Saturday, June 30, 2012

Irate Taxi Services in Calgary

Company threatens legal action over new taxi rules, shrieks a Calgary Sun article this past June. "The proposed bylaws will require cab owners to electronically submit vehicle GPS and other data from existing taxi meters...Some of the data the city wants submitted electronically include: the status of the cab’s availability, trip volumes, dispatch response times, in-service vehicle counts, average seconds to answer customers calls by dispatchers, abandoned call rates, hold wait times and detailed records of customer complaints."

Could these demands be met by a business bound by traditional paper-based forms and logs? If any current cab companies have not embraced the digital age, these new requirements would indeed be nearly impossible to satisfy. 

But if this information is collected digitally - and if all cab companies are on the same platform -  the value of having this data could transform the way cab services operate in Calgary. I would suggest further that City council go a step further and make this data available on an open platform to allow innovators to build new apps. Getting ahead in the data game may even be critical for the survival of the industry (Uber Expands to Canada).

Even more critical, however, is a shift in the way institutions work together. There has to be a fundamental trust between council and the taxi companies to openly share this data. This trust is obviously missing.

Could another forum be organized, other than rounds of council meetings and litigation, where both parties be introduced to the innovators and the big ideas and opportunities latent in this data? An UnConference or Hackathon might just be the thing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 13 - A Rollicking Trip Home

It was 1:00 in the afternoon, and I was sitting in the lobby of our Best Western, surrounded by our luggage. I suddenly flushed, and my breath became ragged. Unnoticed by others, my heart raced, and my thoughts went wild. I was checking our boarding tickets again and realized I had made a mistake. We weren't leaving Nanaimo at 3:00; the flight from Vancouver was leaving at 3:00. The flight from Nanaimo had left at ten that morning. We were going to miss our connecting flight.

I quickly worked out our options as I waited for Art to return. I thought, perhaps, if we were lucky, we could take a sea plane (twenty minute flight) to Vancouver and catch up with that connecting flight. I alternately scolded and pleaded with Art to hurry, as we trundled our luggage to the harbor to get our tickets. I usually appreciate his easy-going pace. Not this day. 

As I sat impatiently in the Harbour Air waiting room, my neighbour touched my arm. Her mother is deaf, and she was wondering if I might watch out for her to make sure she caught her shuttle at the other end. At the word "deaf", my focus instantly shifted. I don't have as much opportunity to practice my ASL these days, and I delight in the opportunity to practice. As the daughter talked, I signed to the mother. The mother signalled to her daughter. The woman asked, "My mother says you can sign".

"That's right," I say, "aren't we lucky?" Then rushed down the ramp with the mother to the waiting plane. Art followed.

The flight was as much adventure as Art and I would dare, dipping in the air pockets, bobbing and weaving in a most queasy way. Art is white-knuckled on such trips, and this was no exception, great views notwithstanding. I was wonderfully distracted, chatting away in a combination of lip-reading and sign with my companion. Noisy little airplanes are no obstacle for the deaf. I translated the pilot's instructions. The mother chatted happily with me, and every time we dipped, she joked we could swim the rest of the way. This mother, deaf from birth, was not introduced to sign until she was in her forties, so she is not fluent. Nevertheless, she is very skilled at communicating in a hearing world, lip-reading where sign failed. She is the mother of seven children, from South Africa and travelling to London next to visit one of her other children. She lost her husband of many years to cancer, I think. I could see that without her companion, finding people to chat to, to connect, is an ongoing challenge. The hearing can be so blind. 

She let me know that our finding each other was the work of the Lord. I can barely argue. What should have been an anxiety-filled trip quickly evaporated. Her daughter should not have worried. The mother found the shuttle driver and had her luggage in order before Art and I were fully out of the plane.

Despite our best efforts, we were still ten minutes late for the connecting flight. This meant another interminable line-up, a grim-faced Air Canada worker doing more than she needed to, rearranging our flights. Instead of leaving at 3:00 that afternoon, we left at 10:30 that evening. I took the opportunity to set myself up at a wi-fi bar and marked papers. Art watched the hockey game.

The flight was hot, close. We dragged our luggage (with some practiced ease, I must say) to the final cab ride to my friends' house in Northeast Calgary. Art and I whispered our way to the ready guest beds, and crashed.

P.S. Guess where our luggage is stored on the sea-plane? In the floats!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Playing with Data

With computers came data, and a whole new generation of data hounds who love to play with it. I'll give you a taste of what can be done with big data which has generated new appetite for raw, unfiltered data. One can make a vivid graphical display that tells a new story, an app that revolutionizes how work is done, or a new way for the public to access services. The data hounds are targeting municipalities for the opportunities there, but close around the corner is other levels of government and big business. This new hunger for data has spawned the Open Data movement. Others are working on disentangling copyright issues (Open Data Commons) to make big data more available.

