Monday, February 23, 2015

Question of the Day

Here's the question of the day. Which one of these two runners enjoyed their race more?

Gail's Time
Tim's Time

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why TechQual+

Later this week I’ll be delivering a three-hour online workshop on how to use the Higher Education TechQual+ Project survey and Web site tools. The survey and tools are available free of charge for assessing the quality of IT services on college or university campuses. The first question we’ll cover is “Why TechQual+?” Or, why should IT leaders use a standardized survey for gauging IT service quality? To answer that question, let me share an experience that I once had as an external reviewer assessing IT services at another university.

Over the course of two days, the review team had conducted a number of focus groups where we discussed perceptions of IT service quality. Overall, the feedback received was positive. There were many things the IT organization was doing that were well received. There were also a few areas where most agreed there were some opportunities for improvement. But, that was before we came to the last focus group on the last day. The tone and nature of the feedback from this one group of individuals was in stark contrast to what we had heard during our previous discussions.

In this last focus group, there was one individual who had very negative perceptions about the capabilities of the IT organization and its leadership. He didn’t just have negative opinions; he was also quite articulate and forceful in rallying the other focus group members to share in his beliefs. In short order this individual had successfully shifted the focus group to an open complaint session about the central IT organization and its leadership. Having performed countless focus groups in the past, the review team was able to put these negative perceptions within the broader context established by the other focus groups. However, this experience raised an interesting dilemma that goes to the heart of one of the fundamental challenges faced by IT leaders – the relationship between perceived service quality and IT leadership credibility.

Let’s suppose that the CIO’s president is walking around campus and they just happen to run into some of the same individuals who participated in our focus groups. What would they tell the president if the subject turned to concerns about IT service quality? What would the president’s perception of IT service quality be if they only talked to the one individual who possessed such strong negative opinions? The question for IT leaders is do you want to leave the reputation of your organization’s performance and leadership to such chance encounters?

Successful IT leaders rely on tools like TechQual+ to regularly collect data regarding the quality of IT services and to solicit feedback on opportunities for improvement. Such data helps to create a context for the anecdotal feedback that comes through casual conversations. The strength of TechQual+ is that it provides a common way to collect data on IT service quality, allowing for comparisons against normative data collected from other institutions also administering the survey. There is now a large community of participating institutions using TechQual+ to drive IT continuous improvement programs on their campuses.

There is a direct relationship between perceptions of IT service quality and the credibility and effectiveness of IT leaders. Those with strong reputations for service quality find it easier to build alliances and gain support for their work. Ultimately, on every college or university campus there is a prevailing narrative about IT services and the capabilities and performance of the IT organization. Tools like TechQual+ can help IT leaders drive this narrative, by using data to inform conversations about more effective delivery and use of IT services. To get started with TechQual+ or to learn more please visit the project’s Web site at

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The TechQual+ Survey for 2015

The Higher Education TechQual+ Project aims to produce a standard, generalizable survey that assesses the quality of IT services in higher education from the perspective of students, faculty, and staff. Each year the TechQual+ core survey is updated based on feedback from respondents and the community of participating institutions. This year's update was finalized over this past weekend is now available for schools to administer through the Higher Education TechQual+ Web site.

The survey is organized in three sections, focusing on Internet access, online services, and user support. The format and approach of the survey is based on SERVQUAL which has strong support in the academic literature for assessing customer satisfaction. The 2015 version of the survey can be found on the TechQual+ Web site following this link. This YouTube video discusses the approach and development of the TechQual+ core survey over the past several years.

Changes to the survey this year were focused on the need to clarify the language for some items, the need to assess emerging services such as learning technologies and data for decision-support, and aligning the customer service questions more closely with the original SERVQUAL items. With these changes we will begin publishing findings from the project later this year once the new survey has been administered at multiple institutions. 

Over the past decade over 250,000 students, faculty, and staff have completed the TechQual+ core survey at 100+ institutions. The use of the core survey and the Web tools for administering surveys is available free of charge. There are numerous opportunities for learning more about the project, including monthly conference calls and an online training session scheduled for February 6, 2015. For more information please visit the TechQual+ project Web site or contact the project's principal investigator at by e-mail.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Few Thoughts in Response to Garmin's Recent Product Announcements

I have a few thoughts in response to yesterday's CES announcement from Garmin regarding its new lineup of activity trackers, smart watches, and GPS enabled devices - that before releasing a bunch of new products, Garmin needs to fix the multitude of lingering problems with their current products that have yet to live up to the hype.

