Critical Thinking and Process Design

In a nutshell, critical thinking the the unbiased analysis of facts, in order to form a judgement, make a decision, develop a strategy, and implement an action plan. In business, it is critical that fact based decisions form the foundation of a strategy and plan to move the organization forward.

Many businesses have operational processes in place that were formed serendipitously in response to a need for action. The steps taken worked, and as a result became the way things get done. While this might work as a temporary solution, the goal should be process by design, in particular when considering process automation.

This is where critical thinking comes into play. As presented in an article posted in indeed, titled “5 Critical Thinking Skills to Use at Work (And How to Improve Them)”, there are five key elements to critical thinking that also align with process improvement methods. In process improvement one might consider these:

  • Identify a problem or opportunity with the business process
  • Identify why the problem exists or the opportunity for improvement
  • Collect information or data on the issue through research and process mapping
  • Organize and analyze the data and findings
  • Identify ways to improve and automate the process

In My View

There are many business processes still conducted manually or in less than optimal digital workflows. Critical thinking enables an organization to step back, and look at the process with a more holistic view, and in an unbiased way; the result being the provision of fact based options for the improvement and automation of business processes that target specific and measurable goals. This then provides a foundation for continuous improvement initiatives to refine and build upon the designed processes put in place.

The most difficult part of critical thinking is the removal of personal bias, and emotions that will influence the analysis and end result. If you feel this cannot be achieved internally, consult with external resources having no connection to your organization. If you feel that this is something you can achieve internally, begin using it today, and develop a culture that embraces change and fact based design.

In-person – Remotely

I know, you are thinking, how can I be someplace in=person, remotely. I will admit to the physical impossibility at this time, but what if you had the ability to perform complex manual tasks using your hands, from a remote location? What if you could feel the objects you are manipulating and even tell how much pressure you are applying, the same as if you were there, in-person? If tactile/haptic feedback using remote robotic devices enabled you to do exactly what I described, how would that change the way you work?

I was first made aware of the theoretical model in the 1980s and feel that the applications for this technology in healthcare, the nuclear industry, and other business sectors can provide significant benefit. The question for me was never if it could be done, but when. The reason for when technically, was not a matter of getting humans to manipulate robotics, but one of bandwidth required to effectively manipulate those robotics from aa remote location.

This morning I was reading about a company doing exactly this, it is the Shadow Robot Company. The basic concept is the use of a robotic system placed in the target location, and the operator placed in a remote location where digital gloves are worn and used to manipulate the robot hands. In the nuclear and biochemical sectors, this approach allows hazardous materials to be handled safely, without exposing the technician.

In My View

The use of tele-robotics opens up a plethora of opportunities for businesses dealing in hazardous materials, greater access to specialized skills like those found in healthcare, and areas where humans might be placed at risk. The next step might be one of increased mobility where the capabilities offered by Shadow Robotics Company might be combined with the mobility capabilities of the robots created by Boston Dynamics, allowing remote manipulation to be brought to a location without direct human intervention.

Imagine being able to address dealing with a hazardous environment by sending in a tactile/haptic feedback enabled robot rather than a human. The possibilities become limited only by a myopic view of what the future could hold.

Plan For The Future

I read an article this morning titled “The Kessler Syndrome“, and it prompted me to think about how we humans will often charge forward to achieve a goal with little thought of the long term impact. Simply stated, the Kessler Syndrome theory presented in 1978 describes a theoretical scenario where there are too many satellites and other low Earth orbit (LEO) artifacts circling the planet. This creates the potential for a catastrophic cascading effect should a collision occur.

At present, there are no strong, internationally agreed upon, Laws governing the number of devices, how they are placed, where they are placed, and how to dispose of those no longer functioning or of value. In other words, any government and now commercial enterprise, has the ability to launch and place thousands of LEO’s in orbit around the Earth. This of course increases the possibility the Kessler Syndrome could become a reality.

Sadly, I have seen this in business as well, Technology is seen as the solution to a problem, and without considering the impact, department heads authorize the purchase of new software, hardware, or services without thought of what exists, and the impact it could have in the future. As a result, there are multiple, similar, products and services in use across the enterprise.

