Cloud & Service Management blog
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itil service-management itsmf ivor 1,340 Visits
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsmf service-management itil ivor 1,473 Visits
I am writing this on a plane back to England from Madrid, at the end of a pretty hectic few weeks that involved speaking at five itSMF events in five different countries – from Finland to Spain. There has to be a good joke somewhere in a run of 5 events that started with the Finnish – but I’ll let you work that that one out for yourselves.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsmf service-management ivor itil 1,345 Visits
In every walk of life we see the components in things:
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I’ve done a few talks to camera recently – interviews at the itSMF Spain conference and a mock programme at the UK. The UK thought I was perfect for ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and I have to admit I fit the title’s parameters. I watched the people using modern video equipment and it did make me feel old. Nearly 40 years ago I was editor of the student TV society at University and I was recalling how many of us it took to deliver 30 minutes worth of black & white programme onto 2 inch wide reel-to-reel video tape. It seems all but unbelievable watching the kids now (the age I was then) record it in perfectly balanced colour on something the size of a small book – when our kit weighed more than the library. But the whole situation is another example of getting focused on the changes and missing what stays the same.
While the television technology has changed beyond recognition, the basics of interviewing haven’t. So hopefully I helped by trying to follow those basic rules for an interviewee – ignore the camera, keep talking, try to say something interesting. You can judge for yourself at http://www.best-management-practice.tv/best-management-practice-at-the-itsmf-uk-conference-2010. (Actually if you are sad enough to be interested in the earlier ITIL days, I shall be writing an article on that next year.)
So, this TV stuff is like most services these days – the technology bit keeps changing, using new ideas – basically becoming far more complex to understand whilst at the same time becoming ever easier to use. That means customer expectations keep increasing (you don’t find many people content with black & white TV any more) but at the real core, the prime deliverables remain the same. We might talk more and more about plasma vs LCD, 3D, surround sound, HD and all the rest; but the real satisfaction comes from watching people be clever, funny, informative etc in a way that holds our attention and entertains us.
And there is the heart of most of what I have been talking about at conferences for the past few years. It is easy to measure things like pixels and screen size and the number of channels and hours of programming available, but so much harder to measure what we actually want from a TV service.
Keeping that old television link, last week was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder: a sad time for anyone of my age and background. So I found myself watching old clips of Lennon on a programme recalling his life. Now the man was clearly an extremist with impossible dreams – and I may well return to my belief that we need some extremists to make the majority move at all, but that’s another blog. One of his lines, though, did trigger the realisation that this need for real measurement isn’t a new idea. He was ranting about governments (as usual) and said “If anybody can put on paper what our government, and the American government etc., and the Russian, Chinese, what they are actually trying to do, you know, and what they think they're doing, I'd be very pleased to know what they think they're doing”. Now he followed that with “I think they're all insane!” which perhaps is more about presumed results than objective measurement, but nonetheless the basic concept is interesting.
We want to know what is at the heart of our and others’ behaviour but it is very difficult to express that. It is hard even to ask sometimes in a way that doesn’t sound as if you have failed to pick up the social or business norms; because often we just presume there is a reason and take the usual comfort in things ‘that have always been done like that’. Maybe it is just easier to hide behind the numbers and the detail of how you are doing things rather than making it all that clear what it is you are trying to do, why you are doing it or even who you think you are doing it for.
One last seasonal example maybe, since it is mid-December as I write this. Many of us will get back to work in January to be greeted by the question ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’ For those who did, you will know without recourse to precise measurements – it isn’t based on the number of presents you received, how many carols you sang or how much turkey you ate. Unless the biggest fun you have is skiing, it probably won’t have mattered that much if it snowed. But if you had a good Christmas then you will know – but my, isn’t it hard to set genuinely accurate measures beforehand?
And what can we learn from that, or at least set out to do better? Maybe if we are buying or delivering any kind of service we should at least try to be aware of – if not the ultimate – then at least a higher level goal. And don’t be surprised or disappointed if your expensive new TV might not affect the entertainment value, although it will help you see the ball better in the cricket, and that might be an important factor. And at work, a new finance package won’t make your profit margins higher – but it might tell you faster what they are, and perhaps that makes an important difference. Just be sure that’s important enough for what it is costing you, and that you know the knock-on effect onto the higher level measure.
