Friday, January 31, 2014

IBR 2/3 exam results!

I had been given to understand that the results for exams taken at the beginning of December would be published on or around January 24 this year. As I have spent most of the past week in bed with the flu, I wasn't in the mood to check how well I had done. But the past few days I've been feeling better (but not 100%), so it was time to check.

Whilst the general results page says that results have been published, my own page shows only MBA results, with the DBA results pending. Hmmm. I was not totally surprised that my results had yet to appear as this has happened to me for the last two times that I took exams. I posted a question on the 'EBS Watercooler' site, which is a general EBS (Edinburgh Business School) forum, asking whether anyone had received their IBR results. Someone answered in the affirmative.

Based on this information, I then wrote to one of the EBS examination staff, asking where my results were. Almost immediately I received a reply saying that there was a technical fault and that the results would be posted tomorrow (ie today).

This morning I got up at 7am (late for me - the Occupational Psychologist is in America at the moment so there's no reason for me to get up early) and went to the computer to check my email. There was no internet connection (fixed landline via the kibbutz), so not only could I not read my email, I also couldn't access the EBS site.

8 am - no internet connection. I fired up the mobile computer with its direct connection to the Internet (a wireless router) and logged into the EBS site. No results.

10 am - the internet connection has been restored to my computer, but the results have yet to appear. It's only 8am in Edinburgh and probably the IT staff only begin work at 9am.

2 pm - still no results.

4:45 pm - out of almost idle curiosity, I check for what I had decided would be the final time for today to see whether the results have appeared ... and indeed they have. To my surprise and relief, I have passed both exams (albeit with barely passing grades, but this doesn't matter)! This means that I have passed all three preparatory Introduction to Business Research exams and can now enter the research phase of the doctorate! It also means that I may never ever have to take an exam again (unless, of course, I decide to study for yet another degree, something which seems to be exceedingly unlikely at the moment. Who knows how I will feel in another five years).

It's very interesting comparing the breakdown of marks in the exams with my immediate impressions: I thought, for example, that I did poorly in the second half of IBR3 (statistics) whereas in fact I scored 36 (out of 50) marks on this question. On the other hand, I scored much worse on the first question than I thought I had.... All this goes to show that impressions can be misleading.

As I understand things, I will now be assigned to a mentor with whom I will work on preparing my research proposal. As I've had little to do in the past two months, I have already written a fair amount of this proposal; now I can kick it into high gear. One very important piece of information which I want is a breakdown of Priority users according to the number of licenses per site and their business sector; I have informally approached the company that owns and develops Priority for this information but have yet to have received a reply. I shall now actively seek this information. I will also have to develop the research questionnaire (which according to preliminary work which I did last year will probably be divided into two separate questionnaires), but this can wait for the mentor.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Song festival - videos

All the traveling of the past few weeks has worn me out; I woke up on Wednesday morning with a ticklish throat, and for the first time in a few years I am suffering from viral pharyngitis. I can barely speak; it hurts to swallow and I spent most of yesterday in bed, too weak to move. Today I'm feeling a bit better but still can't speak in a voice stronger than a whisper.

Finally I have received the dvd of the song festival which was held a month ago. I have extracted the two songs whose tunes I wrote and have uploaded them to YouTube. I will be the first to say that my performance is hardly electrifying, although of course, the song itself is somewhat depressing. I am uploading the songs as a public service.

Listening to the songs, it sounds to me as if Orna's microphone in the first song was in fact live, as there are times when I can hear two voices. She was supposed to mime (or sing softly) and the microphone was supposed to be turned off, but it seems that the microphone was left on. Her performance can be found here - note how I suddenly appear to sing the chorus which can barely be heard.

I'm singing harmony with myself here. It's a shame that the microphone stand was in my face all the time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Although this blog in general doesn't occupy itself with matters pertaining to my day job, today I have little alternative. Last week, my company bought one of its competitors; it wasn't that we were predatory, but more that the other company had decided to cease trading and sell its business to its most worthy competitor.

So for the past few days I have been extremely busy: at home, at night, writing programs to import the data which we have received, and during the day giving intensive training sessions to the salespeople from the other company. 

These training sessions are being held in the other company's showroom, which is in the city of Petach Tikva, not an area which I know well. My first visit there was with someone else and we went by car, but the past few days I have gone on my own and by public transport. I have two options: train/walk or train/bus
  • Train/walk: in this option, I take the train from Bet Shemesh to Tel Aviv as usual, then change to a branch line for three stops. This takes (including waiting in Tel Aviv) an hour and fifteen minutes. I then have a walk which takes 25-30 minutes to get to the showroom.
  • Train/bus: in this option, after getting to Tel Aviv, I walk out of the station to a nearby bus stop and catch a certain bus. The ride takes about 30 minutes and delivers me a few minutes' walk from the showroom. This option is probably one or two shekels cheaper (but no more); anyway, I get my fares refunded.
The first day, I tried the train/walk option, to get the feel of things. The walk was a little too far in my option, so the second day I tried the train/bus option. Whilst this was better in getting to the showroom (although I got there at about 8:35 and they only open at 9), it was much worse in the afternoon. I had to stand for about ten minutes in the bus and arrived five minutes after the hourly train to Bet Shemesh had left. I arrived home glassy eyed.

Today I came by train and walked; this afternoon I will be returning early, so it's not  really part of the equation. I have to decide whether I prefer the comfort and regularity of the train accompanied by a long walk, or saving the long walk but suffering crowded buses and irregular times.

I think that I prefer the train. Other people might well decide otherwise, as the walk is somewhat daunting.