Vivid Graphics

With 3D modelling and timeline software, graphs have inherent beauty of their own. When they tell a story, they are even more compelling. Artist Aaron Koblin takes vast amounts of data ...and weaves them into stunning visualizations. His work takes real world and community-generated data and uses it to reflect on cultural trends and the changing relationship between humans and technology.

Hans Rosling of the nonprofit GapMinder is using descriptive graphics to illustrate the potential for social change. His findings may surprise you.

Great Apps

With the availability of real time, reliable, raw data - as it relates to what people are doing - when and where they are doing it - and how many people are doing it - has led to some slick applications. The application SeeClickFix allows citizens to post pics of fixes for their community. The city acquires a legion of eyes on the ground, allowing them to spend more time prioritizing, planning, and fixing. The software tracks performance, adding transparency and accountability to city services.

Code for America, another nonprofit, is made up of web geeks, city experts, and technology industry leaders. They are building a network of civic leaders and organizations who believe there is a better way of doing things and want to make a difference. One app that is now in use in four major centres in the US, allows citizens to adopt fire hydrants buried in winter snowstorms.

A recent open data challenge resulted in a real-time map, showing the location of all trains on the London underground.

The demands from this community is for real-time linkages to existing managed databases. The data must be current and accurate.

Business Analytics

As an aside, IBM is supporting big business through their Advanced Analytics to mine the masses of unstructured data they have at their fingertips. We have no lack of information in this new age. What is missing is the talent to interpret the great masses of information in to comprehensive models and graphics so we can learn their story. I believe that there is an untapped talent of data hounds who know how to ask the right questions and leverage that information to new insights about business, customers and the environment.

Openness - Privacy Threat?

While data hounds call for open access, the public is ever more aware of their privacy rights. People rightly want to be informed when information about them is being requested by third parties. This creates new tensions, as data by its nature is fluid. It is easy to grant access.  As we browse the internet for instance, our hits and habits are tracked by literally hundreds of entities. Gary Kovacs has created a Firefox add-on that tracks the trackers.

While it is easy to share, it is much harder to parse information to satisfy privacy requests. That's not to mean we it is impossible to put the appropriate safeguards in place, or that we should reject all requests for greater data access.

The public can be surprisingly open, however, when asked for their permission. Just this past week, British Columbians expressed their willingness to share masses of historical health information, to provide the opportunity for new insights. All they ask is that the information be protected so that it cannot be tracked back to the individual. Read more, "Survey shows B.C. health database could be a wellspring for researchers - 80 per cent of British Columbians onside to share their information — but only anonymously".

In Summary

There is a new generation of data hounds who have new skills of data manipulation and graphical representation that can help us make better decisions and support direct civic involvement to solve problems. 

Their demands are for open, unfettered access to reliable data that are typically managed by government. Along with these demands for more openness, the public wants assurances that their personal information is protected. This complicates sharing, but does not prohibit it. As records professionals, recognize that these new demands to data are coming. Be aware that personal information must be protected either through anonymizers or presentation of aggregate data.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Days 10-13 ARMA Conference

The keynote speaker starts at noon so we take the morning to walk the waterfront again. I found orange azaleas.

Our first speaker speaks of trends in e-discovery. Growth continues to astound. I next picked a session on advanced business analytics. Linda brought up the Open Data movement - there is synergy with the big data guys. The idea is novel enough I got in touch with the speaker from IBM and wrote a separate blog page about it. My second session was with Greg Clark, practical governance. His background with the oil industry shows; his talk is lively, sharp, succinct.

We have an ice-breaker that night, wine and cheese. The vendors open their doors. I get back to the room and crash, and I suddenly remember why I took the sage advice to stay a few days before or after. Once I get sucked in to the vortex of conference sessions, any few moments on my own are taken in recovery. My blogging abruptly stopped. So here I am two weeks later, and memories are quickly blurring. I won't detail the rest of the conference, simply give you the highlights.

I met great old friends, made a few new ones, and bounced off the old cronies. Ismat and I had a great time catching up, and Eva and I solidified a friendship. I hope Eva can handle my on-and-off attention, kind of like  a lighthouse lamp. When I'm there, I am all there, listening, attentive. When I'm gone, well, I'm not.

Compared to a few years ago, the conference offerings were nearly exclusively addressing our electronic world. Discovery, governance, and successfully presenting our program to leadership were also covered ... in the context of electronic records. The big scanning and storage services were in evidence at the  vendor booths.

The local aboriginal communities had a strong local presence. I enjoyed comparing their involvement with our local On the last day of the conference I attended a session put on by a BC band and the issues surrounding recording and storing land-based knowledge about their communities. Rather than offering solutions, they looked to us for direction.

