Monday, February 2, 2009

My Economic Indicators

Economists track changes in the money supply, personal debt, consumer confidence, and durable goods orders. My signs of economic health are more subtle.

1. Email volume on nights and weekends

In good times, people eat out at restaurants. They go to concerts, plays, and movies. They take weekend trips with the family.

In bad times, they stay at home and email.

For the past two months, I've received an average of 100 emails between 6pm-12am and another 50 between 12am and 6am. This is double the usual volume for those hours.

Similarly I've received an average of 100 emails during the day on weekends.

I believe there are two aspects to this indicator. People are not spending money on "nice to have" events and people are very concerned about their jobs, so they are working harder. As a corollary, some may be working harder to cover for unfilled vacancies which are frozen or for terminated positions.

It's clear to me that people are working harder and longer than usual. As soon as the email volume starts decreasing, I'll know that the economy is on the mend.

2. Parking lot volume at "fix it yourself" stores

As the Home CIO, I do Cat 6, HDMI, and audio cabling. I do electrical and plumbing. In a pinch, I do metal and carpentry. Over the weekend I upgraded the cabling in my home to Cat 6 to support Gigabit Ethernet. You Do It Electronics, our local component and cabling store in Needham, was packed with customers trying to repair their home audio, video and computers rather than upgrade or replace them. I chatted with the manager and he explained that volumes have been much heavier the past few months with folks who are avoiding new purchases and professional repairs. Is it any wonder that Circuit City is going out of business?

When Best Buy's parking lot fills up and You Do It Electronics is quiet, the economy will be on the mend.

3. Resume volume and requests for help from colleagues

Every day I receive 10 resumes from recently laid off senior IT professionals. I also receive numerous emails and phone calls from CEOs, Deans, and Professors asking me to help a colleague who has recently lost his or her job. My first two calls today are with very senior people to help begin their job networking process.

When the calls and resumes slow to 1 or 2 a day, the economy will be on the mend.

4. eBay price/sales volume

As I do lifecycle maintenance and testing/improvement of my outdoor gear, I sell my high end hiking/kayaking/skiing/climbing gear on eBay. Generally I call sell these items at 80% of retail price. Now I'm getting 50% or no sales at all.

When eBay returns to a vibrant marketplace the economy will be on the mend.

5. REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, Altrec, and Spam volume

Every day I get an email from an outdoor supplier advertising 25-75% off. The sales advertising is endless and even previously undiscounted brands such as Arcteryx are included in the price chopping frenzy.

When the "Last Chance to Save" Spam from retailers diminishes, the economy will be on the mend.

Maybe I should share these indicators with former Harvard President Larry Summers who now leads the White House's National Economic Council!


Eric said...

I'd have to second the last one. I used to receive Jos A. Banks sale notices for their 3 for the price of 1 suits and that'd sale out within two days. The last sale was on Jan 1 and I'm still receiving "end-of-inventory" e-mails.

Michael Kovner said...

RE: 3. Resume volume and requests for help from colleagues.

That's depressing. Let me ask you this. When the EMR floodgates open with HITECH money and a deadline is announced for physicians to be live, where is the best place to be in Healthcare IT? Vendor? Consulting? HIE?

2nd question - Can a practice insist that all file transmissions and outputs be HITSP-compliant this year?

Ahier said...

Congrtulations on winning the Best Medical Technologies/Informatics Weblog of 2008 category of the 2008 Medical Weblog Awards Sponsored by Epocrates.
Woo hoo!

John Halamka said...

Per Michael's comment, the HITECH stimulus bill should generate 200,000 jobs, so I'm hopeful all these talented people will find work soon!

Medical Quack said...

I'll keep this somewhat short, but I hope the administration comes knocking on your door for the HHS position, as technology is a huge part of everything today and finding an individual as transparent as yourself is going to be tough.

Many Harvard folks have already been appointed as in the news and we could all say we knew you when (grin).

I watched the testimonies and AHIC videos and clearly if anyone else did the same, they could see you have ideas, plans and the hands on knowledge to make all of this work.

So again, hope they come knocking, that is if you want it! I research and investigate the EHR, PHR business and health IT and report on the subject as well and it's not hard to recognize those who have their act together, besides you already have your entire genome out there too so how much transparent can you get!

Just something I felt was worth mentioning and hope you didn't mind me adding my 2 cents worth here.

Smart people create solutions and the "geeks" of the world are finally coming to be recognized as those who can create the processes needed to attain those goals!