Complexity of our Devices

I’ve been thinking lately that our devices are getting so complex that we no longer are sure about how to manage, secure or protect them.

My wife’s phone recently went nuts and started flashing the LED for alerts but that setting was not turned on under settings. Another friend’s phone started acting strangely and randomly and the vendor ended up giving him a new device. His phone was an iPhone 6 which is awfully old to be getting a free exchanged unit. My wife’s Apple Watch battery/system was so poor that the battery ran down every day mid-afternoon with everything turned off. She had to charge it twice a day. Apple support said it was within specifications. Right.

Our home networks are vulnerable and we don’t even know what we need to do to harden. Apple TV can support multiple streaming sources, but nothing is simple and they each authenticate differently. We have devices to open our garage doors with who knows what security. What about our cars?

Apple and Steve Jobs used to talk about removing and simplifying. Matthew May writes about subtracting and eloquence in his books (well worth the read).

Unfortunately, companies continue to make things more complicated.

Our ice maker has a light to remind us to clean the filter. I have no idea how to clean the filter.

Look for the Broken

A case in point. I bought a new car this weekend. Talk about a process this is broken, awful, sad, wasteful, slow, inefficient, irritating, and ripe for a re-imagining (can anyone say Tesla?).

They have millions of dollars of inventory sitting out in the sun, snow, sleet, hail, rain just sitting.

You have to play a game with them to agree on a price. You know that whatever price they quote you is not the real price. They might tell you that you are getting a discount for some reason, but they can likely make that back up somewhere else with another variable (trade-in).

They low ball you on trade-in and act like they will have a hard time with that model, feature, color, type, etc. When you already know the trade-in value from looking it up online.

You agree on a price, but then there is another $199 in documentation fees.

If you decide you are going to leave, the manager needs to meet you and wants to know what he can do.

If you accept a deal, then you spend another hour doing paperwork. In our case, they had information from a prior car we had bought at the dealer that was wrong (address, email and phone) and no matter how many times we corrected it, the wrong data continued to show up on forms. They loaded a new email address into a system but they loaded it incorrectly and there is no way to edit it. The business manager lacks the mileage on our trade-in so she runs out to get it and it takes her 20 minutes while we sit waiting.

Throughout the whole process they keep telling us to rate them a 10 on the survey.

If Tesla, Uber, Airbnb and others can overcome entry barriers, they will crush these business models.

Look for the broken. And here is an article about doing it inside your own operations.



I finally worked all the way through Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Taleb.

An amazing book. Amazing obvious ideas.

I’m now thinking about how to apply this in IT. How do we build processes and IT infrastructures that gain from disorder. Systems that don’t fail from stress, but instead get stronger.

I’m thinking that the redundancy we’ve put into our network structures might get stronger over time due to disruptions. Over time, we adapt, put in more capacity, more redundancy, work out triangle WAN links between sites, design in excess capacity, etc. as a direct result of events that hurt the network. The net impact of the negative events is that the whole gets stronger. Does that count as one way antifragility increases in the system? We do seem to have less negative impact from outages because the ‘whole’ is more capable of adapting to outages.

Do our information systems get more antifragile over time as we experience issues, problems, outages, etc. and then adapt and improve and improve the ‘whole’ to lessen the impact of those events? Are we learning from these events and getting stronger as a result? Are our management teams getting more antifragile as we learn, adapt and improve over time?

Think about storage and how it used to be the drive failures resulted in outages in the data center. Such outages are hardly an event at all any more due to much higher MTBF on drives and due to RAID and other technologies that have been honed and improved over the years. Fragility has been reduced in our storage systems.

Lots to think about here.

Complexity Creep

I used to think that simplicity of mobile applications and smart phones was the future for applications. The simple buttons and simple processes behind most applications make them very popular as a way to get things done. They had to be simple because there was little real estate on a screen to make it complex.

However, I’m starting to think the mobile phones (smartphones) are creeping(racing? soaring?) further up the complexity ramp. The screen content might be simple, but applications have settings scattered (notifications, sounds, in the app settings and under settings settings) and the platform has settings (notifications, power, network, roaming, sounds, etc.)

My iPhone 5 running iOS 6 (and the prior platform) has become more complex.

  • To minimize power consumption, or stretch a low battery further, you’ve still got to go turn off bluetooth, locations services, Wi-Fi and maybe data services on the cellular settings page. There isn’t one place to go. I wrote about this ages ago and it seems Apple could really simplify this with one page/tool that allows you to power up and down key services from one place. Android does this better.
  • International data roaming has the ‘data roaming’ setting which can be turned off, but the Cellular Data button still allows update to come through. I noticed this while in Spain last month.
  • Siri takes some setup including identifying relatives and key contacts. It is not clear how to do this.
  • If you have more than one mail box, there are complexities around outbound mail to specific which mail system to use. I keep getting that wrong and sending personal email on my business account and the reverse.
  • iTunes Match and syncing. Not understood by most mortals.
  • I’m delighted that notifications are in one place, now every app wants to make sounds to get our attention. If I add a new app, I need to go change its notification settings to turn off sounds.
  • Passbook is great, but you seem to have to have each app post whatever on the passbook page. Boarding passes from United or AA need to be moved there from the United or AA app instead of just appearing there.
  • Read this hysterical rant about iMessage and group messaging here. You’ve got to read it. You can’t unsubscribe from large group messages!

These wonderful, simple tools are creeping up the complexity curve just like we’ve seen with Excel and Word and Powerpoint in the past.

Is this just inevitable?

And trying to smartly manage your account with your wireless vendor is another challenge. I was considering moving to their shared plan where the family smart phones would share a common pool of data and I’d save money in the process by giving up unlimited on 3 of our phones. They have a worksheet to calculate how much data you need to ‘buy’ but instead of taking your usage patterns for the last 6 months, it asked you to list out your devices and enter how much each one needs. Hello? They already have our usage! Why can’t just recommend a level? Dumb and complicated.

Licensing Challenges

software licensing

Licensing of software from vendors is really getting complicated and hard to understand.  It has just been a slow move in this direction for a decade led by some of the big software companies.  Now it seems to be happening everywhere.  We have:

  1. Licensing at the enterprise level or at the individual user level or at the application level.
  2. Licensing is done when clients access services on a server.
  3. Products that you license probably require other licenses to use all the  features you see in the demonstrations.  The person doing the demonstration might make a statement that you’ll need X in order to do this collaboration feature, which is not included in the demonstrated product cost.
  4. Companies now have licensing experts to help sort all this out (hint, that is a sign that licensing is getting too complicated).
  5. Companies changing and revising their licensing methods every few years supposedly to help customers but more than likely to help them restructure agreements, void things that didn’t work well in earlier license schemes and restructure agreements to generate more profit.
  6. And we are seeing more audits by firms.  The licensing is more complicated, so we better do more audits…

If you have a complicated work force with mobile and office users, power users and casual users, a global work force and a mix of vendors on different platforms then this can be very challenging to manage.  Companies have to add more people just to manage their licenses and vendor relationships.

If you are a vendor, consider simplifying your licensing.   Help your customers be successful.  Make their lives easier and you’ll win longer term customers.