Never Tidy Up
In a week when:
the police have accidentally deleted 150,000 records;
a man who threw away a broken hard drive containing a handful of bitcoins in 2013, now worth £230m, has been told he can’t go dig up the landfill to find it;
I’ve been thinking about data and records and how they get lost.
Anyone who has spent time trying to search for old government records will be familiar with the sorry tale of ‘lost in a flood, lost in a fire, lost down the back of the sofa’. Add to that those documents that aren’t actually lost but which mysteriously don’t seem to exist. In my case, the non-existent records relate to one of my grandparents, who appears to have been an American serviceman posted to the UK during World War 2, who was not married to the mother of his child, because awkwardly she was married to somebody else. He was, it seems, mysteriously killed in combat just after finding out he was due to be a Dad, but all records were lost. I understand that this happened a lot.
Digital records do have some significant benefits. You can store an awful lot in not very much space. You can easily keep lots of copies, in different places, though this poses real challenges for ‘right to be forgotten’ requests. No longer is there really an excuse of ‘lost in a flood’ or lost in a fire’.
But digital records aren’t magic. They are not permanent, especially when not stored in something formally designated as an archive. Backups get overwritten by design. It’s amazing the number of things people delete, then want back. The worst thing anyone ever does is tidy up. It’s like tidying your garage. You throw away that thing that’s been in the way for the last two years and you know you will never really need. Then suddenly, the next week, you need it. I have spent what feels like months of my IT career trying to recover data lost in tidying up.
Both the police issue and the bitcoins are related to tidying up. For the police, removing data related to investigations that were terminated before charge with no further action or for those who had been acquitted. This seems entirely within the spirit of the GDPR, even if there is an exemption allowing some of it to still be held. In the lost Bitcoin case, an old broken hard drive just got thrown away in landfill. The WEEE Regulations did not come into law until 2014 so perhaps the owner can be forgiven for such an ungreen act. He is surely being punished by the karma gods now, knowing that a digital fortune lies rusting next to decomposing banana skins and old nappies.
Data, like people, is/are (using are with data always annoys me because it sounds wrong) transient. We kid ourselves that digital data is permanent and cannot be lost. The law of entropy suggests that sooner or later, it always will be. Especially if you ever tidy up after yourself.
Chief Executive Officer
Measuring Makes My Head Hurt
I like measuring things. My carpentry skills would suggest I’m not very good at it, but any lack of skills therein, is perhaps made up in my enthusiasm for measuring other things. If you don’t measure you don’t know how good (or bad) something is and whether it’s getting better or worse.
We recently trialled Net Promoter Score in Delt as another way of looking at customer satisfaction. Although we already measure CSAT several different ways, none of them let us compare with other organisations on a like for like basis. NPS uses a very simple question that’s applicable to almost every business:
On a scale of zero to ten, how likely are you to recommend our business to a friend or colleague?
Customers that give you a 6 or below are detractors, those scoring you 7 or 8 are passives, and a 9 or 10 are promoters. You convert the results to percentages, take the detractors away from the promoters and ignore the passives. You then end up with a number between -100 and 100 which is your net promoter score. Delt’s NPS for 2020 is 33.
Anything above 0 is considered ‘good’ but the point of NPS is to be able to compare, even cross sector. That means we can compare ourselves with Disney, who have an NPS of 50, which is considered excellent. Outsourcer Capita are at 8 and IT specialist DXC (formerly CSC) are -8.
Whilst researching other organisations results I found something very interesting. Some years ago, Serco looked at NPS by individual contract, rather than across their whole organisation. They also had staff engagement numbers by contract which led me to wonder if there is a correlation between how much your customers like you and how engaged and happy your staff are. It turns out there is. In fact, it’s nearly a straight-line relationship! Happy employees = happy customers.
Or does it?
If we look from the other end of the telescope, are our happy customers making our employees feel loved and needed? The kind of academic brain to answer this sort of question is not to be found inside my head.
What is clear is that we seem to have both mostly happy staff, and mostly happy customers. We’d like more of both. Smarter people than me can figure out if A impacts B, or B impacts A, or if the apparent straight-line correlation between the two is an unfortunate accident of statistics. Until they do, we’ll do our best to improve both.
Chief Executive Officer
Teachers are Amazing
Teachers are amazing. So are nurses but at least most people being nursed are grateful for the efforts. Teachers seem to have, at least to me, an almost entirely thankless job. I’m able to do what I do today as a result of lessons learned from my A- Level business studies teacher. He wasn’t even a qualified teacher, just an ex businessman who came into school one day to help out when his qualified teacher brother was off sick. Turned out he was quite good at it and nobody asked to see his teaching certificate so he just stayed. He had a heart attack in the middle of my class one day and carried on teaching – though he did eventually concede that ‘the old man isn’t feeling too good’.
