Commerce and Technology

I’ve now had two bad experiences with Photolab’s putting stuff on CD for me and totally messing up the quality of the pics…  I don’t know what the big deal is…

The first time was a simple request to copy images off my Digital Camera’s memory stick onto a CD.  Nothing more.  But they “colour corrected”, and compressed the images.  Now if you call totally wrecking the colour balance “colour correction”, then they did a good job on that one. (for those who don’t know – I’m being sarcastic, they basically ruined the colours)  Then comes their “compression”… but I’ll leave that for later…

The second time was a request to scan images from negatives onto a CD… The photolab had done well in getting the images printed, and came highly recommended for its quality of work.

Both photolabs, clearly don’t look at the photo’s after they’ve “compressed them”.  Because in both cases I ended up with images with large dimensions, but shocking quality (to keep the file sizes down).  But when I say “shocking quality”, I mean that I wouldn’t even put these photo’s on the web they were so broken!   And they charged us for producing this CD of images!

So today I go to a photolab that I know will do a good job, and they want to charge me R50.00 a spool for “medium” quality photos (about the same quality as a 3.2megapixel camera), and R90 a spool for “high” quality photos (not sure of the quality, but they’re about 9mb per image).  One of the reasons that they’re charging so much is because the negatives have been cut already… (if they’d developed the photo’s themselves, they’d have fed them all through in one go – but now they have to feed each little strip of 4 photos into the machine by hand)  I fully understand why this would be a more time consuming process, so I’m ok with it. 

And I’m guessing that the “high quality” images might require more “scanning” time to get the quality.  They aparently put it through their normal photo printing machine and get it to save the images to disk as opposed to printing them.  With that in mind, I have a slight doubt that it would actually take more time to do a “high quality” scan.  Why? Well, I’m guessing that the machine would normally scan them to do the colour correction, and then it would make sense to scan at the highest quality so they could be sure to do it right.  So in normal operation, it would be scanning the images at “high quality”.  To develop, and print the photos would probably only cost me about R60 or R70.  So if the major factor in the high price of digital copies is the “time”, and the machines on a normal “develop and print” run are scanning at high quality, then a “digital only” run should cost less than a “develop and print”.  Anyway… I know there are other factors involved, and that I’m by no means an expert on the process of photograph development.

What actually pisses me off no end is that the first two photolabs, charged me money for basically useless images.  I wonder how they can get away with offering such a stupid service… I mean, how can customers be so stupid to accept it? And how can they, with a clear conscience, sell a product that really is useless.  Maybe its just because “digital photography” is not “mainstream” here yet?  And I guess photolabs want to protect their business, so by making crappy digital images they might be able to convince their clueless customers that non-digital images are much better for the average customer. (if I was vaguely artistic and had a cool tablet PC, I’d do a “Rory” and post a short cartoon about these interactions between the photolab staff and a “clueless customer”… but I’m not, so you’ll have to imagine it on your own)

But I just had a thought(no sarcastic comments from the peanut gallery, ok?)… Isn’t this what “Internet Companies” did to the whole world in the whole “Dot Com bubble”?  In both cases, people are sold products that claimed to be amazing, but which fail live up to them… (there are exceptions in both situations)  And those that are selling the “bad” products are only selling them because they either want a quick buck, or they don’t know any better… and the customers choose the “cheapest” solution because they don’t yet know how to measure the quality of solutions offered.

I wonder if that is the same with any new idea/market/technology?  And what do you do if you’re one of those who actually cares about the solutions you offer?  How would you convince clients that your solutions are qualitatively better than the rest?  How do companies survive with making bad technology decisions?  So often once you’ve bought a bad solution the only way to fix it is to throw it out entirely and start over – and NO financial manager will be happy with that. (unless they can see the “bigger picture”, and understand why they’re currently in the situation they’re in)  I wonder how many companies do that?  And how do companies who are offering the solutions ensure that they’re offering quality solutions when the playing fields are changing so greatly?

