Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

A Tweet Is Not A Like

“5 Winning Social Media Campaigns to Learn From” by Zachary Sniderman (, 14 September 2010). Full disclosure, this isn’t Clearing The Editors’ Hurdle as much as it’s Shameless Self-Promotion. But we don’t have a category for SSP. Maybe we should?

The point to be made here is not in the article itself. It’s more or less well…um… crap. None the less, if you have a moment, please read it so that that comments that follow will have the necessary context. I don’t remember exactly but I must have eaten my take no prisoners Wheaties that day. It’s the only way I can explain how I ended up ranting a bit. It happens but it’s not something I usually do, especially on Mashable.

That said, that’s not even what the bottom line is here. What is  interesting is that one of my comments got 5 Disqus Likes and the other 2.  In other words, I hit a chord with others. What’s even more interesting is the article itself had over 2,300 tweets and about 350 FB Likes/Shares. Ultimately, an opinion is subjective. On the other hand, when reading that article as an objective profession it still has a fair share of stink about it.

One has to wonder how many of those Twitter and Facebook people actual read the article. And then from there, how many actually bothered to think about it. My belief is, not many. Actually, all the tweets could very well have been similar to my “This is crap” but we can’t tell. Come to think of it, am I the only one who assumes that a tweet is synonymous with a FB Like? But it’s not, is it?

Content? Or production & distribution?

“Are We Ready to Play With Pay? The Content Value Reproposition” by Steve Smith (EContent Magazine, April 2010). As the internet allowed islands of content to drift together, the cost of being an info consuming traveler  fell, drastically. Aside from the benefit of no more dead trees, it doesn’t get any cheaper than free, does it? But now what? How are content providers supposed to survive on a business model based on free?

In the end, Steve’s article inspired the letter below. The stellar news is, the editors of EContent printed it in the July/August 2010 issue. It’s always nice to see the AU State of Mind get more love. Enjoy!

Hello Steve

I just wanted to take a moment and mention that I thought your article was very well done. However, there are two things that I would like to mention:

1) I was surprised you did not make mention of iTunes. About the only thing more ubiquitous than music is air. That said, the general belief is the content (i.e., music) is the loss leader and ol’ Steve J. & Co make their money on the hardware. Maybe “value add” is the model to follow? That is, content providers don’t just publish, but consult, host seminars, etc.

2) Early on you wrote, ” Traditional media made their ad models work because they controlled both the supply and distribution of content around a limited set of brands.” I’m not so sure this is as accurate as it could be. The advantage traditional media once held was for the most part based on production and distribution. Supply had little to do with their advantage. It was the barriers to entry (read: cost) that sustained that biz model. The People have always been willing to self-express and self-publish. It wasn’t until the early 90’s with desktop publishing software and relatively
lost cost copies from Kinko’s did that really become feasible and “mainstream” (in an underground, not quite mass market ‘zine sorta way). Today, even outside of the internet, digital printing is getting
more and more reasonable. And then there’s something like MagCloud that uses the advantages of the internet to let people self publish on demand. In short, the content has always been there.

One step further, I would argue that this is somewhat the problem with traditional media. They are under the belief they were in the content biz. They were not. The reality is, they were in the production
and distribution biz with much of their “content” coming from wire services or just regurgitating the details of events. Today, I would bet for most ball games I can get play by play via Twitter. So why watch the 11 o’clock news? Let alone read the morning paper? Those mediums are slow and costly.

Again, for the most part they have not been “creating” content, just moving it around.

Thanks again for the article.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Bees or flies? – Part 2

Time for a little bit of shameless self-promotion…

The original post dates back to June or so. This letter was printed in the September of issue of CRM Magazine (online: Unfortunately, CRM did not post the letters of the September issue on their web site. As you know, they have done so in the past. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)

Beautiful article by Associate Editor Jessica Tsai (“Search Engineering”, July 2009, Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and online marketing in general continue to be hot topics. The theory is, why chase customers when they can find you? Yes, when done right, it can work quite well.

Ms. Tsai does the subject matter justice, with a thorough (even fantasic) overview of SEO. There are a few things I’d like to add to her efforts, however, that I believe will help the CRM masses.

1) The design and user experience (UX) of the site itself is critical. While not part of SEO, per se, there is a very important connection: There’s no point in driving traffic to a visually unpleasing and/or dysfunctional web site. Guests will judge a book by its cover, and if they don’t like what they see or how it works they will bounce. In order to fully benefit from SEO (i.e., inviting guests over), we believe more companies should first focus on cleaning up the house.

