Inter faces

[Educational institute x 3, campus Free University, Amsterdam]

When sleeping over problems, one often comes up with solutions that both are real and so all-encompassing that they’ll need much elaboration before being applicable in a nimble way.
This one was/is on information security, again. Recall the ‘discussions’ I posted some days ago about (industrial) process control versus administrative control? Well, I’ve some more elements for a grand new scheme now.

It struck me that the operators at the (chemical) plant control room, are the ones with the dashboards. Not necessarily their managers. Nor their manager managers, etc. What if instead of some machine equipment, we plug in hoomans into the whole ..? And let them interact like the übercomplex ‘machines’ that they are, doing their (administrative / service) thing that they (want to?) do. All the way to the point where we have no equipment, just humans (with tools, by the way, but those would be under ‘complete’ control of the ones using them so are just extensions of them). One ‘manager’ could then control quite a lot; have a huge span of control…

If, big if, if only the manager would understand the overall ‘process’ well enough, that is, to be able to work with the dashboard then provided. Just Continuous Monitoring as a job, not much more (one would have 2nd- and/or 3rd ‘lines of control’ (ugh for the expression) to fix deviations, do planned maintenance, etc.). Probably not. But one can still dream; organizations would be flat without chaos breaking out.

And if you’d say it would be impossible altogether, have a look at your SOC/NOC room where techies monitor IT network traffic and systems’ health. They even have some room to correct..! And they are aware, monitor, the appropriateness of what flows over the lines, having professional pride in catching un(machine)detected patterns of irregularity possibly being break-in/break-out attempts. And they leave the content for what it is, that’s for the experts, the users themselves, to understand and monitor if only they would.
Why wouldn’t other ‘managers’ copy the idea to their own desk? No, they don’t, yet. They get Reports that they hardly read, because someone else had thought for them in determining what should be in there. And reports aren’t continuous. Walking around is, but would (rightly) be viewed as micromanagement and a bit too much given the non-continuous nature of what modern knowledge workers do. So, we’ll have to define some gauges that are monitored semi-continuously.

Now, a picture again to refresh:

[Westpunt, Curaçao]

But with the measurements not influencing the primary production ..! To let knowledge workers do their thing, in mutual cooperation without interference by some busybody thinking (s)he knows better for no reason whatsoever.
Through which we note that the use of dashboards should not, must not, start with ‘Board’s or similar utterly superfluous governance levels. Governance is for governments. As it is ‘implemented’ in larger organizations, it doesn’t look like kindergarten kids playing Important for nothing. The use of dashboards should start from the bottom, and should include quite rigorous (but not merely by the numbers) pruning of both middle-level ‘managers’ (keep the good ones, i.e., not the ones that are only expert in hanging on! otherwise you spell death), and all sorts of groupie secondary and third-line staff.

Which will only work if you haven’t yet driven out all the knowledge workers by dumbing down their work into ‘processes’ and ‘procedures’ that are bereft of any productive (sic) rationale. And if you haven’t driven out all the actual managers and are left with the deadwood that is expert only in toeing the line or rather, sitting dead still in their place.

Now have a look back also on how you do information security. Wouldn’t the little bit of tuning you may need to do, be focused best on the very shop floor level that go into the ‘industrial’ process as inputs? You would only have to informationsecure anything that would not be controlled ‘automatically’, innate in the humans that handle the information (and data; we’ll discuss later). Leave infosec mostly with them, with support concentrated at an infosec department maybe, and have managers monitor it only to the extent necessary.

And, by extension, the same would go for risk management altogether. Wouldn’t this deliver a much more lean and mean org structure than the top-down approaches that lead to such massive counterproductive overhead as we see today? With the very first-line staff that would need all the freedom feasible to be productive (the managers and rest of the overhead, aren’t, very very maybe only indirectly but certainly not worth their current income levels!) then not having to prove their innocence… See Menno Lanting’s blog for details…
Org structures have become more diamond- than pyramid-shaped; which is plain wrong for effectiveness and efficiency…

So let’s cut the cr.p and manage the interfaces, vertically, and horizontally, noting the faces part; human. An art maybe, but better than the current nonsense…

Control industry

First, a picture for your viewing pleasure; you’ll need it:

[Baltimore inner harbour; rec area]

As a backlogged item, I was to give a little pointer to the design of control in (process-oriented!) industry, from which ‘we’ in the administrative world have taken some clues like sorcerer’s apprentices without due and proper translation and without taking the pitfalls of our botched translation job into account.

