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Stakeholders and Brexit

One of our theories is that the people who develop expertise fastest in a certain situation are the people  with a “stake” in it.

As an extreme example – if you are in a physical fight with someone, you can potentially be in a lot of pain, so you learn very fast.

As a more day to day example, someone actually running a business, or bringing up a child, will generally have a better idea about how it works than (say)  a consultant or their mother in law. That isn’t to say a consultant or a mother in law will have nothing to offer, but they can’t (except in rare circumstances) have such a detailed understanding of the task in hand.

By ‘understanding how something works’ we mean understanding its cause and effect. Do I usually get the result I want by doing this? Or does it make it worse?

Now with the UK’s recent Brexit referendum, it is interesting to note that three of the main cheerleaders for Brexit are former newspaper writers – Dan Hannan, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. They may had stakeholder roles after doing that (as a a senior UK politician for Michael Gove, and as mayor of London for Boris Johnson), but their formative thinking and professional development was as writers.

If someone is just being paid to write, then they are not directly a stakeholder in anything, except as a public citizen, and in keeping their job – which requires understanding how to keep their editors and proprietors happy, which is presumably about maintaining readers’ attention or keeping the same political line their bosses approve of.

So this leads to the question: when promoting Brexit, were these former writers thinking, perhaps subconsiously, that it would be a good way to get an audience, and align themselves with newspaper bosses, such as the anti-EU Rupert Murdoch?

Or were they thinking more about the cause and effect on the UK – if they would achieve their desired effect (presumably improving the quality of life of UK citizens) through this cause (leaving the EU)? Did they even understand how this cause and effect works?

Perhaps the lesson in future would be, for such issues, to follow leaders who do actually have an idea about what kind of forces are more likely to improve quality of life for UK citizens, because they have thought deeply about this and made decisions which affected quality of life for UK citizens and saw the outcome? There aren’t many such people, nearly all former senior politicians. And we saw what view nearly all the UK’s former senior politicians, with the exception of Nigel Lawson, took.

Note also Michael Gove’s statement that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” Is this – perhaps subconsiously – an acknowledgement that if the public listened to its experts they would reach a different conclusion?


How SFDE could have helped avoid Brexit

Hi there are many angles showing how Software for Domain Experts could have contributed to avoiding Brexit:
1) There are many comments that people running the EU are ‘out of touch’. So they need better situation awareness. Can well modelled software help here? Probably
1b) Software could be used by government to model a much broader range of activities – “macro modelling” – putting together large amounts of real time data to get a much clearer picture
2) There are comments that the Brexit vote was a protest vote by people fed up with only casual, badly paid work on offer. Companies only offer casual work because their cashflows are unreliable. Could better software help them make more reliable cashflows? (This assumes they would offer reliable work if they were able to, and this isn’t an issue of employers exploiting people because they can). Also, if individuals get more opportunity to develop expertise, they can improve their earning power and have a more distinctive market offering (so cannot be laid off so easily). Can software help people develop this expertise?
3) The less people in a borough who are university educated, the more likely they are to vote for Brexit. As well as the above issues (less well educated people are less employable), it also implies a lack of respect for expertise (of all the experts who run the EU and told them staying in was a good idea). If more people had an opportunity to develop expertise this probably wouldn’t happen?
4) Is the over-use of ‘process management software’ – which reduces a person’s role to robot and devalues them – a factor here?
50 years ago, just about everyone was an expert of some kind, many of them running their own shops, making jewellery, fixing bicycles and shoes etc. Now hardly anyone is, and if they are they don’t talk about it. Yet society has as much need for experts as any other time. Do we need to change the way expertise is perceived?
5) If everyone was using good decentralised software to make better decisions, would the notion of a ‘country’ be far less important?

you need a domain expert to understand a situation.

A major theme of Software for Domain Experts is that you need a domain expert to understand a situation.