2) The article focuses on the value of a web site “homepage”, but the current approach is that there is no such thing as a homepage anymore. Since search engines will drop a person into any page of a site, it’s not safe to assume the homepage will be the point of entry. The relationship can start anywhere, so plan accordingly.

3) One essential factor that’s too often overlooked — click fraud in paid search (PPC) — appears in one of the article’s sidebars (“Bad and Ugly SEO”): “Some reports indicate that one-third of clicks on paid search are fraudulent — the result of developers creating bots to click on competitions’ ads, raising those competitors’ costs.”

Even with Google’s much-vaunted AdWords/AdSense, some estimates put the click-fraud rate above 15 percent. Either figure represents a pretty significant amout of waste to not be aware of — especially for anyone new to pay-per-click advertising. Yes, search engines say they prevent it but the general belief is to the contrary.

So we’d like to add a caveat to the feature story: SEO/SEM is not a panacea. It will not make up for a visually dated web design or a marginal user experience. Nor will it fix a shaky business model, poor customer service, or a second-rate product or service. SEO/SEM is merely a way to attract customers.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Your vision . Our passion . Success realized

We feel honored to be validated (again) by another respected authority. This time it is CRM magazine.

Less news isn’t bad news

Time for some shameless self-promotion…

“News Unfit for Print” by Michelle Manafy (EContent Magazine, May 2009). The article dates back to May but what’s new is that EContect printed an AU submitted letter. Please take a moment to read what we thought and they printed. Ironically, EContent does not post printed letters on their web site.

This is my first issue of eContent and so far I like it. It’s definitely of the same quality as the other Info Today publications I read. With regards to your latest Edit This: “News Unfit for Print”, I’d like to share a couple thoughts with you (and Dennis).

I’d make the “argument” that it’s actually the true media companies that are succeeding. On the other hand, the companies and organizations that see themselves as being “newspapers”, or “television broadcasters”, etc. are the ones who are being hurt by their own archaic mind-set. Until those traditionalists realign themselves with how the market see them, they will continue to struggle. And rightfully so; where’s the surprise?

The pull quote said, “In this collapse of the media business, the ensuing news vacuum will need to be filled.” Please excuse my tone but… Pardon me, what vacuum? It is actually the ubiquitous availability of information that has destroyed the market’s need for printed / televised word. Just because less people are getting the paper or watching the news does not mean they are not keeping informed. The only vacuum I’ve seen is in the minds of traditional media companies’ and how it effects their ability to meet the needs of the market.

Thanks again for eContent. I’m looking forward to the next issue already.

Hoist a new flag,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

There is one additional point I’d like to add in regards to the current state of traditional news outlets. The majority of the time it’s difficult to tell if they are trying to inform me or entertain me. Between the interviews overflowing with softball sized questions to the “it’s on Twitter so it must be true” insights there’s hardly any value added and  little true news disseminated.

It’s odd that these brands wish to be taken seriously as news sources yet devote so little energy to spin-free, honest and insightful news. They want to talk the talk but they don’t want to walk the walk. That’s fine, they just shouldn’t be shocked that they’re losing a battle to their (market defined) equals.

The bottom line… If you want real news then watch, listen and/or read the BBC News.

Ask a realtor, staging matters (and other late night thoughts) – Part 2

“Fortune Small Business Small Business Makeover: Cloz – Dress for Success” by Patricia B. Gray (Fortune Small Business, May 2009).  This post is a follow up to a post a couple weeks back. Full disclosure: It is also shameless self-promotion. The news… FSB  decided to print (on their Letters page) an edited version of the AU feedback submitted. YES!

After reading the recent Makeover of Cloz, the Chicago-based school uniform supplier (“Dress for Success,” May), I have a few ideas to share. Instead of launching a second garment business for the slow season, what if Cloz used that time to become a vendor for other manufactures in of outsourcing? The firm might also consider an airline pricing model, with price breaks for early (or even late) ordering. Maybe try offering other types of uniforms or consider exporting to countries in the Southern Hemisphere? I would imagine that once Cloz has gained a parent’s trust, there are other items the company could cross-sell to its base. In addition, the website needs an update. With all due respect, the site does not say to potential customer, “We will take care of you,” and it is hardly search engine friendly. It gives no indication of Cohen’s pedigree in dressing “scions of America’s wealthiest families for almost two decades.”

