The Hess Report

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Can Clean Data Survive the Filthy Hand of Man? 

I just received word that the order placement/fulfillment/inventory system I designed and wrote isn't working. In fact, it hasn't been working for three months. I only interact with it when there is a problem, and no one made me aware of that there was, indeed, a problem.

It's set up so that our shipper gets a pile of barcoded packing slips. He pulls the appropriate items from inventory, boxes them, sits them on the UPS scale, then scans the barcode. The UPS computer uses that code to grab addressing and billing information from my system, then prints out a mailing label. At the end of the day, the customer who ordered the products receives an email with tracking info, costs, and some other stuff, all tagged with their order number.

But today, the customer was complaining, quite appropriately, that the inventory values they were seeing couldn't be correct, and a physical inspection confirmed this. What was going on? Well, the computer that the shipper uses to print out packing slips had crashed, and since then, it wasn't printing barcodes on the packing slips. So no barcode scanning on the UPS computer. Of course, that's what links everything together, and it's kind of important.

Did he tell me "Hey, I can't scan these. What's up with that?" No. He ignored it and proceeded to ship the packages anyway, typing in the addressing information by hand. Due to typos, some packages never reached their destination, and, due to the fact that he never scanned the barcodes, my inventory system never knew the stuff had been shipped. Now, I'm really easy to work with about stuff like this. I have made it abundantly clear to everyone involved with inventory/shipping that it's custom software, and as such, I can easily tweak it or fix it if something isn't working right. All they need to do is ask.

Of course, you would expect that the customer would have commented that they hadn't been receiving their tracking info emails for almost three months. Apparently, they never really look at those, so no one noticed. Just, wow.

I now get to sit through a meeting tomorrow to "figure out" what went wrong. I'll have to keep my mouth shut, though, because phrases like "crack-smoking felons" and "dumber than a ton of dirt" probably would not be appreciated in a professional environment.

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