Life-saving systems

Life-saving systems

Life-saving systems

“Life-saving systems!”, I heard a customer praise. A stopping phrase. What does “life” have to do with information systems and portfolio management? Is there a greater purpose we are solving here? This made me pause for a moment.

I thought the purpose was to maintain the management’s situational awareness and ensure that the management’s strategic direction is communicated in the same way the organization does business. Further, to support operations by ensuring adequate resourcing, managing risk, and resolving conflicts arising from the dependencies of the organisation.

Life-saving? In the lives of employees, this is reflected in a hierarchy, red tape, and increased friction. The intention is noble, though. To condense and refine the knowledge in the organisation to an appropriate level that management can internalise and use. To form that famous big picture analytically and coherently.

The tools to do this are unpleasant chalk: heavy enterprise tools that push users away. Using them requires heavy training or entire teams of professionals to maintain the data structures. If they had been built for ordinary consumers with options, the catastrophe would have happened much sooner. The offered enterprise tools are simply a must. These solutions cannot be criticized because they have been selected by international consulting firms as “Best of the Breed” solutions that have helped Fortune 500 companies amass their impressive fortunes. What could possibly go wrong? Where does the little guy’s life show?

As an alternative to heavy structures, agile working methods have gained popularity.

These have given empowered teams a taste of freedom by pushing decision-making lower down the hierarchy. Increased autonomy has created flexibility and teams’ own objectives. The emphasis has been on value creation and that is what we all want to create, right? We don’t want to spend time on wasteful administrative wrangling and rituals. Perhaps this is how we save lives?

Perhaps the easiest way to make an already hierarchical and heavy organisation agile was to SAFE all existing processes, terminology and titles. Everyone was happy if nothing really needed to be changed. If someone was not happy, the dissenter was sent to a retraining camp. Returning from the camp with a new certificate to adorn their CV, faith in the system had been restored.

Unfortunately, success is not guaranteed just because development teams keep producing more and more functionality that the customer ultimately doesn’t even need. We will remain prisoners of our own outputs if the whole is not managed. Clear objectives and the outputs needed to achieve them are required in order to focus limited resources on doing the right things. Unfortunately, isn’t this the taste of the administrative structures and reporting that we were trying to avoid?

Ultimately, it is about managing information and how people manage it.

Do systems adapt to people or do people adapt to how systems require information to be managed? The latter situation is not life-saving. It’s a hassle to search for information and manually enter the same information over and over again. Endless series of clicks to get simple things done. Compiling Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations from the grains of information that already exist. Humans are not robots who effortlessly repeat the same sequence of movements for the rest of their lives.

It is about intelligent grains of knowledge. The everyday numbers, dates, and snippets of text eventually make up the information. The grains of knowledge exist but without intelligence, they are elusive and spread out. In different systems, in different formats, serving different needs, maintained by different users.

For users, managing information cannot be a series of scattered slips and forms that have to be found and then filled in. The information management process needs to be digitised into a centralised solution where the user experience is designed to support the user. Terminology should be familiar to the user, with unnecessary choices and functions hidden. Redundant clicks are minimised. Simply, the process and its use should flow without barriers. Know your users’ abilities and needs.

Make use of existing knowledge.

There is nothing more frustrating than manually entering the same information in multiple places. Exporting or importing data through pre-built interfaces automates redundant steps. You need to invest in quality master data management. It easily pays for itself by minimizing redundant inputs and error conditions that cause disruptions in the process flow.

The transparency and availability of quality data is a great asset, but it also needs to be filtered. The right information needs to be targeted to the right people at the right time so that they can interpret it and react to it in the right way. Excessive visible information does not always improve the flow. Unfortunately, even encryption of information is sometimes necessary in order to feed it into the system.

Information is alive and changes in it need to be monitored and mistakes made need to be tracked. Version control has to happen automatically without you even realising it exists. Simply logging raw data is not enough. Trends can be deduced from changes, or like in a time machine, you can go back and examine past situations. This creates opportunities for learning new things and discovering those problems that slow down the flow of the process.

Once the grains of information have effectively flowed through the process, only then can the titbits begin to flow. Once all the information is centrally held, it can be processed into new knowledge in a whole new way. Visual portfolios can be created from the data mass, roadmaps can be built, Kanban work queues can be managed, and prioritisation tools can be used to make choices. Decision-making is made easier when you suddenly have the whole picture under control and situations are more predictable.

Yet, we are not in a situation where information is not needed in different formats. But the time-consuming Excel, Word, or PowerPoint exercises of the past are nowhere to be found anymore. Document construction can be automated with ready-made templates from fresh data. Is copy-paste a thing of the past?

The cherry on top of the cake is the visual dashboard views to measure KPI metrics that are essential for processes. The ability to drill deeper into the entire data structure takes coffee conversations to the next level. Suddenly, data is not just data; it matters. Because now it can lead.

Framing all of this as an automated process saves lives.

Hiding the necessary structures and hierarchies we have to fight with. Creating new opportunities to do things that we, not robots, were created to do. All we need to help us is intelligence in the grains of knowledge we control.


Markus Halonen

COO, Keto Software Oy