I think SharePoint is winning the Electronic Records Management race. There were three vendors showcasing add-ons to SharePoint, and precious few alternatives in the offering. Alfresco might find a niche in schools and non-profits, though the conference did not have any representatives. I've concluded that SharePoint must be working the way business needs it to; collaboratively. The problem with catering to the Records community to satisfy all the record-keeping elements (i.e. DOD 5015.2 or MoReq standards), is that the software loses focus of the ultimate customer; the business user.

Which sadly, leads me to conclude that as a records community, we have lost touch with the business user as well. I will describe this in further detail in a blog, "Death of the File Room".

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Day 9, Vacationing in Nanaimo

This was a quieter day. I spend the morning posting the pictures of our holiday. We trek up the hill to the drug store to pick up necessaries, and stroll back through old downtown and its eclectic mix of stores. We spent some time in Fascinating Rhythm, a second-hand music store with epic stock ranging from sheet music from the 'twenties (nineteen-twenties), through LP's, eight track tapes, vintage radios, CD's, DVD's (themselves quickly becoming obsolete)....

Fascinating Rhythm

Fascinatng Rhythm, second half
We ran in to fellow ARMA members fresh off the plane, taking their first stroll through the old town.

Dinner was a little disappointing. We visited the house restaurant in the Dorchester hotel. It was understaffed first of all, and compared to its pretentious menu, the meal was very good but not stunning. I had a chicken and wild mushroom fettucini. If a chef is going to mess with fantastic ingredients, the chicken should not be dry. The dessert menu was presented on a crumpled brochure. We shared a berry creme brulee. Again, good, but not stunning.

I was fascinated by this maple, with it's dressing of scarlet wings.

Maple with Wings

At the table beside us was a charming lady from Newfoundland, a fellow ARMA chapter member. I suspect we will be surrounded ty ARMA delegates for the remainder of our stay.

Tomorrow at noon, the conference begins.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Day 8 Vacationing in Nanaimo

We got lost looking for breakfast.

According to Trip Advisor there is a Gina's on Skinner Street, but we were not successful in finding her. I see now she would not have been open for breakfast anyways. We finally staggered in to Danforth Deli, and ordered a man's breakfast. I must say the food was faultless. Even our little fruit cup had bits of mango surprise; all fresh and well-made.

As we waited for a dollar store to open (mostly to buy a bag so I did not have to carry around my book), a sparrow chick practiced his begging. All I had was some chunky organic peanut butter from Danforth. After some coaxing, he snagged a chunk before a male sparrow horned in on his action. He came back for more, too, even as he furiously tried to wipe his beak clean.

Sparrow ponders; is peanut butter edible?

We then walked to the local market and picked up some lunch and breakfast things. After a nap, we headed along the waterfront. I met a fisherman happy to have caught a crab big enough to keep.

He spends his days of retirement first at the local library, then a couple hours checking on his crab pots. A cheerful man. A seal pondered us for a while, then dipped to anonymity.

We hopped the ferry to Newcastle Island, dodging seaplanes taking off.

Anchored boats hailed from as far away as California. One boat, our sea captain assured us, could be had for a song. It was derelict.

Newcastle island is cloaked in peaceful greenery. There are pines, cedar, oak, and rhodedendron the size of trees. Even Art commented that the natural surroundings, the sighing of the water, "clears the mind". Art spent some time taking photos.

I took out my dollar store art supplies and drew the scene. Besides the grazing Canada Geese, we saw Juncos, Robins, a Red-Headed Woodpecker, a Heron, and deer. There was one strident bird call unfamiliar to me.

The Heron
We had dinner at the Bistro attached to the Nanaimo Harbour Water Airport (next time we definitely will arrive by float plane!). The staff seemed genuinely relaxed and friendly; happy even. The clerks too at the grocery store were full of sunshine and cheer. The lady at the dollar store was grim, but then again Art asked her if she took returns. I mean, how much more pathetic can it be to be having a closing out sale, 50% off, at a dollar store?

Oh, by the way. My morning numbers of 6.0 (mll/l) I am sure, are a reflection of all the walking we did yesterday. Despite what my doctor hopes, I am sure that exercise is the key to my control.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chunking Our Filing

Ours is often treated as an underdog profession; misunderstood, ignored, or put-off as long as possible. We are the Aunt Martha in the family tree of business; our gitfs dusted off for display on the odd times we are graced a visit to the front office, the recipients of our expertise grinning their acceptance while secretlly planning on archiving our advice as soon as we take our leave.

