Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Building a business for resilience 28 – open systems, closed systems and selectively porous ones 20

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 20, 2018

This is my 28th installment to a series on building flexibility and resiliency into a business in its routine day-to-day decisions and follow-through, so it can more adaptively anticipate and respond to an ongoing low-level but with time, significant flow of change and its cumulative consequences, that every business faces in its normal course of operation (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 542 and loosely following for Parts 1-27.)

I have been discussing a set of six topics points in this series since its Part 20, which I repeat here for purposes of smoother continuity of narrative as I continue analyzing and discussing its issues:

1. Thinking through a business’ own proprietary information and all else that it has to keep secure that it holds.
2. While reducing avoidable friction where there can be trade-offs between work performance efficiency, and due diligence and risk remediation requirements from how information access is managed. This, in anticipation of discussion to come, means consideration of both short-term and long-term value created and received, as well as short-term and long-term costs. (As a point of reminder here, risk represents a source of cost here so it of necessity has to be included here in this type of analysis.)
3. And this means thinking through the issues of who gathers and organizes what of this information flow, who accesses it and who uses it – and in ways that might explicitly go beyond their specific work tasks at hand.
4. What processes are this information legitimately used in, and who does that work? With the immediately preceding point in mind, what other, larger picture considerations have to be taken into account here too?
5. And who legitimately sees and uses the results of this information as it is processed and used and with what safeguards for the sensitive raw data and the sensitive processed knowledge that are involved, where different groups of people might have legitimate need to see different sets of this overall information pool?
6. Think in terms of business process cycles here, and of who does and does not enter into them.

I have already delved into the issues raised by the first five of these topic points, at least for purposes of this series, in Part 20 and subsequent installments leading up to here. My goal for this posting is to in effect tie that overall line of discussion together, in how I address the sixth and last of those topics points. And with that orienting background commentary added, I begin addressing that goal here, with some organizing details.

The overall underlying rationale behind including Point 6 in the above-repeated list is very simple, at least conceptually, even as it can become anything but that as a matter of actual business practice and when taken out of the abstract context that I just offered it in. Considering larger and more complexly structured businesses for this line of discussion and assuming at least a measure of business systems friction with the communications challenges that that engenders:

• Individual employees: hands-on and managerial, work on specific tasks and carry specific areas of responsibility that are essentially defined in their job descriptions, and enforced in their ongoing work performance reviews. And all of those individuals primarily focus on what they do and on the input they require for that from other stakeholders, and on where they directly pass the results of their work to. But even there, they do not necessarily look beyond their receiving the input that they need, to consider what else those data producing stakeholders do. And they do not necessarily look in any detail at what the stakeholders who receive their work results do with them. And they are even less likely to see or know in any real detail what else these stakeholders do in carrying out their jobs, that might be more unrelated to their own efforts and contributions.
• So when you view a business as a whole as a consequence of this and in terms of this, you find yourself facing a strategic and operational system that is in effect formed as a tiled construct in which most actual hands-on work and most of its direct managerial oversight, are carried out from a more blindered, vision and understanding-limited perspective.
• To clarify that, I note that hands-on employees who actually carry out specific tasks and work process steps see them in the most detail. Their direct lower level managers who supervise them and their work there, see excerpted samples of this more direct and detailed experience, and that mostly just when short term goals do not appear to be effectively enough accomplished, at least to satisfy any stakeholders who might bring this to their attention.
• And the higher up a manager is in the table of organization, and the wider their range of vision is, or at least should be in seeing and knowing how everything fits together under their overall control, the more excerpted and limited their knowledge is likely to be of the details that take place at those lower organizational levels – that they, ultimately are responsible for and that they plan and act in terms of and in support of.

One of the more pressing and immediate consequences of this is that a great deal of a business’ ongoing and more standardized tasks and a great deal of the overall work process flows that contain and enact them, are carried out from a very limited-vision perspective. And that definitely applies when only standardized, normatively expected channels of professional communications there, are considered.

Let me take that out of the abstract with a very real and I add immediately current example of how this can create challenges, and certainly in the face of the unexpected and unplanned for. I had to go to my local bank today: a branch office of a major bank with a global reach. I had a minor problem that was in fact resolvable and that was resolved on the spot. But this brought me into a room with a bank officer who I got to talk with, as my issue was straightened out, with phone calls to another office required for that.

My problem arose because of disconnects in their system where individually performed tasks did not always fit together effectively and particularly for carrying out transactions that would require participation from distantly located resources. So in this case and apparently others like it, error could slip in and without raising any immediate red flags and certainly for the people at my local bank branch on this.

When, what in this case should have been a fairly basic transaction was being carried out, with task results developed at my bank branch: a customer agreement and its data, passed on to other people in more distant offices and to automated functional resources needed to complete this overall transaction at hand, the overall end result of this was off by enough so this entire transaction had to be directly and explicitly fixed.

As I just noted above, I had an opportunity to really speak with this bank officer while we were waiting for the part of this correction that he could set up, to go through. And he very circumspectly told me how he and his colleagues were all but plagued by at least one recurring problem that they could not report-in with any positive remediative response expected or achieved, in setting up certain types of new accounts. Everyone in their system actively does their assigned tasks in this, and as quickly and effectively as they can. Automated elements in that overall chain of involved participants in this, are set up with algorithms that have been carefully crafted to effectively carry out their particular tasks or subtasks in these overall transactions and certainly when attention is explicitly focused on what they would do (absent contextual error correction checking which can become more open-ended in nature, the more comprehensive it would have to be done.) But errors can and do creep in, and certainly in task step to task step transfers, calling for remediative corrections and way too often to be business effective – or customer friendly. And this officer and his colleagues cannot seem to be able to find a communications pathway that would allow them to report this to the right people who could drive any effort to fix this problem.

This is a very large and well known bank with a widely known and respected brand. And that scale and reputation is in fact largely justified. But like essentially any large and complex organization, they have at least some functional areas where larger and most complex process flows can and do break down and particularly where their completion cuts across several or even many of the “blindered tiles” that I write of here. And this can and in this case does show, even within single customer-facing business transactions. And this brings me back to Point 6 and its imperatives, offered suggestion style as:

• Think in terms of business process cycles here, and of who does and does not enter into them.

I have offered this posting with a goal of putting that topic point in a fuller perspective. And I will continue addressing it in a next series installment, where I will at least begin a discussion of how the types of problems raised here can be better understood for their details, and remediated. And in anticipation of discussion to come, that means identifying, characterizing and addressing the right problems and with the right people brought into this. But this of necessity means building better systems for carrying out this type of corrective work in general, and as proactively as possible, and not simply dealing with these challenges on a more one-off and ad hoc basis.

I have just written this posting as a due diligence and a risk management challenge, couched in communications flow and communications limited form. I will address the issues raised here in my next installment from a more strictly communications systems perspective.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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