More Overdependence

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2005-02-06 Print this article Print

: McDonalds and Dodge"> Heres another example from reader mail, this one regarding our recent story on McDonalds restaurants using VOIP to handle drive-through traffic with a remote call center. The reader complained that he used one of those locations late one night. The call-center connection worked well, with the order being taken properly and read back precisely. The only problem was when he drove up to pay and pick up the food, he found that the restaurant was closed. Nobody had thought to alert the call center, so they continued to take orders oblivious to the fact that no one was around to make the food.
This is not that different from the reports around about soaring error rates with new high-end cars, where they have designed wonderfully clever digital capabilities that can go wrong in heretofore unimagined ways. A wonderful New York Times story on Sunday told of a Cape Cod family on a summer vacation. Driving their 2001 Dodge van on an especially hot day, the parents were kept cool in the front, while the children in the back were subjected to an unrelenting blast of heat from the back vents, which couldnt be turned off. Turns out that the rear temperature sensor had gone bad and was telling the heater that the children were freezing at 32 degrees, and the car was simply trying to be helpful. The law of unintended consequences is well known to Best Buy executives, who discovered that their Web site copy, their phone customer service personnel, their store managers and their executives were all saying different things. To read more, click here. Technology is a must, and the road to progress must be traveled. But are we blindly assuming that the technology will simply work and work every time? Or, for that matter, are we assuming that employees will function perfectly every time? Did no one program a "Were closed now" backup in case a McDonalds employee forgets to call? Was that van not equipped with a manual override in case of a sensor glitch? Another recent story told the story of the Harvard Medical School CIO who had himself injected with an RFID chip to truly test the technology in real-world conditions. The physician CIO in that story spoke of his vision for a multipronged medical error reduction technique, with RFID chips on medicine bottles, on nurse/physician ID tags and embedded into a patients arm. That way, if a nurse is about to administer the wrong medicine, the system sounds an urgent alert. But the system cant administer the drug directly. The human needs to take the action, but the technology helps make sure they do it properly. Now if we could only get Harvard physicians to take over retail IT departments. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at To read earlier retail technology opinion columns from Evan Schuman, please click here. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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