Time Tracking Woes

I’ve got a complaint about UPS’s otherwise fantastic shipment tracking. It’s a fairly small thing, but it makes their website very, very difficult to use. I’ve noticed this on every UPS package I’ve ordered in recent memory, and I just can’t think of any cause for it.

Simply put, why does the UPS Tracking site report times in “Local Time”? I’ve ordered many things where the package will cross all the US Timezones over the course of it’s travels into my little hands, and it’s confusing for me to determine how long the package is actually taking to travel from point A to point B. Sure, I don’t really need to know this stuff, but it’s kind of fun to track and watch. But doing every thing in “Local Time” means that, not only do I need to convert timezones myself, I also need to figure out what timezone Dallas is in!

I do enjoy watching the package progress because it reveals some information about how UPS routes it’s packages. In essence, I like watching Package progress for the same reason I’ll periodically run a traceroute from my computer to some random Internet host I’m connecting to. Determining where the links in the graph are reveals some implementation details about a distribution network, which I consider to be somewhat fascinating.

Ultimately, my desire here is a frivolous one. I don’t really need to watch my package progress. I don’t really need to pay attention to how long a package sits on the ground before being sent on it’s way. I don’t really need to care. But I do. And there are times where, if what I was shipping was important enough. Was time-sensitive in some way, I’d really would care about that information. Plus, I’d bet that the reason that UPS displays “Local Time” to me on the web, is because that is what is stored in their database. Surely they wouldn’t bother to convert to a less precise time format simply for the hell of it. They only reasonable explanation is that they’re serving up the data in the most efficient manner possible, which is the data that is already in the database.

So, I ask you, how does UPS manage to watch their supply chains and determine where things could be improved? Their analysis software would have to examine each city and determine it’s Timezone before it could normalize the data so that UPS knows exactly how long it took the Truck to make it from Baldwin Park to Ontario. Or the plane from Ontario to Dallas (clearly, this would be more of a problem with the trucks).

Organizations make this mistake all the time. They assume that the only time that matters is the local time. Now, I’m not suggesting we switch to Swatch’s Internet Time or anything. But if you’re an organization that spans time-zones, why wouldn’t you want to standardize your companies data storage on a single timezone, whether that’s UTC or whatever timezone you’re corporate office is in? At least by standardizing your organizations time schedules in your central data you can always know what an event at 13:00 means. Your users usually shouldn’t need to know what Timezone you’ve standardized on, as you can easily convert time to their ‘local time’ when you go to display it to them, but this task is nearly impossible without a standard to begin with.