Why do I ask these things? Well, when I worked for Internet Solutions (eCommerce division (which changed its name twice, merged with a bunch of other DD companies, changed its name a few more times, and basically kinda closed down/was absorbed after many retrenchments)) in 2000, they were busy dealing with major changes in web development.  They were starting to use Dynamo Application Server (a Java based App Server), the whole idea of OO was new to most of the teams, and their old ways of managing projects was not the most efficient. They knew this, and were busy re-developing their methodologies – but not fast enough (sometimes).  Systems were built “fast”, and ran with many bugs or “quick fixes” to keep them stable.  Clients could be lead to believe whatever was needed. (not that this happened on purpose :)) In general, the clients really didn’t know enough to be able to evaluate what was being provided for them. (and sometimes neither did we)

At the next company I worked for (2001 & 2002), we had similar problems – except that now the people implementing the solutions often knew “best practices” but the people “managing” them didn’t care so much about quality as they did about “speed of implementation”.  Now that the “dot com bubble” had burst, clients were far more “cost conscious”, but still they didn’t seem to focus on quality.  I still remember some projects where we’d developed “phase 1” of a site, and some other developers took over for “phase 2” (we provided the hosting for both phases).  In the one case, the second developers knew a TINY bit of ASP, virtually no Javascript, and the VB based COM objects they built were terrible – which all together caused their servers and site to crash regularly.  The client chose them over us because they cost less.  I’m not saying we were perfect, our systems were often terribly buggy. 

We had novice developers, and the managers had gone through a phase where projects were built in whatever language the developer liked the best. So we had systems in C++, Delphi, VB, ASP only, some with all hte logic in stored procs and triggers, others with no intelligence on the DB. So as developers left, we’d find ourselves with sites written in languages that our developers couldn’t understand.  I guess they’d fallen into the trap of not guiding the development – leaving it up to the developers to pick the technologies, and having nobody to evaluate what was being done. (Well, there were people who were supposed to evaluate it, but they were NOT (in any way) developers, nor did they understand anything technical (they were people with a sales/design background).

So what are the similarities between my time at Internet Solutions and my time at Company 2 (I can’t mention the name, because its not yet 2 years since I left them, and my contract with them prohibits me from mentioning things about them that could be used against them by competitiors withing 2 years of leaving them. And showing their weak points, could definately be used against them)

I guess there are three common threads:

  1. Managers who don’t know technology/current technology
  2. Developers who don’t know much about technologies outside(and inside) of their current technology of choice
  3. Clients who don’t have enough experience to evaluate the solutions they’re offered

How would I fix them? Well, if it was my company, I’d ensure that the managers and developers were getting training (there are so many companies who offer free courses, just so that they can get their products name out there (especially good are Microsoft’s MSDN Essentials), so even if the company can’t afford “paid-for” training right now, their staff can keep abreast of what’s happening in technologies to some extent).  I’d also make sure that standards were in place and followed, something like the MSF.  (Even the free documents from Microsoft about the MSF could have helped both companies a lot)  And finally, I’d make sure that we focussed on the impact of quality in our presentations to clients (like guaranteeing transaction times, uptime, security, maintainability/extendability)

I’ll keep mulling over this for a while – some day I’d like to start my own company (either alone, or with a small group of friends) so I always find these thoughts interesting… and I’m hoping that “someday” is not too far off in the future, so these thoughts currently get applied more seriously than they would if it was “somewhere in the distant future”…

One thought on “Commerce and Technology

  1. This has been the first time ever that I had to speed read through your blog πŸ™‚ – you must have had a lot of time on your hands to write this blog πŸ™‚ – or the lack of service and quality that these photolabs have delivered to you is really getting to you.. hehe. I must say that I have had some really good results from digital photo’s well I don’t have much experience in normal photography, since I’m too young! πŸ˜› but from what I’ve seen, the photos we get from Photo First is usually excellant especially when we tel them not to "correct" the colour balance… I think for someone to correct colour they need to be really good at it, I mean I totally suck at it. When I see a picture that has bad colour balance I don’t know the difference, except for when my brother, being the colour professional he is, fixes an image, and I’m like "wow… now I see that the colour was bad" there is a lot that goes into balancing colours… just watching my brother zoom around photoshop and looking at graphs of rgb cmyk and so forth confuse me.

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