[SO: 3302; 2, 12, 30]

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Codifying knowledge

Carrying on from yesterday's post, I see that calling the issue a battle between ERP and EUC is not really correct. What I am doing when creating a program is codifying knowledge: in yesterday's example, I know how to check whether inventory has been added with/out shipping costs, whereas someone else might not know how to check. By writing that program, I have enabled anyone to check whether the cost of a part includes its shipping costs (at least, for the last time that the part was purchased).

I am reminded of another example: the comptroller approached me a few years ago and asked for my help in creating a complex report. This report was taking him about three workdays every month to prepare. It took me maybe a complete workday to program the report (including debugging; this is a long time, in programming terms) to his satisfaction. The comptroller now saves three workdays a month, and creation of that report is not dependent upon him.

In another context, this morning I edited the minutes of a meeting I attended the day before yesterday, and one of the points was about the amount of knowledge required by a worker on the production line. Theoretically, the knowledge that the worker has about a given product should be as little as possible; the product should not require a specific worker in order to be produced. The instructions which tell the worker which product to assemble should also tell him how to assemble the product. At the moment, they don't, but we're working on it.

So by not using EUC, we have enabled two major gains: we have saved time and we have institutionalised knowledge. All of this goes back to one of the most viewed blog entries which I have written, about knowledge hoarding. We are still trying to provide the correct environment so that the knowledge that Ms X. will become less relevant.

All of the above reminds me of the course in Knowledge Management which I took at least 10 years ago. Along with the lectures, we were each given a copy of the book 'Working Knowledge' by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusack; my copy was published in 1998, over 15 years ago; Amazon lists an edition from 2000; I doubt that there are few differences between the first and second editions, and I also doubt that there would be many changes should a new edition be published now. Anyway, chapter four is entitled "Knowledge codification and coordination" and begins with the sentence The aim of codification is to put organisational knowledge into a form that makes it accessible to those who need it

I think it will be worthwhile to read this book again. 

[SO: 3302; 2,12,30]

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

ERP vs End User Computing

Today I had what might be considered to be a classic case in the continuing battle between using the standard tools of ERP as opposed to "rolling one's own" (end user computing, aka EUC).

Someone needed to give costs for parts which we have purchased in the past. As these parts are important, their costs are comprised of their ex-factory cost and the cost of shipping. Instead of trying to determine how much should be added for each shipment, we simply add a percentage of the price - in other words, if something costs 100 Euro EXF and its shipping cost is 20%, then we enter its cost as 120 Euro. We had reason to suspect that the shipping cost percentage for several parts had somehow been deleted, but we have no way of knowing when that percentage was deleted.

Had I been anyone else, I would have taken matters into my own hands and 'solved' the problem with my own insights and Excel (ie EUC). I would have looked at every part, determined when we last purchased it, looked at the delivery note for that purchase and derive from it the EXF cost, the exchange rate and the cost at which it was listed. If the listed cost is equal to the EXF times the exchange rate, then no shipping costs would have been added. This would take me a few minutes for each part.

But after a short walk which I had taken to exercise my muscles (I had been sitting on my chair for a few hours without moving), I thought a little about this problem. Surely it would be better to get a professional programmer (myself, under a different hat) to write a program which would give the required data. The advantages of this method are that the data are guaranteed to be correct and that the time involved would be fixed - in other words, I could devote 30 minutes to writing the program and this program would be available for whoever needed it, whenever (as it happens, I think it took me even less than 30 minutes to write the program, including the necessary debugging).

If I had fifteen parts to check now and every part took two minutes to check, then time-wise I would come out even. But if I have another ten parts to check, the cost in time to check them would be zero. And if I had three thousand parts to check ....

So why do people prefer to find their own solutions, even if they are not efficient? I can think of a few reasons
  • they never consider transferring the problem to a professional
  • they are unable to explain the problem to said professional
  • they think that passing a problem on to someone else to solve somehow makes them a less good worker (because they didn't solve the problem themself)
  • they think that they can get the data by themself in a few minutes whereas sending the problem to a professional will mean that the solution will take more time
Although this isn't exactly what I want to research (I am more interested at the moment in researching the extent of EUC in companies running ERP), it may well be that I will also have to research why people do this. I may use the above as a test case and try and find the real reasons why people use EUC. The problem may be that users aren't necessarily able to explain their actions - not everybody thinks about these abstract ideas like I do (in fact, I doubt whether anyone thinks about them at all!). 

[SO: 3282;2,12,30]

Sunday, January 05, 2014

End of year blues

Accountant's joke (I probably write this every year): what is the longest day of the year? Most people would probably reply June 21, but the accountant would reply December 31, as she writes journal entries on that date for several weeks. Although I'm not an active accountant, I do have a large amount of work to do at the end of the civil year, mainly concerned with stock-taking. There were also some issues to do with the new year (document numbering) which took some time.

When not working on inventory, I've been programming an interface which receives csv files from the three dimensional design program Solidworks and outputs data in a form which can be read by Priority. The basic idea is that an engineer will design a piece of office furniture in Solidworks, whilst creating a bill of materials semi-automatically. This bom can then be read into Priority which will assign a part number for the piece, build a bom and do all the housework necessary. 

I had a prototype of this running in August, but a certain change (which we had long wanted) was only implemented last week, and as a result I had to update both the external interface program (written in Delphi) and the interface internal to Priority. This latter part took most of the effort: it transpires that certain pieces of information can only be known inside Priority once the simple data has been accepted; the Delphi program is unaware (and should be unaware) of this data. This means that the internal interface had to be improved greatly, but now I can define data in a better way.

Until now, the development necessary in Solidworks has only been done by one person, but last week we had a training session, and now certain types of office furniture are expected to be imported via this process. Of course, I will be monitoring the situation closely in order to find the places where my original expectations and assumptions don't match reality.

[SO: 3,282; 2, 12, 30]