Tag Archive for 'Technology Traps'

Avoiding Technology Traps through human interface during an emergency

This morning news brought the tragic incidents of  train accidents in North India at three different places with loss of life and damage to equipments . The reason – heavy fog and cold weather may have caused  the electricity grid to fail . A classic case of technology trap without redundancy built into the system  or human interface arrangements where available not applied in time to prevent such accidents.

In a high tech environment  now operating in many cases , where the safety of traveling  public is involved  , it is essential that the authorities have necessary contingency plans in place  and adequate monitoring mechanism to change over the  controls well rehearsed  and kept at a readiness state all the time.

I am reminded of an incident during the 80’s when we were carrying out the user and technical evaluation trials of the  now famous Bofors gun  in the mountains near the Chinese border. The Bofors team from Sweden gave us an impressive display of its manoueverability and the functioning of the APU [auxiliary propulsion system] which can move the gun from traveling to firing position and vice versa in a few seconds.The Army Commander who was present at the scene asked the trial team to show him how the gun can be moved manually by the crew in case of a break down of the APU and other hydraulic systems. The gun crew really had to sweat it out and still the gun could not be moved . A very possible scene in a war situation!!. The Commander was not impressed and he wanted this constraint to be recorded in the trial report .  He gave all of us present a great insight into the working of high tech systems  and the need for redundancies built in for human intervention when everything  else fails.

Technology Traps

The vows of the Indian CAT are far from over. Orkut exposure, further technical glitches etc continue to haunt the IIM mangement. One cannot help remember that we in India still face the first, second and third wave[remember Alvin Toffler’s categories] simultaneously. When the end user may be in the third wave,the source may be in the second wave and the intermediary may still be in the first wave as far as technology readiness is concerned. Let me give my experience of today to illustrate this point. I visited my bank to make a fixed deposit in a joint account with my daughter. What should have taken 5 to 10 minutes normally took more than an hour as the network was very slow .The reason given was it is the first week of the month and usage density is high. Ok. I went there after to draw cash from an ATM belonging to the largest public sector bank in the country. The board outside said “Out of Order”. On the 1st of Dec,another ATM of this bank did not have any cash. It is an irony that this bank has widely advertised asking customers with ATM card NOT to visit any branch for cash withdrawal and instead take cash out from ATM upto Rs 40,000 in a day in 3 transactions. Where is the weak link? cash management, technical failure or logistics break down?. Some one needs to answer for this. My third experience relates to my visit to our Army canteen to buy my monthly needs.The Smart Card issued to me with All India applicability failed to work as there was a bad connection.Besides,the credit card reader was not functioning. In all the three cases,there is no other human interface for a normal redundancy and alternative mode of transaction. So,the customer suffers.This is a routine scenario in the cities everywere in India. Rapid growth in usage volumes has not yet been matched with technology upgrades for the systems backups resulting in such glitches often. It is high time,the CIO’s of such organisations gear up and deliver.