Where's My Effing Pizza?

My first reaction to Domino's new online feature, Pizza Tracker, was the obvious one, and that was the deleterious effect it will have on porn.

    

-Did someone here order a pizza?

    -Yes. Why don't you come on in, baby?

    -I'm sorry. Pizza Tracker is monitoring my deliveries and I need to deliver eight more pizzas in the next hour to meet my efficiency quota. You ladies have a nice night, though.

My second reaction was puzzlement. I briefly considered the possibility that this was a hoax, one of those Internet goofs meant to expose preposterously artificial hype about technology "innovation." Alas, it was no joke. The Pizza Tracker site is as real as the 232-word disclaimer in Domino's terms of service. (I am not authorized to blog about the fact that my pizza's in the oven).

My third reaction was palpable sadness. It occurred to me that Domino's spent real money on this--at least thousands but maybe millions of dollars.  I started thinking of ways that money could have been put to better use, such as burning it. Then I thought of ordering a large pepperoni and going to my computer to see if the cheese has been sprinkled on it yet, and I don't think I've ever thought of something more lonely in my life.

Domino's says this tool is "fun" and it "takes the mystery out of waiting for a pizza." (!!!) Over on our big brother's site, CIO.com, my colleague Esther Schindler is taking a countervailing point of view from me. She views such visibility, and any clarity into business processes as "generally positive". I disagree. But then again, I'm not sure visibility has anything to do with why Domino's built this thing.

Visibility into pizza delivery is overkill. The supply chain we're dealing with involves one commodity product moving maybe ten miles over 30 minutes and requires a total of two transactions (an order and a payment). That's about as labyrinthine as a crosswalk. From Domino's perspective, there are five phases to pizza delivery: Order. Prep. Bake. Box. Delivery. From my perspective there are two phases. Not Here and Down My Gullet.

Yeah, but! What about when my pizza doesn't show up for an hour? Good point. Okay, so now you log on to Pizza Tracker, which says that your pizza is, say, in Phase 3: Bake. Now what? Say it's in Phase 5 Delivery.  Now what?

Now you call and ask, Where's my effing pizza, which of coruse is what you would have done without Pizza Tracker, making this little online tool a pretty bit of Flash bureaucracy. Pizza Tracker can't expedite the delivery process. It doesn't provide any useful insight into where your effing pizza is.

So what's the use? Oh, that's right. It's fun. It unravels the enigma known as waiting for pizza.

Admittedly a parcel's supply chain is complex enough that visibility can at least appease the impatient consumer. Information feels like control, even if that's illusory. Checking up on a package always feels like watching a meteor come at you. Knowing it's position doesn't change how or when it hits you.

Esther bemoans the fact that her package is sitting in Phoenix for a day, doing nothing. All that tells me is that the company is under no obligation to be as efficient as possible for any given customer. What that visibility shows, in fact, is that it might be more efficient for the company to let  her package sit for a day, based on money that package brought in versus money it takes to move it around. And faced with a choice between making more money and making one of several hundred million customers perfectly happy, company's understandably take the money.

This is hard for us consumers to accept--that we are not the center of our company's universe, but alas.

Back to pizza. On one point Esther and I agree: This dopey applet primarily benefits the company. Maybe Tracker has nothing at all to do with visibility. Maybe, with Pizza Tracker, Domino's is not tracking pizza, but employees. And you.

Pizza Tracker may be dumb for consumers, but its a pretty slick employee performance monitoring tool. It allows Domino's to essentially make every delivery an electronic job ticket, complete with all kinds of metrics. Time to prepare pizzas. Time to deliver them. Maybe if "Delivery Expert" Scott can shave 30 seconds out of phases 1-4, he could increase output by 11 pies a night. And if he can't, we'll get someone else who can meet the quota. And if we get 1,500 outlets to do the same, we'll make 16,500 more pies a night, which is an extra $200,000 a day of revenue, which translates into $73,000,000 a year. That's a lot of dough. (Apologies. Really. I couldn't stop myself).

Pizza Tracker is the efficiency police, and dammit, a good way to prevent those slacker employees from goofing off! Esther suggests that tools like Pizza Tracker can serve as motivation, to make sure employees do what they're paid to do. For Esther, this is a good thing. She even dreams of planting RFIDs with those flunkies to prevent them from goofing off.

For me, it's counterproductive. It reminds me of a story I was told by a top Transportation Security Administration official. TSA was having a hell of a time retaining airport screeners. Like making pizzas, luggage screening is mind-numbing, low-paying work. There was also a fair amount of performance tracking of screeners. What surprised TSA is that when screeners quit, many took other government jobs that paid the same, and they seemed much happier in those other jobs.

So TSA asked some of those former screeners what was up. They learned that, yes, the mind-numbing, low-paying work was a problem, but so was the specter of performance metrics lowering over their heads. It didn't motivate them; it scared them off, especially from a job that they said provided no career track whatsoever. In fact, nothing is as de-motivating and de-humanizing as using metrics as a weapon.  Like Esther, I've managed minimum wage employees, and I've seen the metric threat turn perfectly nice, well-performing people into the worst kind of employee, edgy, nervous and unproductive.

And yet, it seems that job performance surveillance is being deployed more and more. My local Dunkin' Donuts, for example has a cryptic digital clock on the wall. One readout counts time and another lists some percentage. I'm not sure what that means.

It's possible this clock has increased Dunkin' Donuts' profits. I can say with certainty that it hasn't changed my mediocre-at-best customer service one bit.

You get what you give. You don't want wasteful behavior, hire better. Pay better. Threaten them and they will act provoked. If you want them to act like adults, treat them like adults. Those flunkies aren't goofing off in spite of your business practices, but because of them.

Having said all that, I don't believe surveillance is Pizza Tracker's primary function. It seems clear that Pizza Tracker is really about customer profiling. The tip off is that in order to access Pizza Tracker, a customer enters his or her phone number. (Remember, according to the terms of service, Domino's "owns" Pizza Tracker data, and that includes your phone number). Every session can generate a unique (and uniquely identifying) record. Domino's can tie that number to a name and an address, the debit card used to pay for the pizza, what kind of pizza was ordered. If the marketing types wanted to get real creative, they could use online sites that estimate property values to cross-tab wealth to types of orders. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, Pizza Tracker is opt-in, so it's hard to argue that it's unfairly invasive. There's no tax for someone who opts-out such as a higher price on pizzas. If you don't want Domino's profiling you, don't use it.

At the same time, let's cut out the pretense. Pizza Tracker is about surveillance and hyperefficiency, which seem like they're becoming the primary functions of information technology.

Oh, yeah. Pizza Tracker is also fun. And it takes the mystery out of waiting for a pizza. That would be hilarious, if it weren't so sad.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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