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, NJ

One additional caveat: The original letter that went to was also submitted to Cloz via their web site. There was no reply, not even an autoreply. Maybe Cloz should also pursue a makeover of their guest services as well?

Btw, this was the second published letter to the edit this week. Feels good, right?

Welcome of Fantasy Island? – Follow up

This is a (shameless self-promoting) follow up to a post a couple weeks back on an article by Ms. Sharon Machlis (“Opinion: When head counts are low, take time to save time”, ComputerWorld Mag, 18 May 2009). The AU blog post was also posted as a comment to Ms. Machlis’ article. In this week’s print version of Computer World the editors at CW decided to print that comment / post. It’s nice to be the needle that gets pulled out of the haystack, again.

The real e-proof is in the real e-details – Part 2

“Web Sales with a Human Touch” by Edward H Baker is in the latest issue of Strategy+Business ( The post about the letter in was back in November. Here is what they printed. Go AU!

Regarding your article “Web Sales with a Human Touch” (by Edward H. Baker, Autumn 2008), is it really the technology or just the chat itself that increases sales? It  would seem to me that just the presence of the human touch is enough to nudge people into buying.   I’ll bet some percentage of the population just has a hard time saying no to another human being (virtual or not).

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

Survey says… (Too often, nothing) – Follow up

“Hope Rising” by Computer World editor Don Tennant (Computer World Magazine, November 2008). A couple weeks back there was a post about this editorial as well as AU email into Mr. Tennant. And here is the edited version that appeared in the 8 December 2008 print issue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available online just yet.

Do I think there’s racism in America and specifically in corporate America? Without a doubt. Do I believe Don Tennant’s column [“Hope Rising,” Nov. 11] helped clear things up? Nope.

Tennant relied on a survey. At the very least, he should have prefaced his comments by saying something like, “The input to this survey was subjective and was not audited for survey taker accuracy.”

Here are just two of the many possibilities that could have affected the survey’s outcome:

– For all we know, whites might exaggerate more than African-Americans about their pay.

– Both pay and racial concentration correlate to geographic location. In some cases, higher concentrations of African-Americans occur in cities with relatively low pay (for example, Atlanta) and lower concentrations are found in some cities with higher-than-average pay (San Diego).

I always read Tennant’s columns because they are thought-provoking. But in this case, hard facts are going to be more effective then overgeneralizations from surveys.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, N.J.

It’s always nice to know the AU state of mind is approved and appreciate by movers, shakers, decision makers, the critics, those in-the-know, etc.

Service is in the eye of the beholder – Part 1

A quick follow up to the letter submitted to CRM Mag as inspired by “Self-Service Is Just Less-Than-Full Service” by Lior Arussy. Good news! The editors decided it was worthy of their print version, as well as posting it on their web site.  To read it please click here.

It’s The Excellence and The Guest Experience, Stupid! – Part 1

It’s so nice to be appreciated and acknowledged by those in your field/area of interest, isn’t it? After reading a couple great articles in CRM Magazine ( I wrote in to provide some additional AU insights. The editors in turn decided to merge the two letters and publish them in their print version (July/August 2008 issue), as well as post on their web site.

To read the letter in, as well as links to the articles what inspired them (both of which are highly recommended), please click here.

Mr. Lior Arussy’s reply is also on point. His ability to pick up the lead and fill in the blank that my “straight guy” routine left off was flawless. It’s sad that too many hiring managers, decision makers, etc. overlook the fact that history is filled with countless examples where passion, belief and determination defeated the “superior” enemy (e.g., Giants over the Pats, David over Goliath).

Sure an MBA helps but being over-prepared, overconfident and boxed in by rules (when the market knows no rules) is rarely going to lead a team to reaching it’s full potential. But that’s the difference between organizations who are driven to succeed and those who are just trying to mitigate failure.

Big mouth strikes again. (The future has to start somewhere. Some time.)

In the June 2008 issue of Baseline ( Michael Vizard wrote a column that was very dismissive of cloud computing, the benefits there of, etc. I was so inspired by Mr. Vizard’s thoughts I posted a comment to the article on the web site, as well as submitted the same to Baseline’s letters@.

The print copy of the July 2008 issue came in the mail the other day and the Chief Alchemist cleared the editors’ hurdle! Again!!

To read Michael Vizard’s original column “The Chaos of Cloud Computing” please click here.

Just want to read my comment? Than just click here.