Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Corralling Cats

Yes, I am from Texas, but I am no Cowboy. I have no experience with a Cattle roundup, but being a participant in industry standard setting bodies, I am gaining extreme experience corralling cats.

I have spent the past 3 days in a group made up of manufacturers, retailers and service providers with the express goal of developing and implementing a series of messages to transact price information electronically.

For those who don’t work in the Consumer Products Industry, you should know that today, sales representatives across the world take price data from their internal company’s systems and fill out paper forms to be given to retailers. Some retailers, then literally publish that information in what they call a “price book”. The price book was the main way some manufacturers gather information about their competitors’ prices on items.

In other words, today’s non-electronic methods are not particularly secure. But, it has been the way in which we have operated for at least the ten years I have been in the industry.

The people involved in this committee are mostly from a technical background. They have never actually filled out these forms or seen a price book. So, they are trying to find an extremely secure method to transmit that data. Worthy goal, yes, but it has totally impeded our ability to meet our goal.

I should probably describe the data flow, so that the rest of this makes sense.

I am a manufacturer called Lynn’s Cookie Company and I send my Chocolate Cookie prices for Lorenzo’s Grocery Store to my contracted data pool service provider, X. Lorenzo’s Grocery store uses a different data pool service provider, Y. So, X sends my data to Y. Y then sends my data to Lorenzo’s Grocery Store. (See below)

In addition, there is a standard setting body that has to certify that X & Y meet certain standards.

Readers, I am not the most technically savvy person. However, my experience is deep enough to know that security, as important as it is, can impede our ability to process data in a timely fashion. However, this is my first encounter with the concept of security impeding a group’s ability to even create a hypothetical solution.

I am so frustrated with them. First, I have heard a number of comments.

“My CEO says it must be secure, because it’s our price data.” Fair point, but if you tell your CEO it’s secure, he’ll believe you, as opposed to checking himself, right? And given the billions of records that will be transmitted daily, and broken into spearate pieces, the likelihood of a mean spirited body discovering the price of Lynn’s Chocolate Cookies is slim.

“My company is only willing to allow a partner with which I have a contract to view my data. All else must be passed through encrypted only.” If the standard’s body has certified both of them, then why don’t we trust both?

“But the ideas you’re proposing mean I’ll be changing my backend systems.” DUH! This is a change. Today there is no standard, so when a standard comes change follows.

We all know that my patience, especially in a business environment is not known as endless. However, when you add to this environment, a personality that:
Can not ready body language
Is extremely willing to shanghai the group’s progress based upon her inability to understand the material
Is blunt to the point of rude, continuously
Well, you can imagine that I have really enjoyed this meeting, right?

So, I have been sitting in meetings, with a group of cats who can’t agree, and added a Chihuahua[1] to the meeting, who thinks she’s a cat, but clearly doesn’t think or process as quickly as a cat. And, as natural for a group of cats with one dog, (or dog-like creature) the cats have left (at least mentally) and the Chihuahua keeps barking. Unfortunately, for us cats, we’ve got no-one who can remove the dog (we’ve all been de-clawed), we’ve got no one who can lead us cats anywhere (cats aren’t really known for group behaviors anyway), and we can’t leave (without our claws, we are relegated to being indoor cats).

The good news is that this meeting is over, and we’re not getting together again until the last week in January. I am concentrating on growing some claws in the meantime.


[1] For those who love Chihuahuas, I do not intend for this to be a slight against their personalities, but instead this reference is due to the striking resemblance between the person and an actual Chihuahua.

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