Lean Information and Single Points of Failure

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Here’s another nugget I wanted to mention from the excellent Saugatuck Technology Cloud Business Summit in New York I attended the week before last. One of the speakers on a panel with Saugatuck VP Mike West was Gary Lynch, Managing Director of Supply Chain Risk Management at Marsh.

Lynch described information as at the heart of the “third wave of leaning.” It struck a nerve because I once covered manufacturing supply chains and lean practices. In information, it's a more intermittent discussion, but parallels are easy to see.  People write sporadically about lean information management and others think and talk in terms of information supply chains.

The first wave of leaning was manufacturing supply chains of course, and dates to the industrial age. Most people know something about the progression of compartmented labor all the way to process optimization and value chains. (Toyota, by the way, was one poster child of lean practices, high quality and satisfaction.)

The second wave of leaning Lynch mentioned was in financial chains and the flow of cash and credit. I assumed he was referring in part to the modularity of transactions or payments, and how lean made processes much more flexible and dependable in exchanges and between destinations.

That leaves the third wave, the aforementioned leaning of information. I can’t speak for what Lynch meant literally, but it's easier now to look at information as something componentized in ways we can manage and configure to desired processes and outcomes. 

Any supply chain presents risks from single points of failure. Think of the inexpensive piston rings that lately held up automobile production at Toyota following the earthquake, (an example that will temporarily cost Toyota its top sales standing, I’d add).

Clouds (and other information sources or destinations) are multiple potential single points of failure we create every day. That may be inevitable, Lynch said, but constructively, there are a couple of things we can do.

We can consider our ability to monitor and detect points of failure in our information supply chain and our chances of reversing the situation with a favorable outcome.

The other primary action would be to identify the value of data to our core processes, based on the revenue it drives or the cost of its absence. 

You can’t build a car without a piston ring, but, it might make sense to contemplate your own information supply chain, its fatal and lesser points of failure. When I started writing this down for myself, I found irreplaceable and also noncritical information assets I could live without for a time. I even found information assets I could live without forever, though they are still compiled for no good reason.

Companies decide every day what information to keep close, what to share and what to hand off to third parties. You already ask yourself who is likely to be the better expert in the long run for maintaining or managing certain kinds of information or business processes. But as someone else wisely said at this event, you can’t abdicate managing risk just because you hand some duties off to a trusted provider.

As a risk approach to valuing information, I do like the single point of failure test applied to clouds and information generally. It’s something I'll likely plot out on a quadrant and pass around the office for feedback.

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