When the enterprise is so overcrowded with business solutions that they begin to negatively impact the end user thorough a lack of integration, siloed storage, and constant duplication of information causing business processes to crawl. In the past, the approach has been to consolidate yet even when consolidating on a defined platform, the information poured int it is rarely sorted, structured, or disposed of, causing a chaotic situation within a single environment.

In My View

Businesses tend to do as humans have done in space, we keep adding while seldom subtracting. We tend to toss more technology into the workplace as a fix to a situation, without looking at the bigger picture and planning ahead for the future. As data is imported from the various systems to a single platform, there is little to no oversight on what is relevant and of value, what should be discarded, and how the information will be managed and structured for find-ability.

To some this may sound like a decades old statement, to others it will resonate and align to the situation they currently face. The point is, technology has advanced but human thinking has not changed a whole lot. Many businesses focus on the now and give little thought of the tomorrows, setting the stage for their own versions of the Kessler Syndrome, with the potential for a chaotic collision of systems and information.

In the Year 2021

2020 has brought about many changes in both our personal and business lives. The impact due to COVID-19, forced businesses to reactively restructure their operational processes, extend their information ecosystems, and realign their workforces to be mostly remote.

As time pressed on, these business came to realize that having and supporting a remote workforce is an accomplishable reality. In fact there are many now implementing or at least considering maintaining a permanent remote workforce model once the COVID-19 threat is under control and a return-to-office model is considered safe for the employees.

In My View

I believe that 2021 will bring about a continued increase in the remote workforce, as businesses strengthen and enhance their infrastructures and technology capabilities. As a result, we will see the need for tighter security and encryption tools, improved connectivity by internet service providers, more stability in video conferencing technology, increased flexibility and capability in mobile devices, and a renewed emphasis on improving and automating internally and externally facing business processes.

We will also likely see businesses moving to reduce their operating costs by eliminating or significantly reducing their physical offices, which in turn reduces overall operating costs for the facility, utilities, and other associated costs related to occupying and maintaining a physical office environment.

This is a time to learn, plan, and design a business model that is tuned for maximum performance, agility, and stability. It is time to put aside traditional thinking and look ahead and embrace the new way-of-working. It is time to take stock of what you have, where you want to go, and build the infrastructure and processes to get you there. 2021 is only the beginning.

See Your Customer. Be Your Customer.

I hear a lot about the “Customer Experience” and how businesses are trying to improve and enhance the customer experience using various technologies, changing practices, and in general, trying to utilize every tool available to ensure high customer satisfaction levels and retention. The one thing I think is missing from many of these initiatives, is the customer.

Companies think they know their customers using a variety of data points, and profiles, but have they actually watched their customers interact with these tools they are implementing? Here is a test for you. Take someone in your organization not associated with your projects – a VP perhaps – and watch how they interact with what you think is a improvement to the customer experience. Let them, and I encourage you to do the same, be your customer.

Look at your world from the customers’ eyes. Is the interface user friendly? Is it really mobile friendly or just accessible using a mobile device? When you call in to talk with someone, how many steps does it take to actually reach a person, and how much time have you wasted trying to reach that person? Does your customer actually have digital access to interact with you? There are many folks who do not have internet access or even devices to digitally interact with your business, as we are witnessing with the problems in education and online learning. How do you address their needs or do you even care?

In My View

In order to improve and enhance the customer experience, you have to be a customer yourself. Designing, developing, and implementing technology with an ivory tower view, will not work well and may even backfire on you.

Take time to be a customer and look at your business from various angles that include both having and not having access to the internet. Try calling in to your sales and service departments to learn and understand what your customer experiences. This same approach can be used for the finance department and every department that interacts with internal and/or external customers.

If you want to provide a great customer experience the best approach is to see your customer in action, and be your customer to experience what they experience. The results may surprise you.

Knock, Knock – Who’s There?

We all know a knock, knock joke of some type and we often respond to someone knocking at our door with who’s there or who is it. My question is this, do you really know who is entering your facility or website, where they are going, what they are doing, and how long they stayed?

