Saturday, June 05, 2010

Technology and Art...

...or it’s great when it works...

Hi Guys,

Well it’s been a while since my last Blog, and it seems incredible that recent events, with all the computer related issues over the past three weeks, or so, here at the Keep, have seen any productive work done at all.

What started as a month seeing me put a hold on Worlds End for about six to eight weeks, as the main project for me, enabling me to start and complete work on a new “Spooky” children’s book, digitally painting over an illustrator friend of mine’s pencil artwork, saw the rest of the month shot to pieces as all the hard drives on one of the main computers, holding massive amounts of text-based material, go down in one fell swoop, with a total loss of work on it.

This in itself was a blow below the belt, so to speak, but no sooner had we got ourselves rebuilt, bigger and faster than before, just like Lee Majors when he played the Six-Million Dollar Man on TV back in the seventies, than we saw that what had appeared first as a minor glitch with our business broadband line, prior to the systems crash, was in fact a major issue with the newly upgraded BT systems down at the exchange, something BT had neglected to tell us as business customers and had also neglected to ensure was uncapped after the upgrade had been made .

Now anyone that has been with this Blog for more than two years will perhaps be right in thinking, Déjà Vu, because if you can remember back to January – February 2008, when we saw the same drop in connectivity and speed with our broadband line, which almost cost Wizards Keep to go under totally, you will see the exact same scenario here too.

As an e-commerce and high-end digital art publisher, the Internet is our lifeline to the real world and this last month showed us just how fickle and unstable a relationship there is between digital technology, which is great when it is working correctly and the real, tangible world in which it exists.

The loss of data, despite the set up of high-end computers and fail safes within their constructs is a massive one and if not for some of it being readily available to copy and recreate from hard copy paper files, alongside some digital backups could well have been catastrophic for the company.

There are now more external backup drives and on-line backups here at the Keep, than you can see stars in the evening skies, but lessons have been learnt the hard way that technology, no matter how much money is spent on it, is after all not infallible and when it fails, it does so in a big way.

The recent Business Broadband issues with our service provider beggar belief that no lessons were learned by BT from 2008, when the communications company forced us to be with hardly any Internet connection at all for a grand total of 35 days, which as I have said almost cost me the business and caused me no end of stress, worry and years of playing catch-up in real terms. At its worse this period saw us unable to even accept, or send rich text emails. The lesson here for BT should have been do not install new software and hardware kit without telling the customers involved that this is the case and ensuring that those customers have both any upgrades of kit within their premises, that they have the correct set up with the line(s) so that there is no drop in service, connectivity and speed...obviously some folks do not learn.

The end result of the BT issues are that exactly the same issue of BT upgrading the line and capping the actual lines into customers and then simply not uncapping the service caused us to experience the exact same symptoms. Imagine a 20,000 gallon/litre pipe being forced into a pipe with a capability of accepting 1,000 gallons/litres and then having it capped as far away from the source of the water to ensure there is no flood and you get the picture presenting itself to us here at the Keep for the second time in just over two years.

The mistake of just not uncapping the service is one which again has been costly to Wizards Keep and we are not alone, as there are other companies using the same exchange and cards at the local exchange that have had the same problems this past three weeks, or so, since the upgrade. I am personally now in the position of producing the children’s book paints in far less time than was on the cards when I accepted the commission.

I understand that in the “real” world folks make mistakes and things happen, but for this to happen again is inexcusable, especially in light of the fact the issues, which took thirty-five days to sort out last time around, still took four days to resolve. Okay this is faster than we saw in 2008, but far exceeds the 24 hour service recovery they proudly proclaim all over their website and advertising materials.

There is a massive trail of problems with our service from BT since the UK government made it the rule that BT had to treat its own customers, exactly like those of other companies that are acting as service providers for their customers, but using the same lines and BT engineers. We pay more money for a business level of service and stay with BT for a priority level of service, something we no longer get.

A lot of the problems though are purely down to either a lack of correct training for staff, incompetence, or down to the bureaucracy brought about by the government’s insistence on creating companies within BT to break it up from the inside to stop what they saw as a monopoly.

As a business customer, paying a huge sum of money per month for the privilege of being with THE UK telecommunications company we are now looking at how we could get this same level of service from a number of other business service providers, if it is so hard to actually talk to the people and get issues like this resolved in a much quicker fashion.

