In Ontario, there has been a push for education to become more “monetizeable.” The education that people receive should better reflect the needs of the market. This is actually a challenging proposition – even if people are entirely in agreement – given the elusive nature of the market. I am a big market proponent myself. This has led me to question where or not my undergraduate degree has any commercial value at all. I have a degree in environmental studies. My thesis was on the effectiveness of public participation in local planning and development. I admit that I completed this paper a number of decades ago, and its exact market relevance has eluded me. However, in some recent comments I added to my morning analysis on operations and performance, I reached an interesting realization.
The topic of automation has been an issue for some time among data scientists. It should come as no surprise therefore for people to conclude that my own duties can be automated. Indeed, I have spent many years begging for some aspects of my work to become automated since I have a great deal to do. Before going further down that line of thought, I will return for a moment to my paper on public participation. I restated the topic as follows: my paper was on “the institutional response to client services.” I need to explain or at least rationalize the metamorphosis. It is quite easy to dismiss the need for public participation in local planning and development. It is more difficult to devalue how institutions respond to client services. Institutions by the way include corporations and therefore the systems of social interaction in these organizations. However, just so there isn’t any misunderstanding, I made an elaboration in the title.
Automation’s conceptual counterpart is agility. This is not to say that companies become more agile if they are made automated. I mean just the exact opposite. Full automation means insulation from the market up to the point of total and permanent asset impairment. Automation is also an institutional response to client services. By this I mean that although the needs of the market might change, a system that is fully automated cannot change with the market. The system would have to be redesigned. Redesign, is this an easy thing? Agility makes it possible for a company to rapidly remake itself usually in small continuous steps. Agility is powered by fast-flowing day-to-day data combined with an organizational sensitivity to this data. On the absence of agility, the data will not be at hand; and the sensitivity will not be in place. Further, the type of changes needed would likely be massive and elaborate. In some cases, I suspect it would be easier to close down operations and start fresh elsewhere.
I am suggesting that my undergraduate thesis is connected to the institutional implementation of automated systems in environments requiring client services. But how can an “institutional system” relate to “public participation?” Actually, my undergraduate thesis dealt specifically with the system in place intended to ensure that the public participated – being mandated by the planning process itself. It is not unusual for service providers to express an interest in the opinions and experiences of service recipients. This involves a second tier of automation that I will discuss in a moment. The first tier of automation relates to how services are provided – initially through the use of people and more recently using machines and automated systems. Once the first tier of automation is in place, it becomes difficult although not impossible to make changes.
“That seemed like a good idea at the time. However, we have been losing clients since the new system was introduced.” A human environment can be changed about as quickly as a team meeting. On the other hand, an automated environment requires extensive work to redesign. It might be necessary to parachute experts, talk to all sorts of vendors, and have what might seem like endless meetings trying to make sense of the problem. The data won’t be there to support decision-making processes. Everything will be pie-in-the-sky. “What the UFO if happening here!” sort of thing. After the redesign is implemented, in all likelihood things will still not be operating quite right. In the background, the organization’s clients are taking their business elsewhere. The competition is gaining market share. In short, loss of agility has a price.
The second tier of automation involves insulating the organization from reality in a structural sense by automating its analytics. This is the idea that analytics once hard-coded no longer needs analysts. Related to this preconception is the suggestion that analytics is primarily about providing reports. “The clients are here. But we are moving the analytics thousands of miles away where we have expert coders to handling all the reporting.” The assertion here is that the market never changes. To some extent, data scientists themselves are responsible for promoting this perspective by overemphasizing the statistical nature of analysis. I cannot dispute the fact that computers can indeed perform statistics better than humans. I am not surprised that statisticians have terrible marketing skills and work to make themselves unemployed. If a computer can do a job better, one does not make that job their occupation.
The perspective to consider in relation to the second tier of automation is the granular and dynamic nature of agility. Agility is not about reporting per se but rather transformation. It is about being precise and specific about market and operational changes and developments (externally defined) in order to enable strategic changes (internally defined). “At 3 PM, a problem occurred with this person, at this place, performing this specific function, leading to these particular negative outcomes.” However, this is not just a granular assertion; it is also dynamic. The market is moving. The problem was 3 PM yesterday. It might be 1 PM tomorrow. It might involve this function today and a different function the next day. Here are some trends, patterns, and possible explanations. The question then is whether it is cost-effective to hard-code for past problems given the emergent nature of business.
I am actually not opposed to automation. I believe that automation should take away mundane and repetitive work from me and indeed other people. It should certainly not make life more difficult. What might not be obvious is how greater levels of automation require investments in enhanced agility – as a balance. When an institutional response doesn’t work or is contributing to a loss in business, it is necessary first of all to be able to detect and pinpoint the source of the loss; but then the organization needs to determine how to recover from the problem. However, I think for many companies, there is this idea that automation reduces or even eliminates the need for analysis. I want to suggest that automation primarily serves to increase production capacity. It has nothing to do with business intelligence per se – except of course to increase intelligence capacity.
I also want to portray the move towards automation as a socially constructed ideal rather than an extension of business science. When Ford optimized his factory systems to produce the Model T, he must have been shocked when people stopped buying the Model T. His enormous investment in optimization became fully impaired. It is an ideal not a science that the market must conform to the designs of the organization. This is the exact opposite of reality. In fact, the market must conform to the designs of the market – or face permanent displacement. I am thinking that my undergraduate thesis on public participation in local planning and development is proving to be relatively monetizeable albeit decades later.
Now, I have fought the urge to post pictures of pets and houseplants on this forum intended for data scientists. But I have a picture to share. I found this fine desk in the garbage area last Friday. Check out the quality. By the way, that is my 10-year-old notepad running Windows Vista on top. I do almost all of my programming on that dinosaur computer. I would like to thank the powers that be for giving me this splendid desk. I know it is a super-longshot, but if anyone living in my apartment possibly reading this blog can provide me a nice chair and new computer to go along with the desk, that would be amazing. In my previous blog, I wrote about my interest in criminal psychology and behaviour since I am doing some online courses. I have actually come up with an even tighter focus: the application of social disablement to criminal profiling through the study of the psychopathology associated with spectrums of disassociative identity disorder. It is an interesting topic. I home into it whenever I hear about a murder case. Long story short, it is research worthy of people’s charitable contributions.