Thanks for helping us out of the mess, here’s your pink slip • The Register

Who, Me? A tale of discounts and process improvement via the magic of Excel, Access and a fair bit of electronic duct tape we imagine. Welcome to Who, Me?

“James” is the Regomized reader of record today, and continues the theme of running the risk of doing a job just that little bit too well with an ancedote from the end of the last century involving his first job out of university, at a certain telecommunications giant.

The job involved a process of calculating the discount received by big customers (the ones with multiple branches). “For the life of me I can’t remember what the main DB was called,” he told us, “but it was the old style green writing on a black screen that took forever to download the necessary data.”

“On the really big clients,” he added, “it could [take] 2-3 days with nothing for my team of four to do but twiddle our thumbs. “

There was, however, a problem. There was no discount. The computers had ground their way through the data but, as far back as the 1980s, the customers had received nothing. “I’m not even sure it stopped working,” James confided.[I] long suspected it was never implemented in the first place … “

The bigger problem was that these customers were beginning to realize that something was amiss, and legal sabers were starting to rattle. The people who had allowed the situation to develop were long since gone and the figures involved?

“We are talking hundreds of millions here,” James said.

What to do? One could heap the blame on the last person to march out of the door or one could try and put things right. James, a freshly minted IT whizz, looked at the mess and set to work, armed with Excel macros and Microsoft Access.

While his duct-tape solution couldn’t do much about the download time, it could deal with the rest of the process. A speed increase of between 10x and 20x was recorded and, finally, the correct discounts started flying out of the door to the correct customers.

Disaster averted (although we’ll draw a discreet veil over the use of Access for anything more than Christmas card lists and Microsoft’s on-stage demonstrations.)

“My immediate management couldn’t stop thanking me,” James recalled, “hailing me as some kind of super whizzkid.”

“It was all really quite embarrassing.”

So pleased were they that James was offered a promotion from his minimum wage temp job. Instead, he would be placed on a graduate training course and end up at management level a year later, earning vastly more cash.

James’s future looked bright. Angry customers had been calmed and discounts were being paid. The hero of the hour, yes?

Not quite.

The largesse of his bosses was spotted by their bosses who, it seems, did not feel quite the same way.

“I was promptly fired, offer withdrawn.”

And an important lesson learned, we suspect.

Ever saved your customers millions, only to feel the sole of a hobnailed boot on your back? Or taken a look at a lashed-together solution and decided that hey – it’s somebody else’s problem. Or were you the lasher of that solution? Tell us all with email to Who? ®

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