He wasn’t just any businessman though. He was the former head of Personnel at a huge ICI site. His stories of 1960’s trade union negotiations (always resolved at the pub) have helped me on both sides of the fence, both as a TU leader and as a manager. He would come out with these impossibly complex ‘what ifs’ that were tiresome to work through until you realised, they were all true. I used his ‘what if’ about a critical order deadline, the only qualified crane driver on site and a daughter’s birthday party, in job interviews for years. (Spoiler alert: They held the birthday party in the factory, fully funded by ICI so the Dad could go drive the crane at the critical moment.)
It’s been a properly long time since I went to school. I’ve been in and out as a parent and a school governor but that’s not quite the same thing as being there all day. At the start of September much of Delt went back to school as we started a new partnership with the Transforming Futures Multi Academy Trust. Although our payroll service is used by a significant number of schools, we would now be supporting day to day frontline education. Not in the classroom ourselves (thank goodness for that) but by supporting services that directly impacted what went on in the classroom.
I got to spend two days at go-live sat in a school. Being in a head teachers office as an adult didn’t make me feel any less guilty than when I was there as a child. What was different that wasn’t so obvious when I was a child was the impossibly amazing job that teachers do, especially at Transforming Futures where they are supporting those for whom mainstream education hasn’t worked out.
Delt is working today in schools today, delivering not just back office services like finance, HR and payroll but also estates and IT where you can really see the benefit in the classroom. By making some technology changes we think we’ve found anything up to 15 minutes more productive time in the school day for each teacher or TA. 15 minutes isn’t a lot, but across 300 teachers that’s the equivalent of over 10 extra teachers. 10 teachers who might one day inspire somebody not that different from me, though it’s possible nobody will ever thank them for it.
Whilst I’m probably 30 years too late, thank you Mr Spears – teachers are amazing.
Chief Executive Officer
Phishing – Don’t Get Caught!
It’s never been more important to remain diligent with your data. Delt Shared Services are committed to keeping our customers safe from impersonators or scammers.
‘Phishing’ is a term used to describe the act of a hacker trying to get you to expose your personal data, by sending you genuine looking emails that ask for a response containing personal information, or direct you to a webpage that asks for personal information. Just because an email or a webpage looks like it is from your bank/Amazon/ebay/Microsoft/the IT department doesn’t mean it is!
Avoid being scammed with these five pointers:
- Check the sender’s email address. Pay particular attention to the domain name – sometimes scammers put a single digit in there to try and trick you. De1tservices.com is not deltervices.com
- Links to webpages are the most common way hackers try and access your information. Only click on links from email addresses you recognise.
If it one of those inexplicable short links like https://tinyurl.com/ycm2yddy, use a link checking website to see what it contains (www.checkshorturl.com). If you’re not familiar with the domain name once you’ve checked where it goes, don’t click it.
- Avoid downloading unsolicited attachments. Messages from authentic companies will usually ask you to download any documents you might need directly from their website.
- Look out for grammar errors. Sounds simple, but an email from a legitimate organisation should be well written.
- Don’t reveal any personal details. Real companies won’t ask for sensitive information via email – ever.
If in doubt, ask. The Delt cyber team deal with hundreds of phishing attempts every week and most of them will never make it through to an end user. Got one you think is suspicious? Ask us to take a look.
Kevin Tunison – Chief Information Security Officer
Nothing More Than A Bad Day
I’ve spent much of the last week reading well written perspectives on how the world has changed and how things will never be quite the same again. So instead of yet another version of that, here’s something completely different.
I had just gone to bed on Friday night when the yelling started. One of the many disadvantages of living with half a zoo full of animals is that they are always secretly plotting new and inventive ways to eat each other. The yelling this time was because our one eyed feline, Pirate Cat, had despite her total lack of depth perception managed to catch herself a door mouse. She had carried said mouse back into the house, up the stairs and under the bed and was readying herself for several hours of merciless torture, followed by a snack. Once sated, she would likely leave a bodyless mouse head on my pillow like some sort of cat Mafioso warning.
The squeaking and the crunching is not conducive to a good night’s sleep so our well-rehearsed family fightback began. The considerable number of other mouse eating animals were cornered and secured in safe locations. Pirate Cat was then surrounded, shock and awe style, with an overwhelming array of force. Realising she was outgunned, she released the mouse, who was giving an Oscar worthy performance of being dead, and retreated to sulk somewhere warm.
Recovering remarkably quickly from being eaten, our guest mouse reanimated rapidly and set about making his escape. Under such circumstances, my teenage daughter is a recognised world expert in small furry creature catching. She is fast, agile and through what must be a genetic abnormality, never gets bitten by the fleeing escapee. This time though, she had met her match.