Amongst ourselves there is much talk about how to raise the profile of our profession. I agree only in part. I don't think we should seek a greater public profile; we work best when we are invisible; like the utility lines in a building. I subscribe to the adage, "Be Brief, Be Bright, Be Gone". When I make it clear that I am quite happy to make the important things happen in the background, reappearing only at critical times, my bosses can relax to concentrate on the business of the day.

One of the crowning glories of our achievement is the development of a comprehensive file plan. Back in the day, the pièce de résistance was the Block Numeric Subject Classification System. These days, New South Wales has led us along the yellow brick road to a new standard in clarity and comprehension; Functional design.

In practical application however, we are often stymied by a lukewarm reception by the recipients of these designs. These labours of love, these bricks, are often given the royal brush-off and just like Aunt Martha, we are often not invited back.

I've seen thes file designs, and there is hardly a flaw to be found. They are comprehensive, logical.

What are we doing wrong?

I think we often make a fatal flaw in presentation. These manuals are just too darn big. Encyclopedias and thesaurii are logical and comprehensive too. But few people read them from cover to cover. These sorts of reference are valued to look things up, not as novels to be read cover to cover. The structure does not even need to be obvious (think google). Sure there is a great deal of labour invested in our invisibile indices, but their invisibility is part of their charm.

What we have failed to consider is a person's capacity to integrate a large structure. People can remember up to seven groupings (plus or minus two). This capacitiy is refered to as chunking and as records professionals we would be wise to keep this in mind. Now, this does not mean that we must limit our file structure to five to nine categories. But it does mean that people can absorb perhaps only the first level of our design at first sitting. It would take follow-up sessions in each grouping to fully comprehend the overall design. It is unfair of us, really, to expect others to quickly grasp a design that we have taken months to develop and integrate.
Photo borrowed from The Baby Jar
  • When showing off a file design, show first the highest level of structure on a single page; perhaps show the titles only, and in a matrix rather than a list. The highest level of structure must be simple, intuitive!
  • Keep this high level design foremost when you shepherd your file design through to approval. Meet with the decision makers face-to-face, walking them through the design. Don't be offended if they forego an in-depth review.
  • When implementing your design, chunk off portions that are relevant to the audience. For instance, show the IT section to IT, and so on.
  • For even greater buy-in, engage participation in the design by offering proposed titles on index cards and inviting participants to sort them in to categories during a participatory planning session. There is something about handling and building a structure that builds a sense of ownership of the design. Be ready to share.
  • Develop "cheat lists" for individual users for frequently used sections of the file designs.
Remember, though we have had months to orient ourselves to the new file design, newcomers have not had that luxury. Create comfort with the system by introducing sections that interest them. Provide one-page summaries to help them build their familiarity in chunks.

As we develop our expertise not only in file design but in the ways people absorb and adapt to new systems, I believe we can shed our Aunt Martha image. As welcomed partners at the table with ready solutions in our pocket, we can be counted to bring order to the backbone of our business.

* Photo borrowed from The Baby Jar.

Day 7, Calgary to Nanaimo

I love my room at the Dorchester Best Western. We have a view of the waterfront, and the air conditioner chimes when we turn it on. I am dazzled by the bright splashes of colour from people-high rhodedendrons, azaleas, and roses.

Azaleas on the Waterfront

The old Court House, with a Rhodedendron in bloom
I think I saw a hydrangea, too, bowed down by massive blooms. The Dorchester hallways are a maze; after some puzzling I realize that it is really several buildings glommed all together. The rooms are done up very nicely, so it is easy to forgive that the stairways are narrow and illogical, and the hallways are creaky with surprising uneven spots. If we get a morning without rain, I will coax hubby to have breakfast on the third floor deck.

Sitting at the Vancouver airport for two hours watching our connecting flight towed off for repairs, wasn't fun. But we consoled ourselves it was better to have it towed away at the tarmac than to have it fail later. If you know what I mean.

The Plane that was towed away
The weather is cloudy with latent rain, and most people are in wind jackets. Me, it feels mild compared to the rugged weather back home.

We had dinner at Modern Cafe, and I had Tapas of fried chickpeas with curry.

We then took a stroll along the waterfront.

I was surprised to learn that Nanaimo is an old mining town!

They have gracefully morphed in to a resort and retirement community. The waterfront is people-friendly and welcoming. There is a lesson in here somewhere for Grande Cache.

There's an edge of defensiveness when I hint that Nanaimo is no metropolis. A plane mate, a young man with tattoos and headphones, proudly told me that Nanaimo has more square footage per capita than any other city. He advised us to go north for the night life. Our cab driver laughed at my exlamations over the greenery, obviously proud of his town. And my chosen hotel lists its amenities ad nauseum, (They have ice. And a fitness room. Did I mention they have ice?) as if in fear we would find them lacking. This hotel is a charmer and should make no apologies.