break it down

it took me almost 2 hrs to get into work recently. “so what!” you long distance commuters might exclaim without a trace of sympathy. however, usually my pleasant drive to work can be executed in less than 15 minutes. so that’s an 800% degradation in the efficiency of my morning commute. and given it made me very late for an important meeting with a client, had an adverse effect on my stress levels and a knock-on effect on the rest of the entire day, making me subsequently late for most other appointments spreading, sharing this inefficiency with everyone else my day brought me into contact with. big deal. why the rant many days later? was the main reason for this inordinate delay to my journey due to certain bottle-necks in the route i take from the maybush area of southampton to ibm hursley? perhaps. or was the actual main cause on this particular day the dreadfully inclement weather? – the heavy rain pummelling the roads and severely reducing visibility? possibly.

but i’d like to argue for another root cause. a different ultimate reason to the road chaos. it might seem too obvious to be profound but here goes: the rush hour. the simple fact that in that short window of time, everyone had simultaneously brought their cars onto the road to fight to get to work. stand back for a moment and think about it. we synchronize our daily commutes for maximum disruption. we batch up all the day’s traffic to try and execute it all in the same small slice of time. is there a solution? my usual habit is to begin my working day early, checking email, planning the calendar, determining whether i’ll be more effective getting things done at my desk in hursley or at my home office. as a result, when i do commute into the office my day- and journey – starts a little later than most. this does mean i park further away from my desk than i otherwise might, but on the other hand my commute is stressless and traffic-free and above all efficient. in short, i’ve learned how to un-batch myself from the rest of the traffic and improve my efficiency.

can IT learn a lesson here? does it needlessly batch data processing, unnecessarily synchronising network traffic and processing? yes. i see it all the time. in every size of company, every industry, every geo, every stage of IT sophistication. batch transfers. overnight updates. regular, daily tasks. all coordinated simultaneously so that one little hiccup causes gridlocked chaos. one large financial company operates this way even today, batching up its over night updates to transfer from each region to head-office. it has a window of, say, 6 hours to transport all these batch updates so that come the morning all the head-office systems are synchronized and up-to-date. the batch takes 4. a hiccup (on the network for example) that can’t be detected and resolved less than 2 hrs into the batch transfer is not going to finish in time and will cause major headaches when the next day begins. [incidentally, the process for detecting a problem in this case involves an application whose algorithm for sensing a fault is dubious and inconclusive and that is intended to alert the night security personnel(!) hardly a bullet-proof solution].

but the main issue i want to focus on here isn’t the reliability – it’s the scheduling. businesses need to get away from the batch mindset. it’s synchronising things for maximum fragility and minimum efficiency. “overnight” doesn’t exist in most industries anymore. doing things in little batches – micro batches if you will – rather than in one big job, must be the way to go. spread the tasks across the day and night. stream updates continuously. turn the tidal wave into a swell. the flood into the flow. the tsumani into the constant trickle. take that big batch job – and in the words of MC Hammer – “break it down”.

infact, even this blog entry is another example of micro-batches yielding greater efficiencies. if i’d sat down to write this in one go, i would have had to carve out a lump of interruption free time. but i’ve discovered that never happens. instead i write my entries in micro-batches. a few lines at a time. so this entry really made no major hole in my week, just snatches and snippets here and there. just a thought, if you’re struggling to find enough time to craft entries, just as i did when i began to blog from my desk in hursley.


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