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IT and resilience - 2

GP surgery comments

Most managements would benefit from an operations room facility – there is now no shortage of computing power, the main challenge is organising the vast quantity of information that an organisation creates so that it can be accessed in coherent way. However we can go a lot further than this, as what I’ve been talking about so far is still 20th century technology, based on relatively limited processing power.

The 21st century has placed almost unimaginable computing power on our desks, and this opens up new possibilities. To put it in an oversimplified way, 20th century computing extended man’s physical capabilities, whereas computing in the current era is set to extend his thinking. More people carry portable devices, information becomes more public, it becomes harder to conceal wrongdoing, and the unaided brain finds it harder to cope with the information overload. There are threats, such as cyber crime, identity theft, and espionage, but there are also opportunities.  Some examples of the possibilities include:

  • Computer modelling allows us to visualise and experiment with situations that we have no access to in the physical world. A very simple example is the impossible image of a ball balanced on an upturned glass bowl in the Stability section of this handbook – this was created digitally by my son in a package called Blender. A more complex example is the animation called “The Inner Life of a Cell” from Harvard University. This shows a 3-D computer animation of the internal workings of a cell, revealing the complex interactions of proteins in a way that words and static drawings could never convey. My own experience of watching this was so illuminating that it completely changed my way of thinking about biology, proteins, and my own body.
  • Monitoring the environment of a business in real time for opportunities and threats. We users can post reviews like the one shown here which could be highly detrimental if not answered. On the other information is available about new discoveries, ideas, refinements, patents, often long before it is officially published.
  • Social media is being used by businesses to discover trends as they happen – information about epidemics, earthquakes, changes to purchasing patterns or opinions on global issues.
  • Massive open online courses (MOOCs) provide university-standard courses across a wide range of subjects free of charge. Using such courses individuals can continue to educate themselves throughout their lives, covering subjects that may be far from their chosen profession.

What should a manager do, faced with this new wave of technology? I can’t give precise answers as these will be specific to your own business and team, but the following is an outline of a strategy:

  • Review the internal needs of your business or team – what tools would help you deal more effectively with your internal challenges and become more productive?
  • Review the influence your team needs on its environment, including customers, suppliers, colleagues, senior managers, general public, media, and authorities. What tools do you need to get your message out and make change happen? What information do stakeholders need from you, and how can you make it available with minimum effort?
  • Get more in touch with what is happening in the wider world, and encourage your team members to do the same. Make it a routine practice for team members to share this information as part of regular team-building activities. Do not limit this to your own market sector, but consider fields such as technology, the environment, social trends, the economy, politics, and regulation.
  • Review the monitoring and observation that your team needs to do, in checking for threats and opportunities, trends and tipping points. Keep checking that your internal business model matches the real world and be prepared to revise it if necessary.
  • Ask the question “what do we look like from outside?” Get an independent person to review your web presence, customer experience, complaints process. Is your receptionist “diabolical”, “helpful and pleasant” or both? (See panel above).
  • Consider how best to use IT to make improvements. Keep in mind the exceptions, as well as your core process. I’ve just waited three weeks for a deficiency in an order to be corrected, after much haggling. The original order arrived very efficiently in 24 hours, but that positive result has been completely overshadowed by the failure of the customer support system to put right a small error.

Checklist of IT applications

  • Real-time operations room
  • Extracting early warning signals from real time public data
  • Modelling, prediction and simulation
  • Intelligent filtering of data to extract the relevant “signal” from background “noise”
  • Dealing with uncertain data using Bayesian techniques (see separate chapter)
  • Use of IT for training (online courses, simulation, learning through games)

Scanning publications for opportunities