July 30, 2010

Service Innovation: Technology on your plate

The blog Experience Lab recently posted about the London Restaurant Inamo.  Although I can't say I've been, it sound like a cool place.  From Experience Lab:
 Inamo is a restaurant where “the control of the dining experience” is placed in the diners’ hands. Instead of customers being given a traditional paper menu and ordering with a waiter or waitress, they use an “interactive ordering system” to browse and select what they want to eat. 
 The menu is projected onto the table and is controlled using a trackpad on the right side of the table...
One of the best parts is that when you are choosing different options from the menu an image of the dish is projected onto your plate, which helps you get an idea of what it will look like. This is also useful if you want to show your fellow diners what you’re going to order.
Check out the video from the Wall Street Journal on Inamo as well.  As the video points out, it is a bit gimmicky, but it certainly adds to the experience of the meal. 


July 23, 2010

RFID's on your pants: Walmart takes the leap

The Wall Street Journal reported that WalMart is starting to put RFID "tags" on individual pairs of jeans and underwear:
Starting next month, the retailer will place removable "smart tags" on individual garments that can be read by a hand-held scanner. Wal-Mart workers will be able to quickly learn, for instance, which size of Wrangler jeans is missing, with the aim of ensuring shelves are optimally stocked and inventory tightly watched. If successful, the radio-frequency ID tags will be rolled out on other products at Wal-Mart's more than 3,750 U.S. stores.

"This ability to wave the wand and have a sense of all the products that are on the floor or in the back room in seconds is something that we feel can really transform our business," said Raul Vazquez, the executive in charge of Wal-Mart stores in the western U.S.

The article points out that there are potential privacy issues as well, but the final paragraph leaves us nerdy tech geek operations management folk begging for more:

Proponents, meanwhile, have high hopes for expanded use in the future. Beyond more-efficient recalls and loss prevention, RFID tags could get rid of checkout lines.

"We are going to see contactless checkouts with mobile phones or kiosks, and we will see new ways to interact, such as being able to find out whether other sizes and colors are available while trying something on in a dressing room," said Bill Hardgrave, head of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas, which is funded in part by Wal-Mart. "That is where the magic is going to happen. But that's all years away."
Years away? Maybe.  We have had RFID technology for a long time and retailers have just now figured out how to make it affordable to use on individual SKUs.  The next stage maybe further still.

July 21, 2010

Dealing with excess capacity: camp edition

Often times services find novel ways to better utilize the high fixed costs that go into equipment or real estate. For example, a restaurant might start serving breakfast or begin catering in order to find additional income out of space. The Wall Street Journal reported on a a trend for summer camps to cater to wedding and parties. See the video below and read the article here.  If any one is considering this - I want to come!

Back Stage Magic

I liked this video - Disney gets it right again. Serving 500 to 100 people all at once is no small feat. Making sure that the food is all hot, but not overcooked, plated and served in a short amount of time takes a lot of preparation and coordination.

July 17, 2010

Lean Hospitals

The New York Times recently ran an article: Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital
 that is worth reading.

There are two bins of each item; when one bin is empty, the second is pulled forward. Empty bins go to the central supply office and the bar codes are scanned to generate a new order. The hospital storeroom is now half its original size, and fewer supplies are discarded for exceeding their expiration dates.

The system is just one example of how Seattle Children’s Hospital says it has improved patient care, and its bottom line, by using practices made famous by Toyota and others. The main goals of the approach, known as kaizen, are to reduce waste and to increase value for customers through continuous small improvements.

Manufacturers, particularly in the auto and aerospace industries, have been using these methods for many years. And while a sick child isn’t a Camry, Seattle Children’s Hospital has found that checklists, standardization and nonstop brainstorming with front-line staff and customers can pay off.

July 16, 2010

Challenges in exporting services: Broadway Edition

I found an article in today's Wall Street Journal interesting.  It is primary about the challenges and success that face theater production when exporting a show to different parts of the country.

Exporting Broadway shows is a tricky proposition, however. It's not just a question of translating the dialogue and lyrics into the local language. There's also the thorny question of conveying humor and pop-culture references, and trying to gauge what audiences will respond to in vastly different cultures.
 During a light moment in Disney's "The Lion King," Zazu the bird is supposed to sing a cheerful but trite tune, prompting a groan of recognition from the audience. On Broadway, that song is "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." In Australia, it's the country's familiar "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport." On a Shanghai stint, it was a ubiquitous Chinese ad jingle. In Germany, the bird sings the "Heidi" theme song, then yodels.

And a bit about "design for exporting":

Even at home, Broadway shows today are typically designed with a global audience in mind. About 1 in 5 theatergoers were international visitors in the 2008-09 season, the highest proportion on record, according to the most recent data available from the Broadway League. 

July 15, 2010

The good old days

I found this interesting and a bit sad that is can't still happen today.

July 14, 2010

Experience imitation: Read to me Grandma Edition

I have not yet tried it, but since my mother-in-law is the main audience of this blog, I thought I might post about a website I recently stumbled across. Readeo allows grown ups to read to kids via a web cams. What I thought was interesting was that the company takes an old idea (reading to kids) and uses newer technology (web cams) as a solution to a problem (grandmas live far away from grand kids and want to read to them).  I'm not sure if the service can really capture the entire experience of being read to; no snuggling, no freshly bathed baby shampoo smell, inevitable connection issues, etc. But maybe it captures enough aspects of the real thing to be intriguing to customers.

This type of service is what I'm going to start calling experience imitations, i.e., a service that is intended to imitate the real thing.  I have a feeling that there are others out there, can you think of any other experience imitations?  What makes them better or worse?  I suspect it is the level of similarity in the small details that might matter most.     

Readeo.com Overview from Readeo on Vimeo.

July 9, 2010

Service Supply Chain: Athena Health Edition

A great blog "The Operations Room"  recently reported on the middlemen of a supply chain.  One example they gave was Athena Health who has a "Pain in the Butt index"  that is worth checking out.  It ranks the insurance companies in their ability to process claims fast and effeciently.  The difference between the top ranking and bottom ranking is amazing:  For the #1 rank 12 days to get a bill payed on average, For the last rank 103 days on average. 

I found this video to be a great process improvement / supply chain improvement manifesto.