Kimberlee Kemble 120000GMAV KEMBLE@US.IBM.COM Tags:  ivor-macfarlane service-management ism real-world-service-manage... ivor integrated-service-manage... 1,351 Visits
Ok, so I'm not really a Luddite in the original sense of the word...but I fully admit that I prefer handwritten notes to emails and texts, hardcover books to paperback or eBooks, buying the full CD (AKA the album to us old-timers) rather than downloading a single tune...and just don't get me started on the term "my bad..."
Your friendly roving Integrated Service Management Reporter
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  service-management ivor itil itsmf pulse 1,474 Visits
I recently booked my travel for a business trip to the
If there is
anyone out there actually reading this stuff, and is in Vegas for Pulse, or at
the LIG is
But – not
unusually – I have distracted myself a little from where I thought I was going
when I started writing this. So … I booked some flights: from
Let me divert again a little bit and remind you – because you are all experts and know this stuff – about a basic knowledge management concept; the spectrum that runs data->information->knowledge->wisdom. At the beginning data is extensive but not too helpful. If it ever reaches wisdom it actually helps you survive and thrive.
But back to that
travel information I was getting. Remember I had booked a flight in late
February to the
I interpret it –this may be grossly unfair of me, but I am the customer and customer perception is what matters – like this: travel advice is being planned and delivered by someone who goes to the same desk in the same office everyday, and rarely puts foot on an airplane. Of course the real culprit behind this is ease of programming – data is cheap and plentiful, applying some basic ideas to turn that into information is quite fun, sounds good and means you can despatch all sorts of travel notice updates to people who will be travelling sometime in the future. But it is – sorry but it really is – just using data because you have it. Maybe they bill on the number of messages? Maybe they really think I want to know? The real consequence is that I delete these emails unread now – so if they were by some miracle to send me something useful, I would miss it altogether.
last year this system showed the kind of silo thinking that comes from not
knowing the customer’s environment – the kind you often see in service
management reporting. I spoke for itSMF
Now of course
I suppose if somebody were to ask me what I want notifications about, I would be happy to work with them, and set up delivering something that goes beyond information, starts delivering knowledge and gets me the wisdom I need to make the right decisions.
But if that is actually ever to happen then those of us receiving all this useless information need to realise it is – mostly – our fault. I could have responded offering to help them improve, I could proactively tell them what I need – I could offer some of my time as an investment in my own future knowledge and wisdom deliverables. But It is easier (and more fun?) to carp and whinge – so maybe my New Year’s resolution should have been around practising what I preach – doing what I talked about in my itSMF conference presentations last year – and to start being a good, committed constructive customer because it won’t get better otherwise.
OK – I’m off to find the ‘help us improve our service’ button on the web site. See you at Pulse?
 Best explanation of the step from knowledge to wisdom is one I stole from my daughter, Rosie and it goes ‘Knowledge tells you a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable; wisdom is knowing that but also knowing not to put it in a fruit salad’.
David Ojalvo 060001CNQC DAOJALVO@US.IBM.COM Tags:  ism management itil pulse service macfarlane ivor 1,646 Visits
Next week, I'll be attending my first Pulse conference, and I have a full slate of activities planned:
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  simulation ibm ivor itsm tivoli itil itsmf 1,915 Visits
I delivered an SM simulation for a client in the middle of a tropical paradise in
Well, like Frank, I was there to work, and work I did –another successful and fun game – I always enjoy how much the delegates enjoy the experience; we should all have more work that actually makes people happy.
We had a mix of
nationalities and cultures on the game – a real challenge but one that brings
its own extra flavours. I was thinking about those cultural variations on the drive
My driver was a very nice man – a pleasure to share a space with, just enough English to converse, comfortable with silence and caring enough to return from a rest stop with an unsolicited bottle of water for me; plus a cheerful insistence that I try local specialties that I might not have seen before So, all-in-all, clearly he is a man who wants me to be comfortable and survive the journey.
So, why did he frighten the living daylights out of me at irregular intervals on the way? Simply by behaving normally for his culture: using road verges to pass trucks at high speed on the wrong side, overtaking in the middle of road works, driving at high speed within inches of other vehicles. While this seemed reckless to my culture, it is everyday for Brasil. It made me realise that as well as the social variations, culture extends to acceptable risk – what would just result in a late arrival in western Europe is met with a calculated risk to get past the slow moving obstacles, a culture that values speed over safety perhaps? Or more likely just the inevitable reaction to the extreme traffic volumes and conditions there. I didn’t see it as a better nor a worse attitude, just a different one – and there being differences left in the world is something I, for one, feel is an unmitigatedly good thing.
many Brasilian taxi drivers before, so I was not surprised, but what did amaze
me was how quickly and unnoticed that culture got into my thinking and
unconscious actions. Back in the
So if we copy cultural elements so quickly after so short a visit – and that copying spills over into our next situation, do we do that with our customers too? Do we bring the needs of the previous customer we worked with to our next, even if it isn’t the right culture for them? Maybe this is just one more thing for us to watch out for in our business relationships?