Here's just a brief rundown of the problems I am experiencing with the one Garmin product that I own (the Garmin 920XT).

Timezone Problems with Garmin Connect
Activities uploaded from my 920XT through the iOS 8 Garmin Connect app are timestamped five hours earlier than they actually occurred. I didn't get up this morning and work out at 12:10am, it was 5:10am when I started. Now, if the activity was uploaded via Wi-Fi or through a USB connection the timestamp would have been accurate. Lots of us have been complaining about this issue through Garmin forums since early December (and yes my time zone is set correctly).

Garmin Connect Out of Service, Again
But a bigger problem is the complete lack of reliability of Garmin Connect to begin with. Far too many of us have had problems getting our Garmin devices to successfully upload data to the Garmin Connect Web site. I'm a long standing customer, but I wonder how many new customers, thrilled to receive their first Garmin device for Christmas, became disappointed when Garmin Connect failed to work as advertised.

MyfitnessPal Integration Down for Several Months
Which brings us to the next big problem with Garmin Connect, which is the complete lack of reliability of its integration with MyFitnessPal. Most of who are actively training are meticulous about tracking our calorie intake against our daily calorie expenditure. Integration with MyFitnessPal is the Garmin Connect vehicle for this sort of tracking; but the integration has been completely unreliable for several months (I first reported problems back in July). Garmin has had more than six months to provide basic functions that its competitors seem to handle with ease. Supposedly this was fixed for good with updates that went into place shortly after Christmas, but the fix has so many bugs that the current outage is actually worse than it was before the Christmas update.

ANT+ Sensor Lack of Reliability
And finally, and this is the most trying problem I experience, is that Garmin's flagship product - the 920XT - has serious issues with its ANT+ connection reliability for heart rate monitors (HRM) and other sensors. My current 920XT is actually my third 920XT. The first experienced repeated ANT+ disconnects / reconnects out of the box and was replaced by because it was faulty (the same sensors worked flawlessly with the Garmin Forerunner 15 which is a much lower end device). My second 920XT started experiencing the same problems two weeks after I received it and since I am training for an upcoming race, I went ahead and purchased a third 920XT while I am waiting for Garmin to troubleshoot my second 920XT (GPSCity has washed their hands of the problem). Confusing? Frustrating is a better word, particularly for devices in the $500+ range (I reported the issues with my second 920XT to Garmin on December 29th but have only heard from them once on January 2nd; the ticket remains open).

I write not to vent or complain, but to make the observation that these problems are emblematic of a cultural challenge for Garmin, which is the problem of overcommitment and underperformance that plagues all organizations when they allow the focus on creation and promotion of new things to overwhelm their capacity to support and take care of their existing customers. All the evidence cited above suggests to me that this is the case.

Here's three suggestions that I have for Garmin.

First, understand that your greatest competitive challenge today is not a lack of compelling products relative to competitors, but the frustration experienced by customers when they buy Garmin products and they don't work as advertised.

Second, software bugs in Garmin Connect are the largest source of problems experienced by Garmin customers. There needs to be an immediate freeze on the development of new features for Garmin Connect until the existing issues are resolved for good. What good is there in new features like Garmin Connect IQ when old features don't work as advertised?

Third, don't take your loyal customers for granted. Be more responsive to their complaints, but more importantly resolve for them the issues that they experience with your products. Successful companies delight their customers, they don't frustrate them.

One other stray piece of advice: one month out from releasing a high-end, high dollar flagship product like the 920XT don't suggest that is of cheap quality when plugging new products that are in the pipeline.

The business world is littered with companies that failed to realize their potential once they lost product focus and began delivering sub-par customer experiences. Trying to do too much, too fast is the enemy. Successful companies like Apple do just the opposite. They focus on just a few, select products and they never, ever release a product way before it is ready. That's the Garmin I hope to see in the future.