now. Isn’t it ironic that this song is by The Clash.

I just got a text message saying the first available technician will be booked to look at my problem tomorrow. They had better come before my dentist appointment. They charge a lot more than $130 if you cancel on them.

Am I being unreasonable? Can one of the other Telcos do better? They know how to charge and threaten with additional costs, but what about compensation for me, including mobile data and lost time?

 

Why is Telecom Making 1500 staff Redundant?


telephoneTelecom is once again making a large number of staff redundant. According to Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran up to 1,500 people will lose their jobs. This is the result of a planned restructure, although Telecom is not prepared to confirm the numbers. My question is how did Telecom get to a position where they were so overstaffed? You don’t suddenly find you have 1,500 people more than you need on the payroll, do you? 

I started my career with Telecom as a Technical Service Officer back in the day when they had 26,000 staff and was part of NZ Post, which all changed back in the late 1980’s. I joined them because at school they taught us that the communications age was on us and I had a fascination for the future from the age of 7 or 8, reading the Science Fiction greats.

I went to Post Office Technical Training School on College Hill in Auckland and enjoyed a phenomenal education, covering all elements of technology from engineering and how transistors work, through to how exchanges work, management and people skills and everything in between. My training included working in the different types of telephone exchanges, working with fault-men, linesmen, cable jointers, engineers, radio and much more. I loved my job. I loved learning and was one of only two people over the years to score 100% in most of my exams.

I recognized early on though, that the ‘system’ that provided people with 40 year gold watch careers was fatally flawed and whilst the education was world class, HR was pretty much non existent. Promotion was based on a system called ‘Reporting’ where each year we were asked to rate, rank and comment our colleagues, who spent the month before, almost like politicians going to all the colleagues, saying “I’ll give you a good report if you do the same for me.”

PeterI saw totally incompetent people rise to the top of the flock, whilst others continued to work their 24 hour shifts who really should have been making the move into management, because they had the people skills, experience and the ability to take on senior decision making roles. That was my second experience of the Peter Principle, the problem was that it wasn’t one off, it was institutionalized. Telecom was an old school Government Department and whilst many of us worked very hard, those who didn’t want to, could graze on the effort of those who did. If the organisation was better managed and only staffed by people who wanted to work, we could have easily cut 5,000 from the staff without significant reduction in productivity.

I left Telecom at the time, because I wanted to grow into a management career, but I also wanted to be working in the industry with a company that was forward thinking and fortunately I found  7 year career opportunity at Tait Electronics, who I subsequently left to move to a more senior level in another ICT company.

After I left, Telecom made many of my colleagues redundant. 6 months later they found out they couldn’t function without their skills and brought many of them back as contractors (some of whom stayed for more than 10 years) on a significantly increased pay scale. They did the same jobs, but as self employed people, and it cost Telecom much more.

There seems to be, in my opinion, a major problem that creeps into corporates. The bigger they get, the more politics comes into play, just as it did back in the day. They become inefficient, decisions are often made in the interests of senior people, rather than in the interest of the company. They add on staff to grow empires and create division after division of people to fill roles that aren’t necessarily needed, often at the cost of other areas that are not well served.

Telecom spokesperson Andrew Pirie told Stuff that “while job reductions would occur across the board at Telecom, many of the cuts would be to middle management functions in administrative areas such as finance and human resources.” That begs the question of why there are so many people in those roles in the first place. I can understand that there could be a couple of dozen people in a company of that size that from time to time need to change roles, departments or as focus changes, may find their positions redundant. I have to ask though, how does a corporate get to a position where they have 1500 people more than they need?

Who is responsible to the shareholders and the staff for allowing this to happen? Are the shareholders asking questions as to why their share value is going down, if those staff were redundant, why were they employed? What has changed? The classic result then would be that someone will have to fall on the sword, but I think perhaps the discussion should start with Minister Steven Joyce asking some serious questions. Problem is, he’s still asking questions about Novopay. Don’t get me started on our education system. I’ll leave that for another day’s soap box about how we are paying lip service to the importance of the future of our children, tomorrow’s leaders and the teachers who we have been let down so badly, but continue to serve for the sake of the children.

