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Friday, 28 March 2008

The Karoo Technical Forum.

This post only really holds any interest for people from my home city. It may hold reading power for others who see big business as something remote and beyond them.

What is it. Why is exists and what it does. For the benefit of everyone, be they a home user or a business user if you use Karoo, and possibly their other ISP ventures in the U.K. as well, as your ISP The Karoo Technical Forum will have had some say in the services you receive.

I, along with someone else who shall remain nameless, are part of a group which has been dubbed The Karoo Technical Forum. The group members consists of He who shall remain nameless (short: HWSRN), the Head of IT Infrastructure (who shall be called Mike, which is not his real name) and myself. At the first meeting the Managing Director of KCom was also present. Behind us we have broad section of 100+ users who HWSRN and I take our taking pointers from. Although, it must be sai, that sometimes it feels like we to are stuck between a rock and a hard place usually this cross section of Karoo users allows us to get a cross city view of how they, Karoo, are performing and we take the wheat from the chaff as the basis for our meeting's agenda.

This all started with emails being sent to Karoo. At the request of the M.D. a meeting was suggested. HWSRN wanted me present but for whatever reasons the M.D. did not want me there. After a little to and froing and after HWSRN learned that the M.D. was to have someone beside him the M.D. capitulated on the idea of HWSRN having someone else there too. It was decided that this first meeting between the M.D. of KCom, Mike, HWSRN and myself would take place at Telephone House the home of KCom. And so it was.

The first meeting was mainly us two against them to. Us being HWSRN and myself and them being the Head of IT Infrastructre and and the MD. That first meeting set about sorting out what we should be aiming for. Quite why they allowed us a platform at all is only known to them. But they did and we aired the grievances that several customers of Karoo, a subsidiary of KCom, had told us about plus a few of our own for good measure. It was at that first meeting that the moniker The Karoo Technical Forum was coined, and it stuck as that is what we are now known as. The talk was wide ranging. From the help-desk to Customer Service and from connection speeds to technical matters. Overall, this first meeting went very well. We came away with the feeling of mission accomplished.

Shortly after this first meeting an email arrived explaining how they also felt the meeting had been a success and off the back of this a second tele-meet would be organised and so it was. Feeling somewhat puzzled, but confident, and armed with more grievances from the wider customer-base HWSRN and I entered into the unknown. The call was placed and a 3 way conversation ensued. The 3 present where Mike, HWSRN and myself. We were informed that several things we had talked about at the first meeting had been actioned and where in the process of being done. Of course, we were warned, that these things take time. We knew this but Mike felt the need to say it, several times. Again, after the tele-meet ended HWSRN and I felt things had gone well. At least, we felt, they had been listening and where in the process of changing in several areas. We took information we had learned back to the masses and while some recieved what we told them with acceptance others where aggressive towards both the information relayed to them and us two. Some also had issues that whatever was not sorted out right now rather than in 6 months time. Explaining that Karoo is like a behive and that each section plays a part and that several meetings must be undertaken before anything is resolved within made no difference.

Still, HWSRN and I plodded on into a third meeting.

The third meeting, again a tele-meet, was organised. Then rearranged due to Mike (I later learned these where personal issues). Then rearranged again, due to Mike. By the time the meeting was set in stone HWSRN had personal problems that meant he could not attend. So, it was decided at the behest of HWSRN that Mike and I should hold the tele-meet and that I should inform HWSRN via other means after the meeting had taken place. And so it was to be. That meeting was full of off the cuff and keep under your hat talk that Mike requested no-one else, except for HWSRN, should know about except perhaps in the most vaguest of ways. Lots of discussion about technical issues (as an aside here I think Mike was both surprised and delighted at how much I knew about the ISP procedures and how the whole thing is driven) as well as some further get to know you type talk. I also learned that a lot of what was previously discussed had been implemented and on the back of what HWSRN and I had told them we the users wanted that a major change of offerings by the ISP was on its way. Mike could not, or would not, go into detail about these offerings other then to say that there will be major changes. Further I was told that the fundemental way they shape traffic was seriously flawed and that that too was going to be changed. What they have planned to change it with, only a fool would think traffic shaping would go away, Mike would not say. All he did say about it was that the current method will be gone when the new offerings come to market.

So, now you know about the meetings and some of what was said. There are some questions that are being asked and some we two have ourselves.

Why is a large international company, as KCom are, talking to two of their home based customers? That is something only they can answer, but my guess, as part of this, is that they want to be seen to be doing something. There is a large discontended base of customers in their own back yard and they must be seen to listening to them so they created this Karoo Technical Forum which I reckon they had planned long before we two got involved. We two just happened to be the two who where in the right place at the right time.

Are they really listening to us? Again only they can answer that question, but my gut feeling is that yes they are taking on board some of what we are telling them and they are, or have, acted upon that information. But again, I have this gut feeling that a lot of the changes coming where decided on long before we two got involved and of those changes only a very small part was due to what we told them their home customers want.

Why then, if you apparantly do not believe them, are you doing this? The answer to that is that for many years, long before they started offering Internet services, I have tried to better the services they offer by various means. I have been the proverbial thorn in their side for years. Once they started offering ISP services there too I tried to seek out ways that I could get to them in my continuing efforts to get them to improve there service offerings. As they have an effective monopoly in this city of all telephony provisions and because of that they have no competition from other ISP's and because of that they are lazy when it comes to what they offer. Their ADSL services for the home and business sectors are a joke in that there are basically no additional benefits between the various offerings at this time. We, that is HWRSN and I, told them this and was told in return that they would "look into it". The result of that is that they are changing their offerings structure so that "there is more to separate them." Only time will tell how that reflects in actual offerings.

Basically, I became involved at the behest of HWSRN and being the type of guy that goes with the flow more than one who bucks any trend I went along for the ride. Has it been worth the effort? Yes, I feel it has been. How this Karoo Technical Forum pans out in the future we shall have to wait and see but for now, at a technical level, it has been interesting and while I would like to think we have affected change I have this nagging feeling that these changes that are coming where planned a long time before this started. Sure, some of the changes I have no doubt we did change but overall I have this gut feeling the major changes were planned before we came along.

I still have some reservations about why they are making it look like we have some involvement in shaping how they operate and what their service offerings will be. But Kudos should be given to them for grabbing an opportunity and trying to run with it. Even if this initiative tails off like so many others have before it it will I feel, have been worth it, if only so KCom, and its M.D. inparticular, can see I am not the ogre and troublemaker they painted me internally. They are talking to two guys now who have years of networking and telephony behind them and these two guys want improvements for everyone.

So, there we have it. The Karoo Techical Forum. What it is. Why it is with us. What we do and why we are doing it.

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