That is perhaps a definition of an expert – someone who understands a situation, the cause and effect (what leads to what) and how to influence the cause to get the effect you want.

Gaining expertise is something anybody can do – and most of us do become experts at something. Not many things, because the effort and mental energy required to understand a domain is enormous.

Going along with this is the idea that expertise needs to be valued – those of us who use the services of experts need to be willing to make sure that the right expert is in the right position.

A  glorious subtext here is that an expert doesn’t need to dress themselves up in grand titles or overcome any prejudice to be recognised – if society needs an expert, the expert can be from any group, any age, any sex, any disability doesn’t matter (except certain mental disabilities which mean you can’t understand a situation..!)

In the past, we would have done this without thinking – if you want shoes mended you find the person who knows how to mend shoes, whose father knew how to mend shoes, and passed generations of knowledge onto him (or her). It doesn’t happen like that today, but it probably should.

How does software best support governance?

Here’s an interesting question – what kind of software can best support the individuals who have to make governance decisions – ie our politicians, council leaders?

How do you set about answering such a question?

There are a lot of reports studied about all kinds of issues of policy. Senior politicians probably don’t get time to read them much. They need to be written well – not biased, offering useful conclusions, presented in a concise manner.

There are probably useful ‘indicators’ for our leaders, although perhaps they don’t need to be checked more than once a day or once a month. Unemployment / job creation, balance of payments, poll readings, this sort of thing.

Perhaps most of all, our leaders need skills in understanding situations. Our schools don’t teach this formally. Yet many of us manage to learn how to do it, through situations at school not linked to formal teaching and anything else in life.

Perhaps what senior politicians need to be able to do most of all is spot an expert – and put people in the various roles who do know how to use expertise – and perhaps the best way to get there, is to have been an expert yourself.


Business process management and SFDE

Business process management is a mature subject – many clever people have thought about it, developed consultancies around it, written books on it, implemented ‘business process management’ projects.

But the software for BPM – as far as we have seen – is usually pretty rigid.

Most BPM software projects  are built around a relational database – with logic added on top of that. They try to understand the world by connecting relational databases together.

Or to put it more precisely – the relational databases create a model of how an element of business could work, and the people have to fit with that. So we have our realms of customers, products, purchase orders and invoices, all in interlocking relational databases.

We’d like to suggest a way to take BPM software a few steps forward, and take the relational databases out of the equation. You can have a database but it doesn’t need to be a central part of the software.

The central part of the software can be the “logic” – what leads to what.

Traditional BPM software can be used by people in companies who have very structured work – for example the receptionist in a hotel, the maintenance planner working to a schedule, the airline checkin agent, it is a pretty short list really.

But everyone else in a company has a “business process” which means using their expertise and understanding of a situation to make good decisions – people in investment, marketing, recruitment, valuations, to name a few.

A different approach to software needs to be developed for their business processes.

This is what we try to do here.

Transport for London’s bus website

Transport for London has just stopped providing its simple bus mobile app which told you when the bus is about to come – and forced everyone to try to work with a much more complex one.

In the words of one commenter on an online website run by Transport for London, the new website “needs 6 stylesheets for the main page (2200 lines of HTML code), 21 external javascripts (some fairly hefty), 18 images and 3 fonts (?!). I stopped counting there because there are also numerous frames with their own javascript, images etc…”

“The old page that loaded in no time has 100 lines of HTML code, 3 external javascripts and two lightweight images built for mobiles” – he wrote. See the discussion here.

What is going on? I can understand why in some sectors of the software industry there is a bias for complexity – it is perhaps much easier to sell complex software than simple software. There are some examples of people who managed to sell simple software and electronic products – the iPod comes to mind – but not so many.

Transport for London is not selling software itself, perhaps it is employing an expensive external software company which wants to build something fancy to justify a large bill?

Or perhaps this is just that software programmers feel that they are somehow ‘doing more’ if they build something fancy and complex – rather than something which does the job as perfectly as possible?



