AT&T and Corporate Values: Throttling Your Customers, Suppliers and Society

AT&T is "throttling" five percent (5%) of their customers. Their word. Throttling.

Now, if you're a pilot and you're thinking takeoff - then you throttle up.

If, on the other hand, you're an AT&T customer, they're using the other definition of "to throttle." It means to choke. Like asphyxiate. Like to kill - which, in some ways, seems to be their goal.

What they're throttling is their data use. You see, the customers in question took advantage of an unlimited data plan that AT&T offered - which is no longer available.

Much to AT&T's dismay, these customers are actually using what they paid for. Since that's not okay with the company, AT&T is slowing their connection speed to the equivalent of a dial-up. Yes, a dial-up.

Think your very first AOL connection - modem sound effects and all - and you'll relive the nightmares that these AT&T customers are now experiencing (granted, without the sound effects).

Why? What is driving AT&T to throttle their customers?

Revenues and profits.

AT&T doesn't have the infrastructure to support unlimited data plans. Moreover, they evidently don't want to build it. They'd rather their customers buy the 'tiered' plans that are still available - and far more costly to every user.

There are two other impacts of this heinous decision that are just as important - and have nothing to do with AT&T's customers. In this case it's all about their suppliers...like Apple...and the role of the corporation in society.

On the supplier side, the reason that AT&T's customers bought the unlimited data plans (or the tiered ones, for that matter) is because they bought smartphones. Like the iPhone. And the more that the iPhone is capable of doing - from downloading maps so you can get to where you need to go based on the app you purchased to watching the cute kitties gambol about on YouTube - the more data access you need. And the faster you need to get it.

As well, because iPhones, along with iPads (which also have AT&T data plans), are the fastest growing equipment purchases for businesses, that data access isn't just for fun. It can be the make or break of small businesses that can't afford to buy into one of AT&T's 'business' plans.

Now, let's take a look at society. AT&T is doing just fine, thank you. Because of their relationship with Apple (among other decisions) they've got the money to invest in building the infrastructure required to allow unlimited data plans for all. But they don't want to spend it. Which means that they get to keep their money - and, of course, their shareholders benefit - but the jobs that the company can justifiably create are simply not being created. Not by them.

And that means that they are complicit in holding back the progress of the American economy. Their "throttling" policy is also killing job creation that they could, should and need to be driving.

Worse - because it does get worse - on the same day that the news media picked up on the extent to which the "throttling" policy was impacting AT&T's customers, the company put out a press-release-like, fake "news story" which was, embarrassingly, picked up by a number of papers as if it was news.

The storyline? It was all about the amount that AT&T has invested in the New Jersey area infrastructure. Only it takes a while to realize that that's all they're talking about - and that the investment was from a few years ago. Not now. Not when their customers and the broader American economy need it.

Just for fun, let's put the two together.  Frankly, if I were in the Apple senior executive team, I'd be seriously rethinking my relationship with a company whose decisions are adversely impacting our reputation - as well as, potentially, our sales.

AT&T has existed, in one form or another, since Alexander Graham Bell - with a history rich in innovation and success. It's time that today's executive management recognize their responsibilities to the wider world they're supposed to be attracting and supporting.

[This article appeared on Technorati.]

The iPad Rotation Lock. Quality and Innovation at Its Best.

I don't have one.  I've not even seen it in person.  But I want one.

It's the iPad.

Why, you ask?  What would make me decide that I need yet another technology gadget when I am the first to confess that I am not a techie and am not coming even close to using the capabilities of the technology I currently own?

It's because of the rotation lock.  That simply did me in.

The iPad (for those of you who have been on retreat with no communication for months) is the new category changing product that Apple released today.  It is a consumption tool rather than a creative one.  As such, it is designed far more for your leisure and enjoyment than it is for your workaday world.

One of its capabilities is that it has both portrait and landscape screen views.  That means (for those of you who are even less techie than I - of which, I know, there are very few) that you can use the screen either vertically or horizontally.

This is a wonderful thing.  On my iPhone (you knew I'd have one) I've gotten accustomed to turning that baby whenever I want a large screen version of whatever I'm looking at.  Only sometimes, when I physically turn and I don't want the phone to turn, it does it anyway.

Other than being a periodic distraction, it isn't a problem.  Just a thing.  A small thing at that.

Then I read that Apple had created a rotation lock switch on the iPad. (It's in the same position as the ringer/vibration switch on the iPhone.)  That means that when you're reading or watching and you don't want the screen view to shift under any circumstances it won't.

And that made me realize all over again why I love Apple, have done for so many years - and why they deserve it.

It's because they figure things out that I need before I've ever figured out that I need them or, better yet, could have them.

This is the essence of customer focus.  It is innovation at its best.

It is also the core definition of a high quality organization - whether you're providing products or services, are in the public or private sector or are local or global.

For those of us who worked in the realm of quality back in the days (and still today) one of the biggest challenges was getting everyone in the organization - from front line personnel to executives - to understand that it isn't about what the customer asks for.  It's about what you can give the customer that he or she never imagined.

That's quality at its best.  Sure it's kaizen and six sigma and lean.  But those are tools - and even they are for the purpose of giving the customer something better than they've ever experienced.  Anywhere.  From anyone.

Of the two voices to which an organization operates - the Voice of the Customer and the Voice of the Process - when it's done right the former is a whisper and the latter is a shout.

You have people inside your organization who are thinking and wondering and creating every single day.  They know what goes wrong and they know how to make it better.  They see what the organization provides and they innovate ways in their heads that will change the world - but that never see the light of day.

Whether those innovations are ever accessed and utilized is up to you.  They're there.  You just have to get your hands on those ideas and let the people who generated them take the organization places not even you ever considered possible.

Apple is a game-changer because Apple keeps figuring out ways that the game can be changed.

Sometimes it's as big as an iPod or as small as a rotation lock.  But, whatever it is, you know that the customer never asked for it.  Because we didn't know to ask.

Apple and its engineers did.  And they keep doing so.

There's no reason why you can't do that in your organization, too.  The only thing you have to do is start.  Now.

For more on strategizing and executing innovation and quality, click here.