On Demand is a really important concept for institutions of all kinds — businesses, hospitals, universities, and governments. With more people connected more often in more places with more devices, their expectations are growing by the day. On Demand simply means to make the data and processes available to all constituencies (for which they are authorized) whenever they have need, wherever they are, and with whatever device they may be using to connect to the Internet. Simple to say, very complex to do. The information technology systems of many of the institutions are very complex and therefore their challenge in delivering On Demand is a big one. Many IT vendors are focused on delivering solutions. IBM, for example has been working on the concept of virtualization with the goal of dramatically reducing the complexity of managing vast computing and networking resources. A significant part of the challenge facing institutions, however, is not technical — it is "attitude".
One of the attitudes that has been around for decades is that there is something different about a weekend. It used to be true. When transactions were down via paper forms (unfortunately a lot still are) the forms would arrive at a company, for example, and people at computer "terminals" would enter the transactions into the central systems. In many cases the people doing this worked Monday to Friday from nine to five. During the "off" hours changes could be made to the systems because consumers were not directly depending on them. Of course this has changed, not just because of the Web, but because of the global availability of the Web. Two AM in New York is three PM in Tokyo. Nevertheless, we still occasionally see messages on a Web page saying "we are down for maintenance". It isn’t just maintenance of systems — it may also be updating of central databases with "batches" of transactions that were accumulated during the prior day(s).
On Saturday I was updating my own data with Quicken. With a couple of mouse clicks Quicken downloads data from American Express, Charles Schwab, CitiBank, etc. I noticed that something didn’t look right in a Schwab account so I called their outstanding technical support. They said the problem was that Intuit (producer of Quicken) updates certain securities information on the weekend and if you connect at that time you will get some erroneous transaction data. On Sunday I attempted to move some American Express Member Miles to Continental Airlines. the good news is that AMEX now has a Web transaction page where you can request the transfers. The bad news is that after entering my data I got a messages saying "Please click on the Submit button only once. Your request will take a few seconds to process. Thank you for your patience". I waited five minutes or so and then tried again. Same message. I then called and the always delightful AMEX customer service representative did the transaction for me. She said it would be completed in 24-48 hours (that is another issue and one I have written about before). She also said that the Web transaction frequently doesn’t work on weekends because that is when systems are being updated.
I don’t know if the reasons given by the support representatives about the source of the problems are correct. I have my doubts about that. All I know for sure is that in both cases I couldn’t’ do what I wanted to do and in both cases the result was that it took a lot of extra time on my part to fix things. I have no doubt that Intuit and American Express are on the path to becoming On Demand businesses. They are committed. The organizations that become truly On Demand will gain great loyalty from customers. For most of us, weekends are when we have a few minutes to catch up on various transactions. We expect Web sites to be available and reliable. This is not a technical issue, it is a societal issue — and an issue of expectations.