Thursday, January 21, 2010

IT Lessons From Howard Stern

Business Week 

Buy a "satellite ready" car radio and have it installed in 90 minutes? Even for Stern fans, tech projects require more time, money, and effort

I've listened to The Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM Radio (SIRI) for years. Howard Stern knows how to deliver an entertaining and interesting radio show. But I never thought he would teach me, a small business owner, something about technology projects. Here's now he did.

I recently traded in my beloved Jeep Wrangler for a great 2009 Nissan (NSANY) Murano. Unfortunately, the car didn't come with a satellite radio that would let me listen to my beloved Stern show. No problem, I thought. I found a nice Kenwood (6632:JP) "satellite ready" radio at Best Buy (BBY) for only $129.99. I'd be listening to Sal and Richard's prank phone calls in no time!

The next day, I visited a Best Buy store and spoke with Tim in the radio installation area. He said he could install the radio in less than 90 minutes—but he didn't have all the parts. So he wrote out a list of instructions for me and sent me on my way.

Off I went to another Best Buy to purchase a Sirius SCC1 Connect Vehicle Tuner ($59.95) because Tim's store was out of stock. Then, from home, I visited, to get the essential Metra Electronics Part #99-746, otherwise known as the Install Kit for the 2009 Nissan Murano. That cost another $22.99, plus shipping.

Phew! Howard, I'm almost there.

Learning Experience

With all parts now in hand, I set one of the next available appointments with Tim. But when I arrived, I learned I needed yet another part, the Kenwood KCA-SR50 Sirius Interface Box, for $40.99, and—you guessed it—they didn't have it in stock, either. Tim asked one of his techs to pick it up on his way into the store. He told me the guy was only 20 minutes away and it would be no big deal. I agreed, packed up, and settled down for the morning at a nearby Starbucks (SBUX).

Two hours passed. Tim's tech guy had gotten "held up." It took another hour for him to arrive and for Tim to get going on the installation—which set me back another $191.34. Sirius, not content with its monthly fee, got in on the action by billing me an additional $15 "transfer fee" to switch from my old unit. So, by the time I was back on the road, listening to Robin's news, my $129.99 Sirius radio cost more like $460.26 and at least five hours of my time.

But, hey, I love The Howard Stern Show. And in the end, the experience taught or reminded me of some valuable lessons about getting tech projects done.

• Materials on a technology project will almost always cost more than what I'm originally quoted. When someone selling me software says the price is going to be $5,000, I now know it's going to cost more. Software vendors sometimes "forget" those little add-on modules or third-party tools that make their software actually do close to what they promised it would do. And, just as the Kenwood KCA-SR50 Sirius Interface Box cost about a third of what the actual Kenwood radio costs, those additional items can bump up the cost of a software or hardware purchase by 30% or more.

• People will always take more time than promised to complete IT projects. Tim was very good. But he didn't know that his tech guy got into a fight with his girlfriend that morning, which is why he was late and we had to wait. And Tim's not perfect. He does dozens of car radio installations each week. He can't remember everything he told to every customer and sometimes he forgets a part, like the KCA-SR50 Sirius Interface Box. So more time, and expense, is incurred. He originally told me that the whole installation would take about 90 minutes. The actual time was several more hours. For a technology project, that's about par for the course.

• To get a project done right, I need to be significantly involved. My internal technology projects generally do not succeed unless I'm involved. It's not that I'm some kind of tech genius. But, because this is affecting my business, I need to get intimately familiar with the software (or in this case the parts needed). I need to understand what the techs are doing. I need to stick around in case I'm needed to approve any changes or be told that a tech had a fight with his girlfriend and would be late.

It's incredible that after 20-plus years in technology I can still suffer like this. Then again, I could have researched this better. There's plenty of documentation from Sirius, Best Buy, and consultants that would have explained the process for me well in advance. I could've saved a trip to the store and bought what I needed beforehand from the comfort of my own home. I could have picked up the phone and pushed Tim, no matter how "busy" or reluctant he may have been, to walk me through the process beforehand. And rather than drink coffee that morning, I could have had a shot or two of Jack Daniels. That would have helped, too.

All's well that ends well. The Sirius radio is great. Howard's yelling at Sal again. And this tech project, like all my tech projects, came in three times the cost and three times the effort. No surprises here. And to think, I learned it all from Howard Stern.

P.S. Get well soon, Artie!