Meta physical- not real?


I like to focus on things that are surprising, I am obsessed with context and complexity, and I work day in and day out with people and organisations that face data challenges.  So here goes another odd story.

I had seen an advert for Heinz Large chunky soup (the advert showing large chunks of beef on a spoon) promising a more manly experience than tiny invisible beef remains I made up my mind to try this. The advert had been screened on US TV, but when I saw the soup in a UK supermarket I tried it.

Doing IT properly is impossible…

We often sit , maybe waiting for a train, and, short of a good book, we ponder why something isn’t better. Why is my daughter more interested in playing on her new phone then doing her piano practice? Why do mobile phones hang up on you even though the signal is displayed as strong? Why is one train platform tasked with receiving three trains in the next three minutes when the platform next to it is idle for the next 30 minutes?

When you visit organisations that run these infrastructures (lets exclude my daughter’s piano issues for now) we often find that challenges like the above are often attributed to IT. quotes like “The windows mobile operating system was just not designed to do this with so little hardware resources available” or “The damned system sets the priority like that, we have no control over it.”  ie the fault usually ends up at the door step of those that can not defend themselves and IT comes up a lot. But how can this be?

Architecting the dream information castle

Resources are in short supply, people are afaraid to make the wrong decision and that can only mean one thing for IT. Information provisioning is key. I remember back in 1988 we were wondering about EIS (II), the second version of executive information systems that would bring internal and external collected information together to enable executives to make better decisions. Has anything changed?

lessons learned

You read a book, a good book, and if you are not completely set in your ways it starts to pull at a thread and your life, just like an old jumper starts to unravel. The book I read was about the Madrid Bombing of the trains. In the bombing the family of the main character gets killed, and it leaves him without home, heart or purpose. But another character emerges with capabilities and a freedom and recklessness that gives him power.

maths for data

I always felt an affinity with maths. That shouldn’t really be possible, but it is i can assure you. It is not a comfortable relationship, mainly due to the fact that I am poor at grasping math. So affinity might not be the most obvious word, but it is correct non the less. The affinity is due to the concept of math. For one thing math is not a constant. In it 1+1 can equal 2 or 10 simply depending on the number system you choose. Infinity can be massive in maths or very small (think of the largest number and you can always add 1, but you can also slice the differences between 1 and 0 by repeatedly and indefinitely multiply the higher number by 0.5. And the final straw for me was that there is proof in mathematics. It is one of the few disciplines where self reliance and consistency is more important than the subject itself. Wow! So when I come across abstracts like (a+b) to the power of 2 equals A^2 + 2AB + b^2 you have to stand in wonder not only be the facts, but also that it links you to the Greeks, who found these truths. Connecting to others in consistent language over time is the greatest gift of maths in my view.

Do as I say…

Do as I say, not as I do is an old proverb, that got put in front of me, like a mirror by my daughter last week. We were on holidays at the Amalfi coast near Naples. Anyone who has ever driven there knows what I am talking about when mentioning that only parking is worse than driving along “that” road. Having looked for two hours solid for a parking spot after driving for four hours and loosing the right hand side mirror to a life threatening situation with a bus I lost it. It was completely unreasonable for anyone to expect of me any kind of language constraint in such a exasperating situation. But having finished the rant of bad language my daughter simply stated:

Simply not true (or why IT doesn’t help)

Things can get really complex in life. When I was modifying my guitar last week I was trying to create a wiring diagram to keep track of things (as is and to be views). Now a computer would be a great help in this, using things like visio or the like, right? Well it wasn’t and in the end it was simpler to draw the thing by hand. My incompetence combined with prohibitive costs and the poor tool capabilities illustrated yet again that IT has tools for intelligent people, plasters for not so intelligent people and games for the rest. But real help with daily complexities seem to be thin on the ground. (Anyone who knows of a wire diagram creation software that is free and has all components in it that guitars may house (including ghost pickups) should leave me a message, please!)

Let me upscale this to the business world using my pet-subject Master Data Management. We know that Master Data Management is a worthwhile exercise. We know that having complete and accurate product information (for example) helps consumers pick the right product for them, establishing in the process a reference model. In practice the issue is more complex. Poorly manufactured products like to hide behind a wall of missinformation and hearsay to hide the lesser quality and the apparent lack of features. But the market is even more complex than that. Lifestyle and budget availability may drive people to a cheaper product under certain circumstances even or especially because of the lack of features (think older citizens or handicapped people).o where does that lead to?

“R” you into statisitics?

“R” is a disruptive new open source analytics technology with a rapidly growing user community. It is a powerful and extensible statistical object oriented programming language. It was build to support rapid development of computational analytics and data visualisation. It can be and is easily extended (for example a new interpretative engine) and the benefits of these extensions are shared with the user community. There are now thousands of R analytics packages available to download made available by users in a growing academic and business community Several large software packages (such as Oracle, Greenplum and SAS), have integrations with the R language, or have released R language support. R has a vast array of standard graphical formats that can be reused, as well as good functionality for the production of bespoke plot and graphical format types

Indirect Line…

Sometimes we run into a roadblock that we just didn’t see coming. We are racing along, full speed ahead and some tiny insect from left field pulls out bolder weighing a couple of tons and brings our forward momentum to a shattering halt.

I recently had to switch car ensurers and that is the easiest thing in the world, right? You go to a few comparison websites and a couple of direct insurance companies and pick the best deal. Within minutes you are insured.

Data Architecture – a dirty word?

BoardroomBattleWhen I walked into the boardroom of a large UK CPG company to talk about the need for change I expected a fairly non committal fight for mind share. I expected for members of the board to be impatient, polite and most importantly ignorant of technology beyond Networks (most CXOs have a home network between their kids PlayStation 3, PCs, Laptops, Printer and Network storage), Systems (order tracking, HR, Finance, Manufacturing, Shipping, Tracking, Reporting and so on). What I didn’t expect was all out war with flying pieces of spreadsheet like shrapnel, underhanded attacks and me sitting there wondering how this is shareholder value.

You might wonder how I came to be there and the answer is quite simple, the CIO wanted back-up when wondering into the lion’s den. The business had gone through an aggressive growth strategy including acquisitions, one painful merger and IT was trying to keep up by aligning processes, create relevant reports so managers could make decisions and trying to keep the Costs under control with very little luck. In answer to this crisis the CIO decided to stop running after a train that was travelling faster than she could travel. Instead she was advocating a step change providing a Service oriented architecture, outsourced and a cut over of the business to the new architecture. It would mean lower costs over 5 years, more flexibility, true integration because of shared information definitions (so everyone speaks the same language or at least understand each other) plus an open integration framework which would allow her to offer embedded services to customers, partners and suppliers. The strategy business case was strong, the shareholder value was strong, the proof of concept proved the concept working and generated savings of just under 1 million and had been delivered on time and to budget, even though there had been a large surge of reporting requirements at the last minute drawing resources from the project. Pitches to the members individually had gone very well and everyone was up for it. So what could possibly go wrong?

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