How complexity spilled the oil
Sunday, 16 January, 2011 Leave a comment
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Notice for regular readers (thanks!) I did not write or influence this headline in any way. If you follow the link you will see it is all the work of one of the most authoritative sources global research companies, Forrester, via the, ever reliable, Computerworld who will keep you up to date on IT and general “geekery”.
If the subject matter looks familiar that is precisely because IT IS! I have written about this specific incident in the blog on several occasions and from a couple of perspectives, going back to the days when it wasn’t fashionable NOT to have a daily dig at BP and poor wee Tony Hayward: a man whose, now legendary, gift for miscommunication, could have been learnt at piñata finishing school!!!
They had just placed themselves, respectively, in the positions of “Big bad Corporate” and “sacrificial lamb” for an outraged global population and US administration desperate to find someone to BLAME. WE already suspected that so much of that rhetoric was about deflection…we ALL knew, from the collapse of global banking, that, when it came to Corporate activities, regulation was a fallacy, only an effective smokescreen and that risk management perceived a mere drain on potential profit and bonus potential…therefore tax revenue!
Current societies…are characterised by their extreme complexity at a moment in history in which traditional political institutions have lost much of the power, a power which has now passed into the hands of multinational companies with their relocation strategies. In this situation, a growing deregulation can also be observed which, in turn, redounds in the appearance of new risks and uncertainties.
The best any of us concerned citizens could hope for was that this incident would be, not so much a disastrous oil spill as an inglorious watershed.
The Gulf oil spill of April 2010 was an unprecedented disaster. The National Oil Spill Commission’s report summary shows that this could have been prevented with the use of better technology.
For example, while the Commission agrees that the monitoring systems used on the platform provided the right data, it points out that the solution used relied on engineers to make sense of that data and correlate the right elements to detect anomalies.
“More sophisticated, automated alarms and algorithms” could have been used to create meaningful alerts and maybe prevent the explosion. The Commission’s report shows that the reporting systems used have not kept pace with the increased complexity of drilling platforms.
Another conclusion is even more disturbing, as it points out that these deficiencies are not uncommon and that other drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico face similar challenges.
But this report merely highlights what many in IT and managing critical systems already know:
That is why we, at Ontonix, are now making real progress and “penetrating the ring of steel” that, inevitably (it seems), surrounds and defends conventional wisdom! From my experience, it doesn’t really matter much that a proposed alternative view or solution is entirely constructed of “hard” scientific fac., Because the perception is that you are insulting someone, questioning their professionalism or ability by suggesting that there is a better (&/or) faster (&/or) more reliable (&/or) more cost effective. When the reality is, simply, that whilst they have been getting on with their someone else has been working away on Research & Development in their area of expertise or related field. In the case of Ontonix and the work undertaken by Dr Jacek Marczyk the breakthrough technology came from engineering design, particularly from aerospace and automotive but with the huge benefit that it is model-free making it truly interdisciplinary. Thus providing a superb opportunity for early adopters to gain significant competitive advantage. At Ontonix UK I am actively seeking development partners with whom to jointly develop and market industry-specific solutions to bring improved risk insight and resilience through horizontal and vertical application within business sectors. This is in keeping with Our Mission
Just in case you are too lazy or totally engrossed in my words(!?) he is a further extract from this article that is simply TOO IMPORTANT TO OVERLOOK:
Like the weather, there are so many variables at play in today’s business services that mere humans can’t be expected to make sense of it.
If the challenge is real, finding the right solution may not be easy. IT operations have acquired solutions from diverse vendors, mostly as a reaction to perceived issues and uncertainties. Because the data collected comes from diverse sources, it needs first to be “normalised”:
The raw data from a monitoring collector must be run through a normalisation algorithm to:
- Convert it into a form that could be used in comparison with other data types.
- Placed in an actual context to determine its dependencies.
An example of normalisation is to consider a data value in a “period context”: At a given time of the day, on a given day of the year, is the value collected within x% of its “normal” value?
There are several solutions on the market that provide normalisation and statistical analysis for improving alerts. But for these to be effective, we also must remember that all elements of the infrastructure and application must be instrumented and provide data.
Another disaster, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant failure, can be directly traced to an incomplete infrastructure monitoring leading to an incorrect conclusion about the root cause of the problem.
Monitoring is useless if it is not:
- Covering all potential points of failure,
- Using normalisation and statistical analysis to make sense of the data.
As the Oil Spill Commission points out, you can’t expect a person to spend hours in front of a screen and detect minute variations that are the warning signs of impending disaster.
This conclusion verifies what we at Ontonix have identified as a major feature of our products and services…the ability to view Complexity as an “Holistic Measure”. If you like, a single baseline or system KPI, with the ability to measure, monitor, manage and maintain the system and its component parts in a stable, non-critical, state.
After all PREVENTION is always going to be much more cost effective than CURE.