Don’t squirrel away that information!

Human beings were designed to make decisions on the fly. From early man fleeing predators to our current world of fast and furious decision making, we’re well suited to thinking on our feet.

Information at rest

So why then, do we we still use systems that rely on putting information into neat containers that then sit, awaiting a query? We recently flew into Salt Lake City on a business trip but (ahem) brought our skis and boots in checked baggage, something we try to avoid if at all possible. You can guess what happened…we stood by the carousel as bags left the belt and the crowd thinned until it was clear our bags didn’t arrive. We dutifully went to the service desk where the airline employee first looked up our information, confirmed that our bags never left Los Angeles, and took our information to arrange for delivery to our hotel at some point in the future. We were told to check back by calling a toll free number to see when the bags would arrive.

This is an excellent example of data that has been squirreled away that shouldn’t be. The airline certainly knows what bags we checked, what flight we took and the fact that we arrived at our destination. Why didn’t they simply act on the information they had to save us the 20 minutes at the carousel and the 20 minutes of our time and their employee’s going through the highly manual process of getting our information? And why after going through that exercise, did we need to call a phone number to find out the status?

Information in motion

A major airline recently implemented a system that manages information in motion to address exactly this kind of problem. By keeping key data ‘in memory’ where it can be monitored for patterns, like a passenger arriving at a destination but the associated baggage not, that airline proactively notifies passengers when they first arrive at the destination through an email or text message and ask for hotel or residence information for delivery. The entire process is managed quickly and relatively painlessly. Email alerts follow the progress of the baggage until delivery so that manual customer service, no fun for anyone, can be avoided.

This idea that data can be kept ‘live’ for key periods of time so that patterns can be matched isn’t very new, but it hasn’t been exploited to the level we’ll begin to see in coming years. Imagine a hospital constantly managing a patient’s journey for signs of patient injury (unintended harm caused by the facility itself) and alerting staff to quickly respond and mitigate the issue.

Imagine that medical package needs to be delivered same-day, but the recipient isn’t at the delivery address for pickup. Rather than a hang tag on the door, an alert is sent back to the sender instantly, who immediately contacts the customer while the package is still nearby and finds a way to marry the package with the recipient as quickly as possible.

These aren’t far-flung ideas but many companies still lack the infrastructure to make these high-value use cases a reality. As cloud computing enables real-time events without boundaries and across mobile devices, it keeps getting easier and less expensive to implement systems to manage data in motion. If you’re in an industry that lags in real-time capabilities like the ones above, what are you waiting for? Your survival will depend on it.

Categories: Information Technology, Markets, Real-time, Technology, Transport and Logistics

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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2 Comments on “Don’t squirrel away that information!”

  1. Max
    June 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Pretty much the same across the board — information collected but not fully utilized. From process perspective, lots of work to nail out activities that generates data but not enough in looking into activities that consume information. In my words, too much focus on “knowledge workers” instead of “information workers”. The shift should be moving towards the middle layer of “information workers”.


  1. Continental and United are a warning to others | Successful Workplace - June 24, 2012

    […] The data spine described above would also speed United’s work to become an event-enabled enterprise in the same way leading airlines like Southwest have. Operations and customer service would be greatly served by systems that watch for key patterns to emerge real-time, where problems can be mitigated and potential problems avoided. Baggage services are already being managed this way elsewhere. […]

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