LNER electronic seat sensor system

One of my regular themes is how by having more information available to us the less information we have, especially where technology is concerned.

It was interesting to observe the apparent confusion amongst travellers yesterday when boarding an LNER service in Kings Cross bound for York. The train was using the electronic seat sensor system which comprises an LCD readout at eye level over the seats that indicates if the seat is reserved or available. A great step forward from paper tickets applied to the headrest of the seat you would imagine. However, the unit has a double screen indicating availability in pairs of seats (fine where seats are in pairs), but adds to the confusion when deployed over single seats (in first class carriages), as infrequent travellers aren’t aware if a blank screen is an indication availability, or its just not working. These units also check if the seat is being occupied several times throughout the journey and to do that its sensors need to be positioned directly above the seat. A single screen version would be better suited to this seat layout or a simple blanking plate or sticker over the redundant screen to clearly show its not in use. A perfect example of a great idea deployed badly. This should be simple to rectify LNER!

Organisations get the ‘IT’ they deserve

I have long believed that organisations get the Information Technology (IT) they deserve.

So, it’s been interesting to observe the apparent horror expressed at the vulnerability of the NHS systems to the recent Cyber-attacks. More so, the reaction and apparent surprise that a major corporation might have a degree of reliance and dependency on its computer systems, and the level of disruption that can be experienced directly by its users when things go wrong. In this case medical staff, doctors surgeries, operating theatre schedules and alike; the end users inconvenience (consultations, referrals, and lifesaving operations cancelled or deferred); the financial impact of historical underinvestment from ransoms and panic refreshing of outdated and insecure infrastructure. Yet despite this dependency, accompanied by real and not imagined distress, it’s almost impossible to believe in this electronically and technically connected world that so many organisations still don’t understand the significance of ‘IT’, and more broadly ‘Information Systems’, and consequently make irrational decisions about how they are managed, used, and the organisation structures that surround them.

How frequently have you seen CIO positions removed from the top table or restructured and subsumed within the Finance hierarchy? This isn’t just the preserve of foolish organisations or even those riddled with ‘technical debt’, it inhabits even the best of organisations. Ironically, its most likely to occur after a significant ‘IT’ implementation or success where an information system is at its core. The behaviour of ‘satisficing’ develops and fools the decision makers to abandon the very behaviour that made them invest in, and support, a successful system.

The recent press headlines regarding breast cancer screening errors have been revealing with phrases such as ‘IT blunder’, and ‘Computer failure’ receiving prominence, yet buried deep within the articles only passing mention of failed administration processes, or lack of quality control by the process owners. This raises a very real and recurring issue of organisations not taking responsibility for the technology they deploy, especially where that technology comes into direct contact with their customers or service users. It’s almost as if ‘blaming the computer’ in some way exonerates them from any obligation.

Despite what might appear natural, obvious, or common sense, rarely prevails especially when it comes to business processes and technology. When observing processes through the lens of the customer there is much to suggest that organisations ignore their requirements; make it worse by applying technology badly; they disregard the way people naturally behave (especially during emergencies); they regularly fail to observe good Operations Management principles; they communicate badly, and despite soliciting feedback then don’t handle complaints well and can often end up including an ombudsman and regulator. Why were concerns from anxious women who obviously missed breast cancer screenings ignored? ‘The computer says no’!

By ensuring that the technology is robust and fit for purpose organisations can get the ‘IT’ they deserve, but when it isn’t of the required standard then this shouldn’t be inflicted on their customers too.

Thank you for reading my post. I regularly write about operations management, technology, and how those two things don’t always serve customers well.