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor itil itsmf service-management itsmfi ibm ipesc 1,782 Visits
I set out do this blog as a pretty shameless advert for my article in the latest issue of the itSMF International magazine. So let’s get that bit out of the way first – it is here – read it soon!
But actually thinking about the itSMF magazine leads naturally on to talk about the itSMF International publishing and the recent success stories – and success stories should be talked about, so I’ll do that now. It has been a while since the international publishing committee of itSMF (IPESC) faded out – but while IPESC may be dead, I felt its spirit, innovation and enthusiasm resurrected at our recent chapter publishing meeting. IPESC was always full of good intentions, but the difference now is the ability to take ideas forward to our itSMF’s own publications – and to produce good things.
The magazine is one of those things. It may not be exactly War and Peace – but it is the kind of things that professional service managers might read, enjoy and then look for the next issue coming out – exactly the positive reinforcement cycle we need to create a tipping point. Actually, the meeting itself was another great thing. So far as we can tell this was the most chapters ever represented at any kind of itSMF meeting – including all previous AGMs.
IBM – along with TSO – sponsored the meeting, and we also hosted it at the IBM Amsterdam office. That sponsorship gave me the right (and from my management’s perspective, the obligation) to a 10 minute agenda item to address the meeting. Now, those of you who know me will realise I don’t usually need the justification of an agenda item to talk. But, given the nature of my audience, I wondered what to talk about in that formal situation. The obligatory ‘IBM has something you might be interested in seeing’ bit was easy – a quick demo of our new G2G3 developed virtual simulators – plenty about those in other blogs on this site so go read them I won’t repeat it here.
My main message – and one I feel strong enough about that I want to repeat it here – was how important sponsorship like this is.
itSMF is (also rightly) proud of its ‘owned by the members’ and ‘not for profit’ nature – and so it shapes the community more than any other organisation – or more accurately it helps its members shape and develop that community. But being not for profit doesn’t stop there being bills. We all share in this service management community, and it seems to me both right and necessary that the key players in the industry take seriously the need to also be key supporters of that community.
For many sponsorship is seen as a way to
keep conference prices low, or just about advertising leverage. The sponsorship
of meetings like the publications gathering in
So what I spoke about in
itSMFI is producing important parts of our professional future, and there is the chance for all players in this community to support - big companies with big sponsorship through to individuals getting involved and active. So get on board - please.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor service-management itil itsmf ibm itsm service 1,924 Visits
As may have been noticed from recent blogs I spent most of the last month travelling. Actually thinking about it, most of my last 33 years has been travelling for work. So while I might spend much of my time talking about service with IT professionals; the services that most impact my life tend to be related to the travel industry. Seems to me that service is service, and many of the lessons learned in travelling – and watching people while travelling – are very relevant in all aspects of service delivery, IT related or not.
What has really impressed itself upon my mind recently is how receiving services – of whatever kind – can so often make you feel offended, insulted, slighted or just plain angry. Objective thought makes it pretty obvious that the intention was actually to deliver good service, but somehow it can be hard to believe that when you see some of the symptoms of not thinking things through.
Let’s start with a fairly innocuous and
almost silly example from the
What I couldn’t help but notice, and that stuck in my mind more than anything else, were the local information maps displayed – a good and helpful feature that shows important buildings near enough to walk to from each station. They show where places are using colour-coded dots, for example pink dots show hotels. At my local station there were three hotel dots – so I which hotels were served by that metro stop. But it didn’t tell me which hotels they were – just that they are hotels – how much more effort would it have taken to write the names on? And how much would that final piece of data been worth? I think that’s what bothers me – when suppliers seem to do 90% of the work right but that missing 10% destroys 90% of the value.
