Saturday, August 1, 2009

What I have learned from Link Light Rail

I have been learning a new lesson. The new Link Light Rail project in Seattle has set an example for me. It is not about riding the light rail train in place of my “global warmer” vehicle. Besides, it is difficult to get me out of my electric vehicle conversion that I drive daily. Further, Link Light Rail does not travel where I need to go.

However, the Light Rail project has taught me by example about studying and learning before it is “crunch time.” Fully one month before the light rail trains opened their doors to the public which happened a couple of weeks ago they were running the routes. For several weeks I saw the light rail trains running on their tracks without riders. It was easy to think, “That’s dumb. They are just driving the trains for weeks at a time without riders.”

During this initial phase they were breaking in the equipment and breaking in the engineers who would be driving the trains. I think that they also used those practice runs to set the train schedules.

In most other civic projects additions are made to what is already in place. For instance the bus system may add new drivers, new buses, or even new routes, but they are adding on to a system that is up and running. Light Rail is a completely new public project for Seattle.
What I have learned from Link Light Rail for my own life is how good it is to start a new project while the old one is still functioning. Run both projects side by side for longer than one might think is needed. When the new system is beyond working out the flaws and bugs, then one can switch over to the new system in a more seamless manner.

At our store I have been investigating a new postage and mailing label system. If, or when, we use it there will be many aspects of our routine that will change. It is critical to make certain that all of the bugs are out of the system before it takes over as the sole method of producing mailing labels with postage on them.

More details. From an offer I received in the mail I hesitatingly tried for creating mailing labels and postage for our shipping needs. For the first few days looked good. It was easy to use. The graphics were very helpful. Their technical support reps on the phone were excellent and always available.

Always, always, verify by trying out the technical support system before you purchase or use a program. They can make or break a good application. I have seen more than one bookstore, and certainly one book distribution facility go out of business due directly to adopting a new computerized system that had too many flaws for them to continue in business. Using showed me a system that would improve our store operations and our shipping methods. It imbued me with enthusiasm, but its design did not fit our needs.

After several different attempts and a couple of phone calls I learned that is designed for customers with a much smaller address book than we have. Loading our whole address book on to their software was possible, but it was unusable.’s search method for the addresses was not compatible with our addresses. Reluctantly I cancelled our trial subscription with them.

By further searching I found another company with a similar application. Endicia is built for larger mailing operations. Ah, but, Endicia is a company that has been purchased by a multi-national corporation. They have trimmed their expenses. From my experience the wait on the phone to talk with a technical service person averages about 30-minutes. Such a long wait is intolerable for our business. We can not afford to have me, or anyone of us, wait on hold for 30-minutes. Endicia offers a somewhat extensive technical database on their website. If I am patient, read directions carefully, follow their links to further instructions, and am not interrupted by customers, phone calls, or staff questions, then the information that I need is generally available. There remains an issue with the address book, but for this issue we have developed a “work-around” method that looks functional. I think that we can make the work around satisfy our needs.

In the past couple of weeks, when I have had the time, and for a few customers, I’ve tried using Endicia. I see that, especially when we purchase the correct printer and postal scale, it will very likely save us time and money. There is more testing yet to be done before we change our shipping routines and cancel our relationship with the postage meter supplier, and make the commitment to using Endicia as our sole shipping label system. I think that we are at about a 90% commitment to Endicia. In another week or so I expect that we will make the decision.

Thanks to Link Light Rail I know that we need to test, test, and retest the new system and all of its components. Then we will run them side-by-side for some time until we fully commit to the new system and change our routines. This is just one more example of how this ministry-which-is-the-store continues to be an enjoyable and challenging learning experience.

1 comment:

polarbear said...

Hi, John,
I enjoyed reading your blog, which I just discovered while browsing on a slow day at work. Your comments are thought-provoking, and I'm glad you're doing this. We need more sources of dialogue in the Episcopal community!
Thanks for writing.
Esther Osborne