Chicago Calling …
A little healthy skepticism.
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I'm writing this in a Chicago hotel room. Starting tomorrow I've got a string of appointments at a CRM industry trade show.

It only took me 15 minutes of fiddling with line adapters, modem settings and passcodes to get connected to the company Web site to check my e-mail. I can remember when it used to be worse, of course. At least this time I got through. Still, I came within one dialing attempt of giving up--and I'm an above-average computer user. Most people would have given up by now and gone down to the bar for a drink.

So it's with more than a little chagrin that I consider the number of appointments on my schedule tomorrow with companies that promise to revolutionize business by offering hosted CRM solutions. Thanks to their application hosting services and the World Wide Web, they assure me, companies great and small can cost effectively enjoy the benefits of customer relationship management. (What the heck--why stop there? Let's leapfrog right to e-business, whatever that is.)

To which I'm inclined to say, "Yeah, right."

Adding to my skepticism is my latest Internet shopping experience, which required two follow-up phone calls and an e-mail--and remains unfulfilled. I went to a nonvirtual store and bought my wife a Valentine's Day present there, instead.

Okay, the Internet makes it easier than it once was for companies to share information with remote workers, partners and customers. And no doubt we will one day live in a William Gibson-ish world where we're all connected, all the time.

But here in Chicago, today, connectivity means carrying a little kit with a line tester (got to watch out for those digital circuits) and an assortment of connectors and adapters, plus plenty of persistence and maybe a call to tech support. Winter storms still interrupt service back in Malibu and power surges trip the breakers in New York.

Would I trust my business to a hosted application? Right at this moment, I have my doubts. Call me old-fashioned, but I like knowing my contact information is safe in my hard drive, with a backup on the server back home. The Web, useful as it is, remains just a little too unpredictable for me.

No doubt, someone will set me straight at the show tomorrow.

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