Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Using computers to provide audit trails

In response to Richard's posting "Independent Vision", here are a few thoughts:

1) Stafford Beer pointed out in about 1969 that people were misusing computers, because they were using them to drown themselves in information, instead of using them as intelligent variety reducers.

2) When Beer was called into Chile by Fernando Flores in 1972 to help manage the economy under Allende's regime, they managed to implement a rudimentary system called CyberSyn, which applied the principles of the Viable System Model. Although this used nothing more than a mainframe in Santiago and telegraph systems to wire up other parts of the country to it, it worked well enough to enable the regime to survive attempts to bring the country to a standstill by strike action in the transportation industry. It is now known that this strike action was co-ordinated with the covert assistance of the CIA.

3) Cybersyn used Bayesian statistical theory to monitor work activity and identify patterns which suggested that something was about to go wrong. It only raised alerts which were passed on to the next level of authority when the analysis indicated that the local level was losing control of the situation. As long as activity at any level was within previously agreed limits, the next level authority upwards was not allowed to poke their nose into local affairs.

Beer covers these ideas in "Designing Freedom" and "Brain of the Firm".

4) Fernando Flores obviously had plenty of time for reflection on his experiences while he was in three years of solitary confinement under the Pinochet regime, before Amnesty International managed to rescue him from "disappearing". His subsequent invention of the idea of using computers to manage workflow clearly derives from his experience working with Beer under Allende.

5) Basically, Flores uses the idea that work activities constitute a network of commitments, and that computers ought to be used to assist people to see whether they are succeeding in fulfilling their commitments.

6) Bill's thinking about "task-focussed workstations" follows the same principles as those suggested by Flores. The idea is to create an information framework which is built around the realities of a real-world task, rather than building ICT systems which are based on some abstract theory about how an organisation works.

7) If this is done properly, all the information needed to provide the accountability required by higher level management can be obtained as a side-effect of work taking place. There is therefore no requirement for the kind of absurd bureaucratic overhead which makes life a misery for so many workers these days.

8) If ICT infrastructure is built in this manner, all the necessary audit trail required to demonstrate compliance with SOX 404 is available with no additional effort.

9) Our team has already got most of the tools necessary to achieve these objectives. The missing elements are just "pieces and parts" which can be commisioned to get a specific job done.

Does this make sense to you? If not, please ask questions!