On a Mission ?


In my LinkedIn profile I mention under “Experience” for the period 2002 to 2016 :

“On a mission to take out the work to transform data, of which the steel industry has plenty, into information that will allow decision makers to come to informed decisions. This includes fighting a losing battle against those who think it’s OK to use Excel spreadsheets (of whatever flavour) for business reporting. Also on a mission to fight corporate amnesia by storing useful information in the Strip UK Wiki.”

Although this might create a vision of a knight in shining white armour in some people’s head, the reality is rather more mundane. It meant that I basically wrote my own job description and decided which jobs were worth taking on. I may have had a generic job description as a member of the PEGS, Technology or Operational Research team, but that had precious little to do with my actual day-to-day activities.

So on what grounds did I decide whether a job was worthwhile ? First of all, the request had to come from someone who I had decided was trustworthy not to waste my time with frivolous requests, e.g. a request for an entry system that is never used. Obviously, any first-time user would be given the benefit of the doubt, but if I noticed that you made me do work that was in essence wasted, you would go down a peg on my list of things to do.

Secondly, since there were always more requests than I could possibly handle, I would have to rank them into a list of importance for the business, whilst at the same time making sure that smaller jobs that could be done in a few hours didn’t have to wait forever until the bigger jobs had got out of the way – the latter could otherwise well never happen.

But most of all I was attracted to jobs that would free up people’s time from manually collecting data and creating Excel-based reports. To me there’s no greater horror than seeing someone spend two days a week on producing a weekly report to fulfill a request for information from higher up. To me that’s a waste of 40% of a person’s working life, time that could be spent more fruitfully by doing something about a problem rather than finding out exactly what the problem is, or whether there really is a problem.

The best sort of job is when you have a fruitful relationship with someone who may not understand the ins and outs of IT, but who realises the potential of using web-based systems, not only to free up people’s time, but to achieve things that paper- or spreadsheet-based information systems can never achieve without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

The traffic light systems that set me off on this labour of love was only the start of such a system, but it gave the flavour of the type of job I decided was worthwhile pursuing for the rest of my career. But that’s the subject for a future blog.

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