Even the router, which was sent out after innumerable tests both here and by BT, was first generation and the fact I was told we would get the latest generation of router if we signed up for another eighteen month period, to me, smacks of blackmail and is certainly not conducive to me staying with the telecommunications giant, in light of all the many problems including incorrect billing, reconciliation bill charges for inept set ups by BT staff, which for two years running had to see me spend several hours batting between departments with countless phone calls as I was sent from pillar to post until I spoke to someone that actually understood and rectified the mistakes of their staff and a whole list of other failings from them.

Only this week, as I was battling to make BT understand it was the same problem from 2008, which indeed it was in the end, I also had to sort out this very same billing issue, as I had received an email to the effect our yearly spend would be down and cause a reconciliation bill to be sent out to us. Luckily in the second year in which I had to sort this out I asked for an email to sent to us here at the Keep explaining all about what had happened and how BT had sorted the issue, which was their fault, out. It was fortunate that I did as it was used to explain to BT that for a third year on the trot we were looking at me having to try to resolve this matter again too.

I can only hope that when time permits after the mad rush to meet the deadline with the children’s book, which is looking lovely with my friend’s pencils that BT will answer the report I will supply them with this time around, unlike back in 2008 when as business customers we found ourselves completely ignored.

BT have a lot of work to do between now and October this year to try and ensure our continued use of their services, because unless we see an immediate change of both policy and attitude I will be using another business service provider as of later this year.

One last comment on this whole affair from me is quite simply the long winded testing and retesting with numerous people, despite having a fault reference number to quote, having to continually explain the situation despite notes being taken by the faults team, and having to wait such a long time, certainly outside of the 24 hours that BT state, when the records quite clearly show the same issues two years earlier and an understanding on the part of the customer with all the necessary tests being done and printed results to hand alongside an explanation that the same cycle of events have taken place and are continuing to do so alongside BT’s own knowledge that upgrades have taken place and that there are caps on the line, should make it immediately obvious what the root cause is and how to rectify it immediately.

The question for me is that should we expect this to happen for a third time the next time there is a major upgrade of this kind?

My thanks go out to the folks that got the situation fast tracked in the Scottish fault departments (thank goodness that the service is 24 hour) and also to the engineer who insisted that an immediate remedy was put in place by sorting out the capped line to us, because with the beauty of hindsight gained in 2008 I was able to both ascertain the potential problem and knew what to do to ensure we were sorted quicker than we were two years ago. For all the many other customers I can only hope that BT learn from this and resolve the problems quicker by listening to the customer and not just reading from a series of questions and answers read from off a protocol card set up by the bureaucracy of the company.

Hopefully all that is now behind us and we can forge forward anew. There is a massive amount of work on the children’s book still to do before the end of June and so there will be scant time left to write any new Blogs until such time as the deadlines are met, but by the time you hear from me again here I will be discussing the progress of Worlds End with you all again, as I return to the graphic novel after a two month hiatus to push on once more to complete the first volume ASAP.

Thanks to all our customers for their patience during this time and also to everyone else involved with the children’s book and most of all to my family and friends who have seen so little of me recently whilst all this was going on.

If you sent an email over the past month, or so and have not received a reply, the odds are they were lost in the aether, along with the other data loss, so please feel free to send off another and I, or one of the team, will endeavour to reply ASAP.

On another completely different and much more pleasant subject, there are major events in one’s life, such as one’s wedding and the births of one’s children and for me the next truly big one will be the wedding of my daughter, Joanne in July, which we are all looking forward to immensely...and yes of course there will be a countdown of Blogs as we get nearer to the date.

The film, The Father of the Bride is so apt and so true to how things have been here since Joanne and Toby first announced their engagement, as to make me feel a real kinship with Steve Martin’s character in it...why are there swans in the pond outside?...Now then if only I can avoid Frahnk!!!

Until next time, have fun!

Tim Perkins…
June 5th 2010


Simon Wyatt said...

Boy oh boy! I bet you're glad that's over!! What a nightmare!

Glad to see you back, good luck with completing the jobs and the gn, Matey!



Tim Perkins said...

Hi Simon,

You can say that again, although we are still monitoring the speed of the line all the time, as back in 2008 it was said to have been rectified and was for a while, but then the speed dropped off again.

Hopefully this time around that is not the case, but I won't be happy until a week, or two have gone by without cause for concern.

Thanks for dropping by and hope you had fun at Bristol the other week.