But OK, I am sure that will be remedied - eventually. There is, however, a characteristic of physically delivered services that I see so often – and bothers people so much – that I have tried to give it a name. Best I have so far is VNS, Visible Non-Service. I am sure you have seen it – travellers will see it at airline travel desks and immigration counters, but all of us see it almost daily at banks, post offices and shops. Let me set out a typical scenario - one I saw last week (and most times I travel). There are 5 or 6 customer service desks; two of them have staff serving the waiting line of customers, one by one. At another desk are two of the airline or airport staff – every now and then a customer in a hurry goes up to them, only to be turned away. These people are not attending to customers. No, it might be that they are doing some critically important task, vital filing, discussing long term business strategy etc. But why do they do it in font of the customers? We can see only paid supplier staff NOT helping us, and apparently not caring. Actually, I think banks are amongst the worse offenders, frequently seating staff at customer facing positions to do non-customer facing work.
It seems to me that this is a failure to think through how customers perceive things. Of course it might make perfect sense to the planners and HR people – making best use of physical space, having managers where they can see staff working etc. But – if you feel tempted to do this, or anything else that customers will see - please think through how it will look and feel to someone who was NOT there when you planned it.
In fact VNS and other ways to disregard customer perception – once you think it through – have significant implication and consequences: whether that is IT applications that decide to archive your records when at times apparently selected to annoy you the most, scheduled maintenance that seems to target your busy periods or supervisory staff walking around apparently doing nothing helpful while customers wait in long lines. The more complex our world gets, the easier it is to get things wrong. Like the maintenance slot that is obviously good to the planner in New York but which hits the obvious usage slot in Dubai (where Sunday is the first working day of the week, and you want your administration services – like expense reporting – up and running at the start of the week – which is when business travellers typically do their expenses.
So if you are planning services that a customer will see, please do me a favour: try and think how it will be seen and perceived, putting aside how logical YOU already know it is. As the man said – perception is reality, try to make your customers’ perception into your reality.
Final story, about how it is possible to get it right. Many years back, when I worked for the UK Forestry Commission, I recall talking with our Recreation Planning Officer. He had just designed and constructed some way-marked walks through a forest he personally knew very well. Before he allowed them to be opened to the public, he brought his children in, and walked behind them on the route – noting down everywhere they had trouble seeing the right way – and then he corrected those faults. I believe that nowadays this might be called ‘User Acceptance Testing’ – and what it needs is users, not suppliers pretending they can see it from a user perspective.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsmf ivor itil service-management ibm 1,567 Visits
I was teaching an ITIL course last week – with the managers’ bridge route to the ITIL expert about to close, there was a sudden need for a trainer and I got the chance to pick up a training gig in
For all its economic challenges it is good
But I had a great time work wise too, a rare opportunity to focus again on the ITIL material, a reminder of some parts I had all but forgotten – including some it seems I wrote myself. Most important though was the chance to talk with the others on the course, getting an insight again into how this stuff works in the real world – the delegates all being part of our managed service accounts and delivering real service management to real customers on a day-to-day basis.
I guess I need that reminder now and again:
writing, talking – even thinking – about things is good and important stuff,
but if we lose sight and touch with actually doing the things we talk about
then inevitably we will get that writing and thinking and planning wrong. I was
lucky enough to visit some real service management workers the week before
also. That was in
So - a couple of weeks of good lessons for me, and I hope for my students also. I had a good reminder of the need to keep real, to encourage reality above ideals. I learned not to presume how a place will be, nor to be too concerned if it looks a little different to begin with. Despite appearances, service management issues have more in common than you might think – across counties, cultures and industries – which gives us all a large community of colleagues to discuss matters with and to exchange ideas and conversation. I guess that is what we look to organisations like itSMF to facilitate in the widest sense: service management craic.
Anyway – I am looking forward to keeping in touch with service management reality – through talking to and working with people in real service management jobs, be that through training, conference discussion or more directly. We all need that good mix of ideas and practicality.
 Go ask an Irish friend if you don’t know the word: you will know the concept because good conversation and pleasure in good company is not an Irish preserve, although they are especially good at it – and one of the few to have coined a word for it.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  tivoli itsmf service-management innovate-2011 ivor itil ibm itsm 1 Comment 4,833 Visits
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor ibm itsm devops itil service-management tivoli 2,323 Visits
After my last blog – asking what devops was – the idea of collaboration across the whole life of service has been in the forefront of my mind. From that wider perspective I was musing around one of my frequent topics – how we fail to get the service right because we don't understand how it is being used, or what the customer really cares about.