To start with, a little overview of the basics of how an industrial process (e.g., mixing paint, or medicine) is done, at the factory floor:

In which we see the main process as a (near- or complete) mathematical function of the input vector (i.e., multiple input categories) continuously (sic) resulting in the output vector which is supposed to come as close to a desired output as possible, continuously, on the parameters that matter. The parameters that matter, and the inputs, are measured by establishing values for parameters that we can actually measure, continuously (sic). With the inputs and outputs of course including secondary and tertiary ‘products’ like waste, heat, etc., and with all elements not being picture perfect but with varying variations off set values (the measuring devices and e.g. process hardware, also will have a fluctuating noise factor).
With the input vector being measured via the feedforward loop (control before anything might deviate) and the output vector being measured through the feedback loop (control by corrective actions, either tuning the process (recipe) or, more commonly, tuning the inputs). And the control function being the (near- or complete) mathematical derivative of the transformation function.
And all measurements being seen as signals; appropriately, as they concern continuous feeds of data.

That’s all, folks. There’s nothing more to it … Unless you consider the humongous number of inputs, outputs and fluctuations possible in all that can be measured – and not. In all elements, disturbances may occur, varying in time. So, you get the typical control room pictures from e.g., oil refineries and nuclear plants.
But there’s a bit more to it. On top of the control loop, secondary (‘tactical’, compared to the ‘operational’ level of which the simple picture speaks) control loop(s) may be stacked that e.g. may ‘decide’ which recipe to use for which desired output (think fuel grades at a refinery), and tertiary (‘strategic’ ..? Or would we reserve that for discrete whole new plants ..?). And there’s the gauges, meters and alarm lights in a dizzying array and display of the complexity of the main transformation function – the transformation function can be very complex! If pictured as a flow chart, it may easily have many tens if not hundreds of all sorts of (direct or time-delayed!) feedforward and feedback loops in itself. Now picture how the internals of that are displayed by measurement instruments…

Let’s put in another picture to freshen up your wiring a little:

[Baltimore, too; part of the business district]

Now then, we seem to have taken over the principles of these control designs into the administrative realm. Which may all be good, as it would be quite appropriate re-use of stuff that has proven to work quite soundly in the industrial process world with all its (physical, quality) risks.
But as latter-day newly trade trained practitioners, we seem to have not considered that there are some fundamental differences between the industrial process world and our bookkeeping world.

One striking difference is that the industrial process world governs continuous processes, with mostly linear (or understandable non-linear) transformation and control functions. Even in the industrial world, non-linearity but also non-continuous (i.e., discrete, in the mathematical sense) signals (sic) cause trouble, runaway processes and process deviations, etc.; these push the limits of the (continuous-, duh)control abilities.
Wouldn’t it be wise, then, if we had taken better care when making a weak shadow copy of the industrial control principles into the discrete administrative world …? Discrete, because even when masses of data points are available, they’re infinitely discrete as compared to continuous signals (that they sometimes were envisaged to represent)? Where was the cross-over from administering basic process / production data to administrating the derivative control measurements, and/or the switch from continous signals captured by sampling maybe (with reconstructability of the original signal being ensured by Shannon’s and other’s theories ..!!), to just discrete sampling without even an attempt to reconstruct(ability) of the original signals?

So we’re left with vastly un- or very sloppily controlled administrative ‘processes’, with major parts of ‘our’ processes being out of our scope of control (as is witnessed by the financial industry’s meltdown of 2007– ..!), non-linear, non-continuous, debilitatingly complex, erroneously governed/controlled (in fact, quod non) in haphazard fashion by all sorts of partial controller (groups) all with their own objectives, varying overwhelming lack of actual ‘process’ knowledge, etc.

Just sayin’. If you would have a usable (!) pointer to literature where the industrial control loop principles were carefully (sic) paradigm-transformed for use in administrative processes, I would be very grateful to hear from you.
And otherwise, I’d like to hear from you, too, for I fear it’ll be a silent time…

Maverisk / Étoiles du Nord