This is where visitor management comes in to play, and becomes an important part of your overall security plan and valuable data in relation to designing and implementing strong security practices. Additionally, it may also help you better understand your visitors in ways allowing you to develop profiles for future marketing efforts.

Visitor Management Systems (VMS) are designed to let you know who your visitor is, streamline access to your facilities and/or sites, and provide documentation of their whereabouts. In the physical world, this provides you a record of where the visitor went, what they tried to access, and if they were trying to enter a prohibited area. In the digital works when a visitor enters your site, it provides similar documentation and can send alerts of attempts to access unauthorized information.

In My View

My point is, people come and go which is a good thing, but we need to know who they are, where they are going, and if possible, why they are there. When developing information governance programs, and practices, visitor management should be part of your discussion. Security, defensibility and more accurate profiling can be the result of a focused effort in this area.

Information: Hiding in Plain Sight

Imagine you are being audited or are under a discovery order to present all materials pertaining to a lawsuit. You have well planned, maintained, and monitored Information Governance (IG) policies and practices, including those related to litigation hold, and presentment.

As a result, you confidently search across the enterprise, locating what you believe is every shred of information requested. There is no place in your information ecosystem where information resides and you are unaware of its existence. Or is there?

The question I would now ask, is did you search the hard drives located in your copy machines and potentially, some of your printers? That is right, there is a hard drive in most of today’s copy machines and some high end printers, where information is held and stored. Not only can they They can store copies of documents, they also have usage logs that hackers can get to, as can anyone servicing the devices.

The question you have to ask is this: “Are my copiers equipped with hard drives and use logs capabilities, and if so, how do I manage these in a way that my organization is not placed at risk and will maintain compliance requirements?”

In My View

Look at the specification sheet for your devices and locate the reference about hard drives in that devices. If you do not find one, there is a chance the device does not have a hard drive. Likewise, you will want to learn the processes to erase informatoin stored on that hard drive or how to access it in times of litigation and audit. This includes not only the documents stored there, but also the use logs.

When it comes time to change out a copier or printer with a hard drive, you will want to erase, remove, and/or destroy the hard drive before turning it over to the supplier. This may require assistance from the service tech, but you will want to ensure that all information – as some may be sensitive or confidential – is not vulnerable to being accessed by unauthorized persons.

Connecting Our Brains: Should We?

So here I am reading this article on Massive Science titled: “Scientists sent thoughts from brain to brain with nothing in between“. I know, I am teeing all of you up to provide jokes like “last time my Dr. did a brain scan, he told me there was nothing as well.” Barump-ching!

Now that that is out of the way, let’s get back to the real topic at hand. The idea of connecting our brains telepathically has been around for decades, typically as part of a science fiction novel, movie, or whatever form you wish to choose. The point is, this is not a new concept.

What is new, as this article points out, is that we recently seen advances in technological interfaces between brain and machine, and now that has led us to brain-to-brain interfaces allowing direct brain-to-brain interaction between humans using electroencephalography (EEG) caps, to measure brain activity via electrical signals. I will leave this here and encourage you to read the full article. It is quite fascinating and enlightening.

As the article points out toward the end, there are some ethical aspects of this to consider with all of this as well, not to mention information security, privacy, and many more elements that impact information governance and management.

From the ethical perspective, the question one might ask is even though this may be possible, and someday become a commonplace reality, should we pursue it? What pandora’s box do we open when thought transfer, transmitted peer influence, and access to personal information residing in a person’s biological memory becomes a reality? Does society evolve into what Star Trek referred as a “hive mind” as presented with the Borg?

In My View

It is no secret that I resonate to technological advances and the possibilities that lie ahead as a result of developing those conceptual technologies into realities. It is a passion and joy to witness how far we human have come and the potential to move the needle so much farther.

It is also a passion of mine to look at technology from many different angles, identifying opportunities for said technologies to benefit and harm humankind, and challenge the ethical or moral use of these evolving technologies.