So the good news is that Rod Drury of Xero and Ian McCrae of Orion Health are looking for quality staff and are struggling to find them here. The bad news is that Telecom is saying that most of the people being made redundant aren’t the ICT people that Rod and Ian want.

Smart Wallet Coming from Google


The Smart Wallet is coming says the Herald this morning.

I’m sorry but I have to laugh. A number of us have been trying to convince Vodafone and Telecom in New Zealand to do this for years. All I used to hear was ARPU and its not core business, while I was saying imagine having half a percent of the revenue. It’s a ubiquitous device people, your mobile is the only thing you always have on you, perhaps besides your wedding or engagement ring.

Ericsson had a proof of concept drinks vending machine in Auckland where you could  text for a drink at least 15 years ago. New Zealand used to be a centre of excellence for Voda back then. NZ was the first to mass adopt EFTPOS in the world, many other firsts, but then we fell asleep. ARPU doesn’t just have to be about data and voice revenue people. Ask eBay what business they are in, its not selling products, its financial services and transaction facilitation, I’m sure they say it better.

Sometimes its hard getting people to listen at the bleeding edge, but imagine if you had listened way back then, which was before Google sets up workspace in Susan Wojcicki‘s garage!

I remember loads of coversations with people like Adam Clark at M-Com, going back even to our days at Advantage back in the late 90’s, along with other members of the Wireless Data Forum where we worked hard to try to drag people into the future such as in this Herald story from the turn of the millenium.

Sorry folks its soap box time. We have so many clever people in this country and yet our leaders don’t recognise the opportunities to cash in on their expertise and knowledge. Years ago we lead the world in many ways including banking  and financial systems, EFTPOS, retail barcode scanning and much more. We still have the expertise, but we seem to have dropped into a spiral of this is the way we do business, its prudent, reliable and safe. Or perhaps they are saying that ots too late because Google is already doing it. But guys, we told you to do it before Google existed. Google isn;t forever and it doesn;t mean that noone can get great ideas of the ground.

If you follow publications like Harvard Business Review, Futurist Magazine and other forward looking publications, they will tell you that your greatest assets are your people, your staff. When was the last time you sat down and asked them what they thought, right down to the intern who’s pushing the mail cart? Why do so many people leave their companies because they feel they can do it better? Recent surveys say half of Kiwi workers want to leave their jobs. It wasn’t all about pay as the following quote shows:

“Asked what they most wanted to improve about their workplace, employees’ top gripes were “systems and processes” (41 per cent), communication (39 per cent), and rewards and recognition (38 per cent).”

There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wondered what happened. There are also those who said it would happen but couldn’t get people to pay attention until after it happened. Of course being first doesn’t mean being best or being dominant.

Now as to testing with NFC. I watched a demo with NFC in the Netherlands in 2009 and it was cool. There were 2 phones in Europe at the time that had NFC, both from Nokia. Now that Vodafone is going to have a look at NFC in NZ, how many models of phone do we have that support the technology today? How long would it take before an early majority of people had a capable device? Just because Google is looking at NFC, does that make it the best technology? Are there alternatives? If we were best placed to implement mass adoption of EFTPOS and bar code scanning, could we be well placed for m-Commerce on mobiles? Ask Rod Drury or Adam Clark.

I’m just saying……………

How Did the Telco’s Do in the Christchurch Earthquake


So when the quake hit Christchurch, what happened to telecommunications? Naturally in an emergency people need to communicate and there were some interesting situations. In an earlier blog I wrote about your emergency kit. So here are some interesting lessons from Christchurch and any other emergency situation:

Without electricity portable phones don’t work. If your phone requires a transmitter from the junction box to your portable, it’s not going to be transmitting anything. Many people still had copper phone lines even though they didn’t have electricity. Analogue phones still worked and Telecom in my opinion did an awesome job getting people to donate their old phones and shipping them down to Christchurch. I wonder if anyone has taken up the opportunity to start importing old style analogue phones into New Zealand, it must be a great medium term revenue opportunity!