Usain Dormouse was not just a sprinter. He could jump, duck, dive and fit into incredibly small spaces. On reflection I now wonder how he got caught in the first place, especially by a so obviously faulty, one eyed cat. The capture efforts turned into a marathon and despite many near successes, Usain Dormouse evaded us all. Eventually, bored of our ineptitude, he bolted out of my bedroom, under the impossibly tiny gap beneath the closed door and set about exploring the rest of the house. More yelling at each other for our individual incompetence ensued.
Much the same pattern of events repeated itself in teenage daughter’s room, culminating again, in a blurringly fast exit under the door. Usain Dormouse now headed, under another closed door, into my sons room. This was a mistake because as any parent knows, entering a teenage boy’s bedroom can bring only misery, a wrinkled nose and the very real chance of catching some unpleasant Victorian disease. However, these mortal risks did not prove to be the greatest concern to Usain Dormouse. A much bigger and more pressing worry was our black and white feline, Panda Cat. As the rescue party burst through the door we were rewarded with the sight of Panda Cat siting calmly on the bed, entirely relaxed and at ease with the world, with what looked like a very dead mouse firmly jammed into his mouth.
After more individual incompetence, teamwork finally ensued and Panda Cat gave up his prize, who once again reanimated and made a dash for it. This time, teenage daughter was on form, scooped him up and after a quick medical check revealed no lasting damage, he was taken back outside where he disappeared into the hedge looking for Mrs Mouse to regale her with tales of his adventures.
Yes, life has changed in the last 20 or so days and it will probably never be quite the same again. Many people are suffering very real hardship or loss. I’m lucky as I have a job that still needs doing and a company that will stand by its employees. Yes, I’m short of toilet paper and frozen vegetables are a thing from history. I smell like an alcohol soaked tramp, so frequent is my dousing with hand sanitiser. But I am leading a company that perhaps more than at any time in its history is delivering on our vision of helping people do amazing things. Enabling remote working for thousands of people, making technology work in ways it was never designed to do. Answering 50% more calls than usual, creating call centres overnight from almost nothing. Helping over 4000 employees in doctors surgeries change the health service in ways that would normally take years, in just a few days. Making sure 10,000 people got paid this month, like normal, even though the whole world has gone mad. Delivering the mail to everywhere still open because without deliveries there’s no masks, gloves or hand sanitiser. I’m more proud than I have ever been of our team.
Things have changed, that’s true. But speaking for myself alone, whatever challenges I face are manageable and if I haven’t been eaten by a cat, twice, it’s been nothing more than a bad day.
Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer
I’ll Never Be Goldilocks
I have reconciled myself to the fact that I’ll never be Goldilocks. That perfect positioning where you aren’t too hot, aren’t too cold, but are in fact, just right. To take just one example. I can spray paint moderately badly. After quite a lot of practice I am good enough that from far enough away and without the benefit of your glasses or bright sunlight, a car panel I have painted looks just like one from the factory. If you look closely though, my efforts are remarkably similar to the results from my welding (at which I am truly terrible, though I am very good at grinding). My results are as far from mirror perfect as one of those bendy mirrors at the funfair. The ones that make you look really skinny and remind me what I used to look like before I found pudding.
I can spend hours on You Tube watching amazing people doing amazing things. I am endlessly left slack jawed by just what the human body and mind are capable of. We truly are the most brilliant machine. I can watch Cirque du Soleil for hours – which is really just a freakshowesque love for studying those who have spent their entire lives learning to be brilliant at something largely useless.
If there was a Cirque for car painting, I wouldn’t even make it through the first audition. There are just too many things against me. Whilst I can be pretty consistent in getting the mix of paint, thinner, hardener and accelerant right, I am almost always damned by temperature. Or humidity. Or wind. If all of those are miraculously perfect, then living with 20 animals, not including my children, is guaranteed to result in an otherwise perfect job ruined by a rogue dog hair. The biggest problem though, is me. Factory perfect paint is most often done by a robot. One that pulls the trigger at exactly the right time, that maintains a perfect distance from the surface, that follows all the angles and knows exactly how much to overlap. I am led to believe that robots rarely, if ever, fall over their own air hoses.
I understand it takes nearly 10,000 hours to master something. I have probably spent less than 50 hours with a spray gun in my hand. That’s about an hour for every year of my life. Unless I plan to either live very much longer or paint a great deal more, I am never going to be good at it. But that’s OK. Instead of being great at painting I am not very good at a great many other things.
There are people who are great at painting. Or juggling. Or balancing on top of precariously stacked chairs. There are people who are better at things than machines are ever likely to be. That said, for tasks that require repetitive actions that can be easily scripted, machines are just better. It is for this reason that I don’t fear Artificial Intelligence or Robotic Process Automation. These technologies will ultimately change the world as much as, if not more than the industrial revolution. They will allow the delivery of services of greater consistency and quality. They will let humans spend 10,000 hours becoming a master at something that brings them joy, not simply that pays their bills.
Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer