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8/29/2005
02:20 PM
Lou Bertin
Lou Bertin
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The Observer: Forget Fancy, Go With Functional -- We'll Be Watching

It's time to vote with our access fees and our patronage if businesses that promise connectivity don't deliver, says Lou Bertin.

This is one of those columns I hoped to never write. Not because the business of working from the road is tiresome (it is, and quite unmistakably so); nor because I need so often to do so (there are more frequent-flyer miles sitting in my accounts than my bride and I can easily use and my mother and my siblings and their offspring have happily filled those voids) but because the subject itself is close to being tiresome beyond belief.

I acknowledge that. Nobody wants another "Woe is me, I need to work while on the road and it's just awfully inconvenient" column. This ain't that.

This is a small gesture toward recognizing what's been the operational reality for a long time now. Simply, that we ALL are forced to work from the road … in this case "road" being defined as ANY distance from desks based in homes or offices.

We've been at this for a while now, boys and girls, and what have we learned? Simply, that it ISN'T easy. That it DOESN'T work as often as it ought and that it remains a colossal frustration at minimum and a huge sinkhole of productivity at worst.

Let's face it. We all are roadies. But at whose feet does the blame lie for the unmistakable truth that road access is more of a hit-or-miss proposition than hitting black or red at our friendly local casino? Mostly us. Sometimes them, but overwhelmingly us.

"Them" are those to whom we entrust access. Unless we're of the unimaginably anal persuasion, we don't typically ask which service provider has been contracted to provide high-speed service by the hotel where we'll be staying. I spent more than one-third of last year's nights with my head resting on pillows that aren't my own and I only asked that question twice. Both times, I asked in advance out of sheer panic prompted by the time a weather delay left me moderating a live Web cast out of a prototypical "no-tell motel" outside Providence, R.I., that only provided dial-up access.

Otherwise, I base my expectations on experience, as do so many of the bloggers who have piped up on the InformationWeek blog Wi-Fi On The Road Leaves A Lot To Be Desired.

The most apt comment came from AJ Murray, who said simply that out of seven hotels he and his family visited, only one came close to working as advertised and that one hotel was, in AJ's parlance "a state-run resort (read: a fancy [Kampground of America] with A/C in Kentucky. None of the rest worked as promised (if at all); the logon process was never, ever as simple as listed, and the 'access' when obtained … was spotty at best."

Amen, AJ.

I recounted in this space a little more than a year ago one memorable experience I had at a hotel whose San Francisco flagship bears the name of the patron saint of animals. My call to the front desk at this place where I love staying was prompted initially by construction outside my door and secondarily by my utter and complete inability to access its high-speed service, priced as it was and is at marginally extortionate rates.

The tech-support person who came to remedy my circumstance was a revelation. Hard-working, empathetic, sympathetic, and utterly at his wit's end. "We fancy up the front end and make things all pretty and guests can't get online. I can't believe it. It's our fault but it makes me nuts," he lamented as he "downgraded" me to the hotel's prior less-fancy-but-purely-functional front end.

Separately, my weary friend's CEO now finds himself no longer employed in the hospitality business. Sic transit fanciness when it comes at the expense of functionality.

Do bad front ends irresistibly lead to the demise of hoteliers' careers? Nope. But as John Graf points out on the blog, making reference to paying attention to the basics, "sometimes we get it and sometimes we don't."

Time for all of us to get it and it begins with what matters most to us. If the places where we stay don't get it right, we'll find other places to stay. If the vendors we deal with don't get it right, we'll stick with them just as long as we have to until it makes sense to get 'em outta those parts of Dodge where we have influence.

We're finally at the point where we're beginning to have technology choices that matter to us on a purely discretionary (as opposed to architectural or platform-dependent) basis. Let's make the most of that. Vote with those $15.95-per-day access fees and see if anybody notices. The bet here is that they will. Belatedly, perhaps, but they will.

And to Nelson who posts on the blog that he works at "the Mayaguez Resort and Casino in Puerto Rico and [assures us that we] won't have any trouble working with our wireless systems at the hotel," all I can say is that we'll be watching.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Lou Bertin's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Lou Bertin, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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