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Don MacVittie

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Automation Opportunity – The AT&T effect.

Recently I switched my cell phone service from Verizon to AT&T. Taking advantage of modern day conveniences, I made the switch online with a call center rep chatting with me while making the change. After completing my order, AT&T sent me a SIM card to switch my phone over.

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All pretty run of the mill stuff. But when the SIM card arrived, it was a micro SIM, I needed a nano SIM for my Galaxy s6 Edge. Since they asked what phone I had during the transfer, I have no idea why they sent a micro. After chatting with a rep online, I decided to go ahead and cut the SIM down to fit. The outline of a nano was already laser-cut into the micro-SIM, so cutting it down was easy, but there is a significant thickness difference between the two cards, with the micro being about 3x the thickness. When I tried to insert it, it bound. Not wanting to do damage to my phone, I went down to the AT&T store and sought out help.

These employees quickly gave me the correct SIM card and mentioned the nightmare scenarios they had seen where people forced the fit I had decided to get assistance with.

That was all background for where the story really begins.

The phone hooked up to basic services fine, but MMS (and by extension MPLS) failed to configure correctly. I have no way to know their backgrounds, if they were experienced in networking, or had advanced degrees. But this holder of a Masters of Science in Computer Science was happy to have them troubleshooting for me.

MPLS is a form of networking that is pretty specialized, and these specialists made it seem simple. Of course that is their job, but in the modern age, one would think that automation could take care of these connection issues. And spending less time with me would free them up to spend more time with customer X who just lost three months worth of baby pictures, and is frantic.

It took several tries with different configurations for them to get MMS working correctly, but they did. These people had the resources to look up different issues and configurations, and the training/experience to know where to look. Talking with them, they know what the settings for MPLS are also, which is more than simply knowing how to copy values. The thing is that those configurations could be automated, so they don’t have to go through all of the process, and simply can plug it in and let a system determine optimal configuration for the phone in question.

Is it that simple? No, it never is. But automating this process and nailing it for the vast majority of phones would free up a ton of time at AT&T stores everywhere. Seems efficient to me.

Disclaimer: I do know a little bit about AT&T’s automation efforts, and in general they have done a lot of great stuff. I’m not picking on their service or automation, merely using the experience to talk about the following:

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(In a hobby store this weekend, I overheard one sales clerk tell another “Ancient Marketing Trick, people see things hand-written, they read them, thinking it is special” while writing on a white board. So I picked a hand-writing font for “this is about you”. Did it work?

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Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.