Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Governance lessons from the Volcano: Reflections from the UK-Greece, 4,000 Km, 3-day trip

After the icelndic volcano erruption an the Coventry to Athens trip, that inluded car, train, boat and plane, between 17 and 19 April, the things I would notice: 

1. Service interoperability is a major challenge for the transportation system. Train-to-Train interoperability is suffering, being substantially lower than Plane-to-Plain. Train-to-Plane or Train-to-Car interoperability is practically non existent. Not to add hotels, ferries, busses, metros, …

2. The telephone network was OK in most places in UK, France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, during the crisis. Outgoing and incoming calls to US were also fine. Cellular network 3G services were OK around cities, at least. The Smart Phones were must-have items.

3. The telephone centres and phone support lines were completely "out-of-order", in most of the services provided (airports, airlines, train stations, rent a car).

4. All the major “web sites” or “portals” were not able to do any transaction (in trains, ferries, airports, etc) - without an explicit notice that would at least make customers aware of that. Eurostar, CNSF, Artesia, P&O Ferries were bright examples, resulting in making the London – Milan train travel impossible and the channel crossing very expeditious. Scalability and usability are still major issues for electronic services.

5. The inability of ordinary front-desks to cater for incoming customers and travelers (no way back to human-based front desks). 5,000-people queues in Kings Cross station were a sad fact.

6. Web 2.0 / social media were a nice surprise: twitter was a valuable source of “just-in-time” info about everything not covered by google news. Typical examples: Get a shared taxi ride from London to Dover (50 GBP), learn about the situation in Paris-Bercy train station (havoc), find free seats in a travelling, fully booked Eurostar (!)

7. The informational contribution of internet was great (up to sophistication level 2). It was most of the time the only source of information (instead of newspapers, paper catalogues, maps & guides, etc.). And it is a part of Web 2.0, too (coming from the 1.0 version, as in any technological product versioning system).

8. With GPB, EUR, CHF to deal with, credit cards were, once again, the “queens” of payments, provided that your balance can hold numerous hundreds of EUR. Together with Passport and Driving License were the three must-have "documents" for your travel.

9. Road navigation was easy, even with no navigation or map. However, the iPhone / Navigon application and a good paper map (for tunnels and mountains) were a nice supplement to signs and questions (your French ought to be at communication level, even with an accent).

10. Simulation will be the new “king” for curing many of the above shortcomings, as resource utilization and dynamic reorganization must be re-programmed in the systems, if we want them to stand strong in crisis situations.

And, when the profound seems impossible, remember to reach or give help: many problems were better solved thanks to human collaboration.

Or, I will blast again …

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