We don’t know anything much

It is conventional for people writing blogs or books, or asking for people to listen to them, to try to make out how much they know.

I know this, I’ve learned this, so listen to me. It makes sense, who would want to listen to someone who doesn’t know very much.

But that goes a bit against the culture we are trying to develop here.

We say – the world revolves (or should revolve) around people who understand specific domains, who spend their lives trying to understand them better. If you need someone who understands the domain, you find this person.

As the author of this blog, I can say I understand very few domains well. Piano playing in a certain style. How to run a certain sort of micro media company. The oil and gas industry a little. And this approach we call ‘Software for Domain Experts’ – where we touch on many domains we know very little about.

is that a quandary – how do we get people to read a blog when we can’t convince anyone we know much about what we’re talking about?

Or is this refreshing?

The link between populism and software for domain experts

The big theme of politics in the EU and US at the moment is populism – which basically means, we don’t trust the people who lead us – and we’re looking for a leader which seems to think more like we do – and we’re feeling pretty defensive and angry. So we vote for Donald Trump or to turn our back on the EU.

Why don’t we trust the people who govern us? Because we don’t think our society works. People can’t find jobs, people have less money than they used to, elements of our society seem less reliable than we would like – including whether our children will be able to find jobs.

These are precisely the kind of problems which Software for Domain Experts attacks. We provide a toolkit to show how software can be built which helps the relevant experts to make better decisions, have a better understanding of the world around them, and continually learn.


Introducing ‘seafarer thinking’

Here’s our idea to describe to people in the software world what experts – or people who have to work or ‘use’ the software – would ideally think like – like a seafarer.

The same today or thousands of years ago, above all the seafarer needs situation awareness. There’s 3 key things – the weather and sea, the condition of the ship and the condition of the crew – and these haven’t changed.

The seafarer may need to make difficult decisions based on this situation awareness. A change of course, maintenance work, handling a personnel issue. And the results of these decisions will be seen soon enough, in the changing picture of the situation.

All the time the seafarer will learn, because there is no better way to learn than by doing – and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

The seafarer will have a destination and a direction. But, unless we are talking about the modern GPS era, he (since it was probably nearly always a he) wouldn’t have known much about the rate of progress.

This is important. We hear about many people in the workplace today who want to be continually scored, or told how well they’re doing. Being in the education system can be like that. Being in the real world is not like that. We generally have 2 states – success – getting to your destination – or not having got there yet. Whether we will ever get there is for us to decide.


This is all about reducing software costs

All of our discussion here is really about working out how to reduce the costs of providing software for expert / professional users.

There are no techologically original ideas here, in that an expert user with unlimited budget can have whatever software they want and always has been able to. There probably are examples of this – perhaps in the security services or with Arab sheikhs. Another example is the company CEO who can get any computer problem fixed within seconds, perhaps with the company CIO personally coming into his office to set up a disk scan because his computer is running slow.

But everybody else has difficulties.

There’s also enormous amounts of effort going on to cover the gap between what people expect for the money they are paying and what the software industry is capable of delivering – so we end up with software companies developing fairly simple database applications and marketing them as ‘solutions’ (ie something which solves a big problem).

Nobody talks about this friction for some reason – perhaps there’s a secret (and unconscious) code of software journalists and programmers (which I may have been part of myself) that software should never be criticised, the price should never be mentioned. Technologists like software products which promise to change the earth and expect the industry to provide them.

Elon Musk understood this when he launched his ‘Powerwall battery’ in May 2015. As far as I understand, it is just a battery and some cabling, and the batteries are mass produced in China. It was presented as revolutionising the home energy industry and the company took a year’s advance orders for it.

So there may be an argument that this is old technology dressed up as something new, to meet technology enthusiasts endless hunger for something which will change the world.

Perhaps technology companies would be better off working on a more humble question – how do we develop software which can better meet the demands of expert users at lower cost – including the cost of service and customisation?