Lately, I have been in one of my business traveling spells. And I've been thinking about how we all interact with technology while on the go, and what that means for enterprise IT. Last year, I wrote briefly about my business travel experiences and noted the lack of in-flight Internet connectivity and the lack of 802.11 access points in airports and other public places. Recently, Lufthansa announced that it will roll out 802.11 and wired LAN connections on its Frankfurt-Washington route, and British Airways will follow suit with Connexion by Boeing Co. providing service in both cases. Why struggling U.S. carriers are slow to implement a presumably high-margin service is beyond me. Everyone I talk to says they would pay serious money to be online in the air. (U.S. airlines, are you listening? Hello?)
While the in-flight broadband picture has not changed much for domestic travelers, I am seeing improvements in other areas of convenience. United Airlines recently rolled out "EasyCheck-In" kiosks that allow passengers to check in with a credit card, choose seats, and print boarding passes. This is not incredibly new in the world of airline travel, but I'm glad to see the seat assignment process demystified, although it makes me wonder why ticket agents tap their keyboards incessantly to accomplish what I can now complete with three taps on a touchscreen. Regardless, I think United is succeeding in doing what enterprise IT should strive to do -- empower end-users to make their own choices based on all available information.
I also learned that software usability issues and system instability don't end at the enterprise desktop. These issues can be even more maddening in the context of harried business travel. Consider the TV on-screen hotel checkout systems at most major hotels. This system represents technology application at its best: convenience and relative simplicity, allowing you to leverage technology and dispense with a mundane hassle of business travel, i.e. standing in line to check out. The trouble with these systems, at least for me recently, is that they fail with great regularity, and usually after you've taken the time to complete all the steps.
Just yesterday I tried to check my bill on the screen before checkout. I chose "Checkout of hotel" only to be greeted with a screen that said, "Technical difficulties. Please call the front desk for assistance." Lesson for enterprise IT: When you leverage technology to automate processes and advertise those services to your customers, make sure the systems work consistently. Don't frustrate your users by making them jump through technology hoops that ultimately create more work for them.
Finally, the "business center" available in most hotels is an insult to honest working travelers everywhere. Thank goodness that many hotels now offer in-room DSL, but a fundamental problem remains: How do you print on the road? I usually find myself swiping my credit card in a business center system to pay a per-minute charge to print a key document. Yesterday I used my in-room DSL to e-mail an important document to myself to print later in the business center, but the computer I used there (advertised as "Internet-enabled for e-mail!") could not, in fact, connect to the Internet to retrieve the file. After going back to my room to transfer the files to disk, I ended up wasting far too much time. The final lesson for enterprise IT: When applications and systems waste time instead of saving it, it's time to scrap the system and start over.
See you on the road. I'll be the one in the airport with the printer under my arm. -- InfoWorld (US),
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