Decisions Blog

Archive for April, 2009

The Performance Paradox

These two aircraft originally entered service a few months apart in 1944. Which would you suppose to be the fastest?

Meteor Tempest

Surprisingly it is the one on the right, the piston-engined Hawker Tempest, which was 20 m.p.h faster than the first variant of the jet-engined Gloster Meteor. Within a few years, however, later variants of the Meteor were half as fast again, easily outstripping the fastest piston-engined aircraft

perf paradox This is in an example of one of the principle paradoxes at the heart of The Performance Paradox a book about the management of performance. New technology, new ways of doing things, even new procedures open up the possibility of a huge improvements in performance: but when first introduced, may underperform compared with the old.

It is of course easy to use this observation as a smokescreen to hide failed initiatives: but nonetheless real advances may produce a temporary dip in performance management metrics. It’s a useful insight when trying to understand the reason for a reduction in performance where you had expected an improvement.

Use of Talis Decisions for stock Management in Aberdeenshire

There is an article in the latest (Aptil 09) issue of Talis’s magazine “Panlibus” about the use of Talis Decisions reports for monitoring the performance of stock in Aberdeenshire Libraries and Information Service (ALIS).

If you are a user of Talis Decisions and are interested in Stock Management, it is well worth a read as it illustrates both the kind of things that can be done and the relationship between action and information.

If you do not have a paper copy to hand, it will in due coures appear on the Panlibus page. There is also some related material in the Talis Decisions community section.

Doing more with less in the Big Apple

The New York Public Library System is facing a good problem and a bad problem, both related to the economic downturn.

The good problem is rising numbers of visitors (probably augmented by job hunters and free Wifi)) . One recent newspaper article noted “Libraries across the [USA] are seeing double-digit increases in patronage, often from 10 percent to 30 percent, over previous years”

The bad problem however is a $23.2 Million funding cut from July .

How to square this circle? An article in Information Week highlights how the library is hoping to use its new Business Intelligence system to help meet the rising (and changing) demands on it, despite the reduction in staff likely to be required. For example, they might improve the rostering off staff to meet the changing profile of PC usage, private study, job hunting etc in various libraries through the day.

For changing times mean more than ever that good information on what is happening now trumps instinct based on experience of the past.

Checkland and the Battle of Britain

In their book Information, Systems and Information Systems , Professor Peter Checkland and Dr Sue Holwell describe “The Information System that Won the War”. It is a fascinating tale but it has an enduring lesson for anyone involved with information systems.

It is widely recognised that radar (or “radio location” as it was then called) was a decisive factor in the “Battle of Britain” (the major air battle over southern England in 1940). The grossly outnumbered British fighters could be in just the right place (or just the wrong place if you were a German pilot) at just the right (or wrong) time with plenty of fuel and ammunition. The German Luftwaffe failed to gain control of the air so an invasion became risky, so it was postponed… and the rest is history.

But the interesting thing about Checkland and Holwell’s perspective is that the successful use of radar was not a matter of superior technology. German radar was probably more advanced technically. What made the difference was how the British Royal Air Force (RAF) organised itself to make use of the information that radar gave them. In the first world war, fighters flew “patrols” – and if they encountered enemy aircraft a firefight ensued. The Battle of Britain was different. The RAF invented from scratch a whole system of fighter controllers, plotting tables and all the rest of the paraphernalia which allowed the RAF fighters to stay on the ground until the last moment and then fly directly to the right point to attack an incoming raid. But it was the whole system, not just the technology, that did the job.

The most remarkable part of the story was that the RAF had practiced the use of radar data in the air exercises of the late 1930s before radar was even available. They knew what they wanted to do, they knew what information they needed, and they had developed the system to take action on the basis of the data before the key technology piece was even there.

And the moral of the story? Technology is useful, but on its own it doesn’t cut it. Good information is essential, but even that on its own doesn’t cut it. It is the whole system making use of the information to deliver effective action that matters.