Actually the simple picture of supplier and customer doesn’t really describe the world most of us have to live in. If we go with the ITIL concept of a customer (someone who has financial influence or authority) then we also need to worry about what our users think. In other frameworks you might hear a more general concern about taking the whole range of stakeholders into consideration. Doesn’t matter which recipe you follow – does matter that you see the complexity.
Some of the problems come from being so close to how things are done (rather than why they are being done), and by being so close to what you think matters that you don't spot what matters to those receiving the service. Sometime it is the silliest things that make the customers and users unhappy and reject a service. Maybe that is an example of the ‘One Bad Apple’ syndrome – something firmly embedded in the human condition seems to be our ability to allow one bad aspect to overbalance a dozen good things.
I had my own version this week, when I found myself refusing to continue with an online application for a new bank account because the software insisted on spelling my name incorrectly. (For reasons I cannot fathom, it seems to have decided that any name starting with ‘Mac’ must have a capital afterwards – so it turns ‘Macfarlane’ to ‘MacFarlane’ without giving me the chance to turn it back.) I didn’t stay around to see what else the service offered, I just closed the web page and got my new account somewhere else that will let me spell my name properly.
But there is also the positive face of the same coin – the power of ‘cool’. Imagine you have found the perfect shoes for your child – scientifically designed to protect their feet while supporting their bones and they are even waterproof. As a caring parent these are the only pair of shoes you want your child to be running about in (see IKB later in this blog). As it happens your dreams have come true because your child loves them. Is it because they are good for them, and will help their feet develop properly – no, they agree to wear them because the heels light up with each step. They will wear them – and save their feet – but only because they are ‘cool’ – according to rules you will never understand. By the way, don’t think the illogical ‘cool’ factor only applies to children, it is there in just about every service you deliver or use – at work or at home. If you look for it then you will see it. I don’t want to make this posting too long or I could list dozens – but just imagine trying to sell powerful and effective software products against others with less relevant features at higher cost – but with a fancy graphical interface – sound familiar to anyone?
If you think about these two situations – where apparently less important elements disproportionately affect decisions - I am sure you will find many examples of the two extremes; like the fast-food restaurant that you still avoid because of one bad burger or one element of bad service, hundreds of miles away and several years back.
Those issues tend to come from how the service is delivered, yet the same problem can easily come from how it is built (like my name issue). But one of the differences is getting the message back to where it might make a difference, because at best the complaints go to the operations side of the house, and this does not get fed back, maybe because it is dismissed as trivial – because it doesn’t seem important to whoever received the message.
It isn’t just about hiding complaints though, we also have the ability not to pass the cool factors back. Do we always find out why people really like something? It seems to me that we don’t often ask the right people the right questions. And it also seems there are simple reasons why we do that:
Both of these situations are understandable – after all, we are human so of course we see things first and best from our own perspective, and without being forced out into another’s environment then why should we have the ability to understand people we have never met? The second is also inevitable in the complicated amalgams of customers, users, services and suppliers we exist within. Never mind the neat little service chain pictures you get in the books – it doesn’t really look that simple, it looks complicated, and mostly because it is complicated.
We can do something about these difficulties – but they require addressing the way we – and our colleagues – think, and that takes time and effort.
There are other causes and factors – and maybe there is one we could do something about, and it is something that would magnify the beneficial effects when you finally get around to addressing the two points I listed above: when we do find things out we don’t tell the people who could do something about it. And the very best way to get that wrong is to build silos within your supplier organisation and stop people sharing ideas and information.
After that last blog on devops, I was thinking about that particular kind of communication issue. There is something deep rooted in the human psyche that needs to dismantle their immediate environment into teams (or groups, or departments or silos or tribes – call them what you will). IT organisations are perfect examples – with high level internal teams always emerging once they gets past a certain size. And if you separate into teams that feel the need to compete, then helpful messages will not be fed across between them. So what was built wrong and delivers the wrong thing stays there and will be wrong in the next version too. That is the inertial element of behaviour that initiatives like devops and whole service lifecycle approaches have to contend with. We shouldn’t think it can be as easy as just telling people to collaborate and communicate. Like all challenges we need to recognise what we are fighting – and to fight back.
