Monday, November 8, 2010

Smart Systems and Competent Systems

It amazes me how companies won't do the most basic things with their data. About once a quarter the company that rents us our flat solicits us by mail to sell the place. I just recycled a letter from our current broadband provider encouraging us to switch to them as they have better reliability and lower rates than the competition.

Surely there should be a database out there where a simple join between a residential addresses table and a current customers table would result in a mailing list that does not include me. I'm not sure what offends me more, the excess waste this represents not just in felled trees, but in the entire supply chain that delivers me this mail, or the simple incompetence that it represents.

The Economist has an interesting special report this week on Smart Systems. This report portrays a future where the rapidly progressing sensor, wireless communication and power/battery technologies converge to deliver endless data enabling us to analyse and optimise everything. Power grids, water works, and even cows are candidates for this new age of analytics. They could be exciting times for Operations Researcher practitioners. Early benefits will probably come from simple applications and may resemble the traditional benefits from IT and access to information. As a second level, Operations Research will be able to do more sophisticated things with the data, but when I see the examples I mentioned above, it can be possible to lose faith.