- Management systems
- Requirements management
- Software engineering
- Information modeling
Summary of information systems experience
- IT Strategy. Saved $21million by re-engineering IT in blue chip company
- Information Modeling. Process 30 years, Data 15 years
- Software Engineering. Practical plus scientific research. Former CIO
- Organizations. Plessey, IBM, EDS, Honeywell, Hewlett Packard, Cap-Gemini, RAF
- Industries. Manufacturing, Airlines, Banking, Air-defence and Warship building
- Author. Database modeling book + numerous published articles
- Academic. MSc in Information Systems Management with Distinction
Picture credit: BAE Systems
Ken’s radar experience led to a fascination with the potential of computer systems. On leaving the RAF, he joined Plessey as Systems Engineering manager for subsystems integration of the UK Air defence system “Linesman”. Ken recruited and led a team of 50 systems engineers who used process models and critical path management techniques to help the Royal Radar Establishment repackage the results of twelve years of radar, computer and digital network development projects into a set of end-to-end functional subsystems. His team defined and managed a problem and change management system to support end-to-end functional problem determination across subsystems built by thirty five subcontractors at over fifty sites. In 1973, the Linesman handover project was drawing to a close so he joined IBM.
The first fifteen months were spent in IBM’s rigorous internal systems education programme. After qualifying, he introduced on-line computer systems to organizations in manufacturing, insurance, government, defence infrastructure management and warship building. In 1983, Ken moved to Holland and created a new executive education centre and executive education programme to showcase IBM’s newly developed international network service. He then began teaching as faculty member for managing complex networks at IBM’s International Education Centre in La Hulpe, Belgium. Ken taught systems engineers from 14 countries how to use a standard “systems management business process model” to help IBM customers with large international networks to introduce process based methods for managing their complex infrastructures.
Ken joined EDS as a business development manager on large
complex international projects. EDS was an exciting and
innovative company. However, when Honeywell Europe asked him to
write his own job specification, join them as Manager of
European IT Strategy and re-engineer all of Honeywell’s European
IT systems, he found their offer to be both challenging and
At the time, Honeywell Europe operated in twelve countries and had a $44 million IT budget with over 350 IT staff operating nine mainframes, over sixty mid range systems and several thousand PC’s all linked by an international X25 data network. After twelve weeks of audit and analysis, Honeywell’s European board approved Ken’s $6 million plan to save $21 million on IT costs by re-engineering Honeywell’s European IT operations. The first of seven strategic recommendations was to introduce a new pan-European IT management system and retrain, redeploy and remotivate more than fifty IT managers.
After leaving Honeywell, Ken became an independent consultant and worked on projects for clients such as Hewlett Packard, IBM, FedEx, Sandoz, CSC, Cap-Gemini and the European Commission. For six months, he collaborated with James Martin as a Television Presenter on IT Strategy for the satellite based TV channel, “Computer Channel Europe”.
Ken spent three years in the EDI standards groups serving in Europe and America as the Secretary of the Business and Information Modeling groups of both UN/EDIFACT and ANSI. In 1993, CEFIC, the European Federation of Chemical Industries, hired him to research the use of information models to design EDI messages between European Chemical companies and their business and government trading partners. The search for a modeling tool for this project led to object-role modeling (ORM) and the newly introduced ORM tool “InfoModeler”.
After teaching ORM to companies in Benelux and Switzerland he co-authored the “how to” book for the ORM tool embedded as a component of Microsoft’s 2003 version of Visual Studio.
In 2005, the first of a series of international academic ORM workshops was held in Cyprus. After three days of ORM presentations and discussions, those present agreed that whilst ORM was very powerful, it was not well known. So, by unanimous vote, they agreed the need to promote ORM by means of an ORM Foundation. After two years of prototyping, Ken set up the ORM Foundation website which he continues to maintain. The most recent ORM workshop was held in Crete in October 2011 and the presentations can be downloaded from the Library of the ORM Foundation website.
One of the inhibitors to the use of ORM is the widespread lack of awareness of ORM’s capabilities. The commercial promotion of inferior methods such as entity relationship modeling and UML class modeling divert attention from more cost-effective methods based on ORM.
In 2006, to create scientific evidence of the benefits of ORM, Ken embarked on a three year Master of Science degree with the University of Liverpool. In the nine month dissertation phase, he researched the relative effectiveness of UML, ER and ORM.
Sponsored by the European Space Agency, Ken completed his dissertation project in August 2008. His scientific experiment found that UML and ER produce three times as many defects and take twice as much time as an ORM based approach. These results support the views of many ORM practitioners that government and industry waste lots of money by using inefficient and ineffective methods for information modeling, requirements definition and application development.
In December 2008, Liverpool University awarded Ken the degree of Master of Science in Information Systems Management with Distinction. In January 2009, the University of Lincoln appointed him as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow to research and teach ORM and related open-source software.
Ken’s current research covers management practices with a view
to showing how to design and build new organizational structures
with more cost-effective management systems.
Management Systems Problems
Evidence suggests that many management systems are not effective because they focus on financial measures of performance and treat system measures as “technical details”.
But according to Professor H Thomas Johnson, financial figures that compare expenditure against budget are just blurred shadows of the activities on which the success or failure of the organization depends. (Relevance Lost, the Rise and Fall of Management Accounting. 1987)
Some management experts promote the view that “a business is just a set of cash flows”. Such misleading mantra promotes ineffective management practices.
Incremental improvement rather than radical redesign
Many organizations use computer technology to reduce the costs of existing business processes. Management systems that are based on controlling costs at the departmental level often ignore the effect of the performance of one department on other departments. But an action that seems sensible at the departmental level may have a disruptive and costly effect on the end-to-end process flow.
Management Systems Lesson
In the 1980’s Ken used his management systems know-how to win the Single Handed Round the Isle of Wight yacht race. He equipped a new sailboat with computer based instrumentation that gave precise and real-time measures of the boat’s performance. With very little sailing experience, the instrumentation together with extensive study of sailing theory and lots of practice helped Ken to learn how to optimise performance and win the race.
This story contains a key management lesson: If you want to manage a system, you have to base your decisions on measurements that represent the stuff of the system. To do this you must design a management system that collects and delivers information about how well the system is meeting its external service level objectives. To diagnose and to correct problems, managers need to understand how the system works. In other words, to be effective, managers need to understand the business processes and the technology used by the system that they manage. Managing by financial numbers alone is not enough.