So – what are good ways to start? Perhaps as simply as recognising that while we might bond comfortably into (say) a ‘development’ team or an ‘operations’ team (or any one of a dozen more) – that doesn’t make the other team the opposition – I think that would be a good first step, if we can finally realise that – by and large – what benefits one team also benefits the other.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsmf japan itil ibm ivor business-continuity service-management tivoli 2,129 Visits
I am just back from a week working in
Although the shadow of the tsunami and very real loss to the community endures, the human spirit carries on and people still laugh and enjoy life. One of the pleasant surprises is how universal humour can be. It is also easy to forget how quickly people’s behaviour adapts and copies from those around them. You really only notice the extent to which you adapt when you get back home. For example it took me a while to stop bowing to people and also to stop smiling at people in the street, restaurants etc – or certainly to stop expecting them to smile back.
I also got used to things that I would
expect not to cope with easily. Specifically after the first day or so I was no
longer bothered by how much my room on the 16th floor shook when one
of the steady stream of aftershocks wobbled
But coping without things you have got used
to does happen – and it is clear there are some very direct lessons for service
That made me think of just how complex our everyday infrastructures have become, with so much more than electricity on our critical list. It perhaps should be a compulsory occasional exercise to think through just how many things we presume will be available – not just the obvious (utilities, access, people etc). I am sure we would all be surprised at some of the things we tacitly depend on – and equally sure there are good stories to be told about some of them – any offers?.
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Just a few kilometres from where I live there is a great spot for walking – with or without a dog. It is quiet and traffic free, with spectacular view across the countryside. The grand perspective across surrounding countryside was likely more appreciated in earlier days; it is the site of a 2500 year old hill fort with the earthworks still very obvious and impressive despite being worn down by the centuries.
One of the things I love most about the site is how very little we really know for sure about it, the people who built it and how people actually lived there. There is a goodly amount that can be inferred from what is left, but when walking around it you do feel that we can only know a little, presume a bit more, guess a good chunk and – importantly – accept that there is much we do not know and will never know.
It seems to me that this acceptance of what we do not know, and more importantly what we cannot know, is a hard thing to do, and one we as a society are getting rapidly worse and worse at. Maybe we expect too much? Certainly if we were to take too seriously some of the criminal investigation TV programmes we see we would believe we can know everything – where a small nick in a 10 year old bone can lead to complete diagnosis, arrest and conviction in a single 45 minute episode.
Of course, real life is rarely like TV, but there does seem an increasing belief that we can know everything, which I doubt is justified by any kind of objective assessment of our own lives. It is almost as if we believe that we can find out anything we want – or that we can ask an expert who will simply tell us what we need to know. In fact there are – even now –many things we do not know, and will never know. That is true in most aspects of life – from what our children get up to through to configuration management – the trick perhaps is to accept that and make the best use of what we can know. That includes realising that what we do think we know may not be 100% accurate – but that is it still useful all the same.
Way back last century, I studied Physics at University. Well, I was supposed to be studying Physics, I certainly recall making TV programmes and being in the bar – somehow my memory can’t have stored all the time I spent studying.
But one thing I do recall was that in the lab work the answer ALWAYS had to be expressed in terms of the uncertainly – the temperature of the liquid under examination was not 23 degrees – it was something like 23 º ± 2º. Being realistic about your accuracy was seen as a critical aspect of any data.
And rightly so. It is of critical importance, because if we just think that everything we know is an absolute black and white fact – then we will make bad choices. Being aware of the accuracy does – or certainly should – affect our decisions. If you want a common example of where we get it wrong then think about some of the customer satisfaction surveys you may have seen in your time. Even a good customer survey will show only a good indication of opinion, attitude and desires. It will never be totally accurate but it can be useful – especially in terms of trending.
And availability is about averages, happenstance and luck – so a 99% availability does not necessarily mean 99% customer service delivery – because you don't know when that bad 1% will happen – and so don’t know what affect it might have. Is it going to be peak period or quiet time? But it can help us decide how to build and manage systems – and lead us into sensible risk/benefit decisions. In fact getting on and using the data you do have might be a good mantra? All too often we seem to seek data for its own sake rather than because we see a need for it.
Those people who built that hill fort 2500 years ago certainly knew a lot less facts and data than we do. But they knew what they needed to know to do a good job and made great use of what they did know. Hopefully we can use the knowledge and data that we have without being distracted by trying to get even more? And then maybe our constructions will also still look good in 2500 years.
Maybe you can spot some places where you are spending time, money and worry tying to get ever more precise data that you don’t really expect to use. Or more likely you can see where – or your management – take as absolute data that you know is actually just an estimate within a significant range of values?