In this case I can see opportunity for this technology to give voice where no voice can be heard, using telepathic transmission as the communication vehicle. I can also see misuse of this capability in being able to control its use for the good of humankind as opposed to the use for manipulation of society, mind control, and ultimately, turning our society into a population of sheep following a single will, versus independent thinkers willing to take the risks, dream of the impossible and turn that impossibility into reality.

Autonomous Vehicles and the Human Factor

I had the good fortune to ride in a Tesla Model 3. This was a rental my daughter had provided as a birthday gift for her life partner, who had said he would like to experience it.

What an amazing vehicle! It was like witting in the new space craft. No dashboard dials, gauges, speedometers, etc. Just a simple touchscreen in the middle. (I am not trying to make this a Tesla commercial, but it is the only one I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. ) Here comes the really amazing part, the autonomous operation of this vehicle.

When we were ready to roll, we got in and were shown various features including no-hands driving or autopilot. The car senses where the lane is, what is around it, and based on GPS, location, speed, traffic signals, and so much more that when we drive, we take for granted. The vehicle will even change lanes without human intervention. Simply use the turn signal to indicate where you want to go, and the vehicle takes over, moving to the new lane when safe to do so.

Parallel parking? No problem. Parking in a typical parking lot space? No problem. Someone parked too close to you and you cannot access the door? Just use your phone to let the car know you want to get in and it will roll itself out of the space for you. It will even come to you when summoned. I saw this as when my daughter was ready to leave, they walked down the street, summoned the car, and there it went to meet them and pick them up.

In My View

I know this article sounds like a plug for Tesla, and again, it is only because this is the only autonomous vehicle I have personally interacted with. Many of you are probably saying that other cars can do similar things and have some similar features. You are right. The point of this article is to heighten the awareness that these vehicles are out there, today, and we are interacting with them though we may not know it.

Now comes the wrinkle – Humans. The technology I described is truly amazing and rapidly being injected into our daily lives as more of these vehicles are sold. You could be driving down the road and never realize the car next to you is driving itself. What would you do if you were standing outside a building and saw a driverless car coming toward you to pick the owner, who is standing next to you? What would your reaction be?

Likewise, what would your reaction be if you were in fact in the car, using autopilot, and several motorcycles, cars, or whatever type of vehicle you choose, comes up from behind at a high rate of speed, weaves in front of you, and the back again? Could you just sit there and let the car deal with it, or would you instinctively grab the wheel and try to take control?

Autonomous vehicles are here and their presence is growing at a rapid pace. (I have to say, I look forward to a day when I too join the autonomous vehicle club.) It is the human factor that now becomes the greatest challenge in adoption and safety. We are in a Jetsonian phase of our existence here on Earth. Autonomous, electric vehicle are here and the way of the future, especially if we are to inhabit other planets. Are you ready for today? Are you prepared for what is ahead tomorrow?

So Much Change; Yet The Gap Remains

For decades now, I have stated that in order for businesses to move forward in automating business processes, transition to digital information ecosystems, and change the user mindset – business and IT must join forces and work as a team. Yet in a recently released AIIM report titled “The Ultimate Guide to Improving Your Business Processes“, the biggest frustration cited is a “lack of business and IT understanding each other”.

When it comes to digital transformation, it is imperative that the business and IT groups function as a team. Businesses should provide clear – or as clear as possible – business and functional requirements about the tasks and processes they use and require to transact business. IT should document those functional requirements and work to transform them into technology requirements that will meet the needs of the business. (Hmmm, isn’t this what a Business Analyst would do?)

In My View

In today’s business world there is no time or room to be confrontational. COVID-19 and other external forces have dictated the need for change and are driving Digital Transformation for many, as a result of the need to support a remote workforce when there previously wasn’t one, and the realization that a remote workforce is in fact, highly doable.

Business and IT must set the tone in building a cross-functional team that can work as one in moving the organization forward. Lack of business and IT “understanding” each other is not acceptable, and should not impair the inevitable change that must happen in order for businesses to survive and prosper. As they say on the Underground in London, “Mind the Gap”, and make the crossover through your Digital Transformation efforts safely.