Operational Intelligence. Is it Rocket Science?
Amongst other things, people who know me probably find my interest in flight and space technology, rather obsessive. I am the first to admit it probably is!
I recently however found myself pondering a cross over between these obsessions and a presentation I was making on Operational Intelligence in a business. A strange mix indeed. I don’t often see these things overlapping, so where does space and flight come in to this?
As part of my presentation I was running through possible ‘use cases’ that involve intelligent and proactive use of the data available within an organisation. How to monitor for complex scenarios within the data, listen to sensor feeds and IoT (Internet of Things) information, and then respond effectively in the correct time frame to benefit from a key business ‘moment’.
What set me thinking, is that last week there was a spectacular launch vehicle failure for one of the private companies working with NASA on the commercial resupply of the International Space Station, a disintegration after two minutes of flight. They still have not identified the problem, however they are more likely than ever to identify the root cause of failure than for any previous launch; why is this? It comes down to advanced systems and operational intelligence.
That launch vehicle is the most instrumented ever, and has many more real time data streams and sensor readings, continuously monitored, than anything prior. This means their engineers have a higher likelihood of seeing something in that data that indicates the cause of the problem than ever before. Additionally, this data forms something that could then be referenced in relation to subsequent launches, and allow for predictive and proactive corrective action. Better understanding of the key ‘moment’ and the rules around it can be fed directly back in to the success and profitability of the company going forward, be it to avert disaster in this case or to improve efficiency and competitiveness in any other business scenario. This is systems based operational intelligence in action.
Moving beyond this, in grasping the benefits of a business ‘moment’ the key is having not just the sensor feeds and analytical capability, but being able to trigger effective actions off the back of the patterns seen in the data. Process management is a key part of operational intelligence.
This then leads me to my second scenario.
Back in the 50’s, Chuck Yeager the famous test pilot, tells a story about how during a flight in the F86 Sabre jet he noticed a problem with the ailerons locking up in high G turns under certain low altitude circumstances. By ‘noticed’ he meant survived something that would have killed other pilots of less experience in that jet.
He then made a link to a number of unexplained crashes that had occurred in the jet for certain squadrons but not others. He made a call to the chap in charge of maintenance at these sights and started an investigation in to the aileron maintenance procedures.
Low and behold the problem was tracked down to a mechanic who had decided that based on his experience, a certain bolt should be put in upside down in order to make the process more efficient. Nobody had told him otherwise, and his process worked for him. The result was that in those circumstances the flexing of the wing under high G lead to locking of the controls. Problem solved.
A great story, and hopefully not one we would see in this day and age. This strikes me as an example where yet again data analytics and sensor information (not available in those days obviously) would have identified the problem immediately, but also an example where enhanced process management controls would have prevented the problem occurring, or at least allowed for the outlier process to be identified and dealt with. Less a case of the ‘right stuff’ and more a case of the ‘right kit’.
Things have certainly moved on since the 50’s, here the analytical ‘engine’ used was the experience and abilities of an exceptional individual, under exceptional circumstances, but in the modern world system and process capability are allowing an exceptional response to everyday activities as the new ‘normal’. All businesses can now apply the concepts of sense, analyse and react to grasp a complex business moment and seize every opportunity as it occurs. After all, operational excellence is no longer rocket science.