Analogue Phone

With today’s Smartphones, not only did everyone rush to use their mobile to call their loved ones to check if they were ok, they were using mobile data, social networks, tweeting, sending photos and even video, which the media wanted to gobble up, but which clogged the networks for people wanting emergency services. I think the Telco’s did a pretty good job of getting generators to Christchurch and keeping comms up as much as possible, but they have created a bit of a monster that is only going to get worse. In chasing ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) they encourage us to find every possible way to connect on our mobiles, but then what happens if the mobile network gets congested? Obviously they need to work on increasing their emergency capacity as well as normal usage. They are our lifeline. How were they for you?

As I also mentioned in the emergency kit blog, if you’re trying to do all the things I mentioned above, your mobile battery is going to go flat and if you have no electricity that becomes a major problem. New Zealand has been way behind the rest of the world, or perhaps Kiwis haven’t figured it out yet, but we need alternative ways of recharging our mobiles in the absence of an electricity supply. There are lots of products that will allow us to do that. Car kits if we have access to a car. There are kits that allow you to use those conventional batteries you keep in your home and getaway kits (do you?) and also devices that hold enough charge for 2 or 3 charges and then get thrown away. I have one of those for my iPod which I purchased at San Francisco Airport, its brilliant!

Ipod Charger

The Trouble with Orcon


I note that many people are reading my blog about Orcon and the trouble I have had since I signed up, so I feel obliged to give you an update.

Things have improved to some degree, I frequently have days where my connection only drops out 1 or 2 times, but I am still experiencing dropouts, disconnections this week:

  • Saturday 16
  • Sunday 31
  • Monday 27

I also noted that people have found me when searching about the 2 for 1 movie tickets for a year that were promised as part of the connection deal. Well I signed up 4 months ago and still haven’t seen them. If they do arrive, I hope they will still be valid for 12 months and not the remainder of the year. But at this stage I’m not holding my breath on ever seeing them.

I don’t know if it is because of the interleaving, but our Caller ID doesn’t work on the phone about 50% of the time, which is annoying.

My wife wants me to go back to Telecom and thinks I’m an idiot for putting up with Orcon’s poor service. As a footnote, Orcon did come up with a $100 credit for my troubles. Funny thing is that a couple of weeks ago, even though my payment is made automatically by direct credit from my American Express Card, and I had the $100 credit, I got an email saying that my account was overdue and asking me to do something about it urgently. I was tempted to send one back saying that their service was overdue and could they give me a reliable connection urgently.

So, the bottom line? Still having plenty of disconnections, no 2 for 1 movie tickets as promised, intermittent caller id and no satisfaction. Should I be calling Fair Go?

I’m almost off Orcon 696 reconnections since 23 June!


As I am writing this my home has no landline phone, we can’t call and can’t be called.

In April we got a DM in the mail saying that Orcon was now able to offer ADSL2 from our local phone exchange through Orcon and that they had an awesome deal to offer us.

The catchy DM letter was signed by Scott Bartlett, the CEO and was full of promises such as:

“Quite simply, we’re not like other phone companies. The’re more than happy to offer an average service to as many people as possible.”

“At Orcon we’re the opposite. We choose our customers very carefully, then go out of our way to deliver truly ourstanding product performance ………………….”

Not only was I being chosen, but if I signed up before the end of May I would get a free modem / wireless router and a 2 for one pass to the movies for a whole year! This deal looked too good to be true, but I looked at their ownership from Kordia whom I have dealt with for business in the past and so I signed up to the top plan. I am a heavy internet user with my songwriting, poker playing, blogging, photography and so on, basically I am a geek. The Platinum Plan for $120 a month would give me 25GB of data at great speeds, free national toll calls and one country of international calls free for up to an hour per call, sounded like heaven.

If I remember rightly I signed up mid week and got emails to confirm that it would all be up and running in a couple of days and not to worry about anything, they would cancel the old account and everything would be amazingly wonderful.

Thursday afternoon I get a phone call from my wife saying that the phone was dead and that I needed to rush home because there was a major family health crisis and the likelihood that a family member might not make it through the night. I rang the Orcon Help Desk before I left home and the response was like, thankyou for telling us, we will refer this to the technicians and we should have your phone on by Wednesday next week. I just about hit the roof and was in real emotional distress when I rang Orcon again when I got home and asked for a supervisor. The response was sorry but the supervisor isn’t in the room right now, I’ll get them to call you back. So I gave them my mobile and waited for the call. It never came so I rang back again after an hour or so and was told, sorry but the technicians and everyone that could help you have gone home and there is nothing we can do right now. We will get back to you. Brilliant.

