Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wine Kiosks...what a beautiful debacle

The ridiculous Wine Kiosks have turned out to be a microcosm of the PLCB: corrupt, incompetent, inconvenient, bloated, and wildly unpopular with Pennsylvania citizens. They are, as I predicted, a public relations disaster for the PLCB.
  • The bidding process was suspect (a single-bid contract).
  • The company that made them, Simple Brands LLC (again...a "hi-tech" company with no website?), was suspect (company officers were mostly large Rendell donors, and the principal's main experience before was with neonized skeeball machines).
  • The contract was suspect (the PLCB kept saying the machines didn't cost them anything...except maintaining and supplying them, and the drone employees looking at videocamera feeds in Harrisburg, and then the drone employees sitting beside the malfunctioning behemoths).
  • The machines themselves were crap.
  • The whole concept was flawed from the beginning...and the PLCB knew it.

Eh? What was that last bit? Crazy, but true: jump to this story in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and read about how the PLCB received a report from an internal committee prior to signing the wine kiosk contract, a report that strongly advised against going forward with the contract. For instance, the committee pegged the top problem: the kiosk idea simply sucked.
"The committee has a general concern that the proposed process for purchasing products via the kiosk machine is cumbersome and may meet with public criticism for not being 'user-friendly,'" according to the evaluation memo submitted by Matthew Bembenick, a middle manager who recently left his position with the LCB.
The committee had real problems with Simple Brands, the way they operated, and the contract they presented.
The memo also addressed concerns that Simple Brands continually changed its business plan "on the fly as the committee has broached operational issues and concerns." According to the memo, "The committee is concerned that the lack of a coherent business plan will open the [LCB] up to public criticism and could contribute to a potential project failure."
Smart people they had working at the PLCB...too bad they not only didn't listen to them, they completely disowned the report, and 'disappeared' it in Orwellian fashion:
The day after the committee submitted its recommendation, an attorney for the LCB instructed employees to hand over all hard copies of the report and to delete all electronic copies.
Now...spokesperson Stacey Witalec is quoted in the piece saying that it's normal to destroy electronic copies, it's to maintain the integrity of the original; no bits and pieces floating around. As an old records management type, I can understand that. But...hard copy? That's damage control, and when you do damage control before something even goes public? DING DING DING DING! That's a serious red flag. Hope the upcoming AG audit on the wine kiosks knows about this.

Meanwhile, the PLCB is fighting an endgame with Simple Brands that  looks a lot like a desperate search for an exit strategy that will allow them to can the wine kiosks with a statement that clears them of any blame (or stupidity) while pinning the failure on Simple Brands. Have a look. Simple Brands is exposed as the fly-by-night operation it always was; the PLCB is lashing out in an attempt to blame the failure of the kiosks on the company that they were warned was problematic. No one wants these misbegotten monsters, and is that a surprise to anyone?
The kiosks are clearly a failure; they were flawed from Day One, functioned below expectations, were despised by the very people they were meant to enthrall, and every party involved is racing away from the stench of their rotting demise. The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial staff put it so well last month.
With any luck, though, the Commonwealth's beleaguered wine-droid army will someday have one proud distinction: It will be regarded in retrospect as the LCB's Waterloo. Rarely before has any government agency so succinctly, thoroughly, and convincingly made the case for its own elimination.
With any luck, indeed.


Albert Brooks said...

Yes the kiosks didn't cost US, the citizens anything because all the costs came out of the "profits" the PLCB made. Let's account for all the time of EVERY PLCB employee who had anything to do with these. Toss in the 2 Video supervisors at $53K each the people to watch the screens, the 6 delivery trucks they bought, the employees to stand next to the kiosks, the customer service people who took all the complaints, the Joe Conti "Everything is wonderful" speachs and whatever else I missed and total it all up and see who much these abominations didn't cost us.

hbgonlooker said...

The IT staff and store operation staff spent hundreds of hours working out the integration of the Kiosk to the internal Oracle computer system. Stapleton thought this would be his legacy and hoped it would surpass Newman. The deeper you look the more you will find.