In desperation the next morning I emailed Scott, having found his details on the net and got a call from his PA who was awesome, she arraged for redirection of the landline to my mobile so we could at least get through the family crisis. Some of the people who needed to talk to us didn’t know our mobile numbers.

Anyway, eventually it was all connected and life was going to be amazing, the speed was awesome, I was able to upload my songs to my web sites in no time flat. All I needed now was the movie tickets to arrive and my faith in Orcon was restored. On that note it is now almost August and the movie tickets haven’t arrived, but given the rest of the sorry saga, that is just par for the course.

I play poker 2-3 times a week and am doing well, in fact this Saturday I a playing in the regional championships having qualified over a 3 month period of evening tournaments. I noticed that during games and sometimes doing music uploads etc that the connection was dropping. I lost out on a couple of major games including a qualifier for the World Series Of Poker, having beaten more than 2000 people in the first qualifier. In the middle of the qualifying game, when I had bet most of my chips, my net disconnected and my cards were automatically folded taking all my chips. This became a regular exercise.

Since May I have made numerous phone calls to Orcon, had 2 technicians come and check out the phone lines, disconnected all my phones from the jack points, reconnected them again, rebooted the modem, disconnected the modem, pulled the plugs out, replaced line filters and then the same all over again.

Now I must say here also that I am no dummy. I qualified as a Technical Service Officer with Telecom, I have written books’ lectured around the world and represented both Telecom and Vodafone as a wireless computing consultant and am a Past President (elect) of the NZ Wireless Data Forum. I owned and ran the NZ SmartPhone and PDA Academy and have been considered an expert in mobile data communications.

In desperation I emailed the CEO again and someone called me and started the process again and got a 3rd technician to come in.They found some corrosion at the local cable box and we started again. Fortunately on the last visit the problem happened while the tech was here so he could see what was happening. Eventually towards the middle of this month they replaced the port at the exchange and things improved.

They never called me back or told me what was going on, each time they wanted to start the process over again and I had to tell them to go and read the notes on their CRM, once they couldn’t even do that because their servers had crashed. Hey I’ve been in ITC most of my career so I know shit happens.

Just on this issue, here’s a quote from their website:

Reliability
Orcon has always believed in developing good systems and excellent people. Over the years we have focused on building one of the most stable and reliable systems in New Zealand, and the more we grow, the more control we have over key services. We constantly examine the current setup, looking to see how we can improve our reliability.

Is it that bad or am I being a whinger and anyway your playing games, I mean really it’s not like its that important (If you were playing a game for $1,000 and you lost the game because your internet connection dropped repeatedly, how would you feel), well you decide.

From June 23 (6 weeks or so after I first complained of this problem) to today according to Orcon’s reports, my internet connection has had to reconnect 696 times!

Now read this from their web site if you are still with me.

Monitoring reliability
Reliability and excellent system practices are only as good as your monitoring. We have three dedicated servers, whose sole job is to ensure that connection speeds between machines and response times from our network meet strict guidelines that we have mapped out. If these aren’t met – say for example, a server response time is not quick enough, all our technicians’ cell phones are instantly contacted by the monitoring computer, supplying details of what might contribute to possible faults.

We have developed systems to monitor helpdesk calls. If more than a certain percentage of calls are of one particular nature, technicians are notified and the event is thoroughly investigated.

My wife wants me to give up and go back to Telecom, she doesn’t care about the movie tickets, she feels very uncomfortable without the phone working, especially as we are expecting to become grandparents in the next 2 weeks. Not everyone has our landline number and of course to call our landline if it works is free.

Everyone has problems from time to time and I judge a company generally by how they resolve the problem. Orcon has had nearly 3 months. The disconnections have reduced, we even had one day a few days ago without disconnections, but we hardly used it that day either. This to me is a systemic failure of all their systems and If I don’t get satisfaction soon, I might be tempted to take them to task on failing to honor their commitments and failing to deliver on their promises.

Are you thinking about moving to Orcon? I’m wishing I hadn’t.

P.S. If you want to ring me, don’t bother with the landline, they still haven’t fixed it.