First of all, forget about the Chinese. They got enough press with the Olympics.
Instead, when thinking of innovations and technologies coupled with the modern helicopter, think of Leonardo da Vinci. Back in the 14th century, and sandwiched between the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he conceptualized the helicopter. His drawings looked good even if a full scale machine could never really fly.
OK. Way before the 2008 Chinese girls’ gymnastics team and many centuries before da Vinci’s pretty drawings, the ancient Chinese had a hand-spun toy that rose when revolved rapidly. But no matter the Chinese toys, da Vinci’s inventions or gymnasts He and Jiang on the balance beam, throughout the years there have been innovations and technologies that have made an impact on business and society. And just as many or more have fallen by the wayside.
Welcome to Security Magazine’s third annual review of emerging and on-the-horizon innovations and technologies that may touch security and life safety in big, little or no ways. Ideas came from magazine readers, members of our advisory board, a pant-load of consultants and gurus and those slightly mad inventors who seem to spend as much time writing press releases as they spend on building the next security mouse trap.
In addition, John Mariotti, who advises top enterprises on innovation, writes on how to personalize the process within your security department. Mariotti’s new book “The Complexity Crisis – Why Too Many Products, Markets & Customers Are Crippling Your Company – And What to Do about It” is in bookstores now.
My fingers crossed, check out these innovations and technologies with a hope they will fly, at least better than da Vinci’s copter.
MAY THE ACCELEROMETER FORCE BE WITH YOU
An accelerometer is an electromechanical device that measures acceleration forces. These forces may be static, like the constant force of gravity pulling at your feet, or they could be dynamic, caused by moving or vibrating the accelerometer.
By measuring the amount of static acceleration due to gravity, you can find out the angle the device is tilted with respect to the earth. By sensing the amount of dynamic acceleration, you can analyze the way the device is moving. Engineers have come up with many ways to make really useful products using them.
An accelerometer can help a system or machine understand its surroundings better. Is it driving uphill? Is it going to fall over when it takes another step? Is it flying horizontally or is it dive bombing? A good programmer can write code to answer all of these questions using the data provided by an accelerometer. An accelerometer can help analyze problems in a car’s engine using vibration testing, or it could be used to make a musical instrument.
In the computing world, IBM and Apple have recently started using accelerometers in laptops to protect hard drives from damage. If you accidentally drop the laptop, the accelerometer detects the sudden freefall, and switches the hard drive off so the heads don’t crash on the platters. In a similar fashion, accelerometers are the industry’s standard way of detecting car crashes and deploying airbags at just the right time.
Some accelerometers use the piezoelectric effect, containing microscopic crystal structures that get stressed by accelerative forces, which cause a voltage to be generated. Another way is to sense changes in capacitance. If you have two microstructures next to each other, they have a certain capacitance between them. If an accelerative force moves one of the structures, then the capacitance will change. Add some circuitry to convert from capacitance to voltage, and you will get an accelerometer. There are even more methods, including use of the piezoresistive effect, hot air bubbles and light.
RELATING TO SECURITYThe Wii, the handheld wonder of gamers and older folks doing exercise on cruise ships, contains three accelerometers. What better way to improve the monitoring of access control and security video systems than to equip a person with a Wii-type of graphical user interface? It’s capable of 3-dimensional work and gets the security operator up out of that rolling chair. (Minority Report, anyone?)
BASK IN THAT ROMANTIC ACRYLIC MOONLIGHTLook at this emerging technology as a light energy sponge. Photoluminescence requires no electricity. Made up of crystals in a pigment, they absorb light from solar and artificial sources. The photoluminescent material – molded into a diversity of products and shapes –quickly becomes charged. In emergency situations and electricity blackouts, the material provides a steady moonlight-level glow that can last for up to about two hours. The material can then recharge time and time again.
RELATING TO SECURITY
Just emerging into the security market, photoluminescent lighting manufactured in molded acrylics can work in security lighting applications in banks, retail outlets, stadiums, government facilities and corporate buildings. Designed to provide additional illumination without a back-up power source during the loss of electricity, this technology can work with day/night video surveillance cameras. Under normal conditions, the material can serve as a decorative light fixture; during blackout conditions, it can provide the illumination needed for image capture or safe passage. One source is Acrilex, producer of high-end, custom-colored acrylics such as Acriglo.
Look for photoluminescence to leapfrog traditional emergency lighting systems thanks to its low cost and ability to last a long time.
BEND IT LIKE THE BIONIC EYE
That could permit compact cameras with low distortion and a wide field of view, much like a human eye, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Making curved arrays of electronics is a tough gig; most complex electronics have been etched on flat wafers. So-called bionic eyes based on the design are not yet on the horizon. Future cameras using these bionic eyes may aim at military surveillance and space missions, which demand wide fields of view. But the potential for a new era of flexible electronics sparks the imagination of engineers who have used stiff circuit boards for decades, lead study author John Rogers, a professor of materials sciences and engineering at the
To make the curved array of electronics,
“Hemispherical detector arrays are also much better suited for use as retinal implants than flat detectors,”
RELATING TO SECURITY
Bendable electronics could free camera designers to mimic other kinds of natural inventions, including “insect-like compound eyes” and fisheyes with a 360° field of view, wrote University of Tokyo electronics researcher Takao Someya in an accompanying editorial in Nature. Other possible applications include roll-up solar panels and wrap-around thin-screen video displays.
A camera’s design, based on the human eye, has a simple, single-element lens and a hemispherical detector. The camera integrates such a detector with a hemispherical cap and imaging lens, to yield a system with the overall size, shape and layout of the human eye.
PUT YOUR MIND TO IT
You think it and the computer does it. Welcome to the concept of a brain-controlled video headset. Coming from the video game field, brain-computer interface technology could be a breakthrough or a laugh fest.
From yesterday’s GUI, welcome to tomorrow’s BCI or brain computer interface. Such a neuron headset allows people to control a system with their thoughts, expressions and emotions. The design reads electrical signals around the brain. One device detects over 30 different expressions, emotions and actions such as immersion, excitement, meditation, tension and frustration; facial expressions such as smile, laugh, wink, crossed eyes, shock (raised eyebrows), anger (furrowed eyebrows), horizontal eye movement, smirk and grimace (clenched teeth); and cognitive actions such as push, pull, lift, drop and rotate (on six different axes) as well as a completely new category of action based on visualization, the first of which is the ability to make objects disappear.
Beyond gamers, researchers from the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory at
All a user has to do to control his/her avatar is imagine performing various movements. The activity monitored by the headpiece is read and plotted by an electroencephalogram, which relays it to a computer running a brain wave analysis algorithm that interprets the imagined movements. A keyboard emulator then translates the data into signals that can be used to control the movements of the user’s on-screen avatar in real-time.
RELATING TO SECURITY
Will security officers wearing these headsets tour a facility virtually? Will security monitoring and guard tours turn into a real-life game? As a result of headset detections, game players, according to developer Emotiv Systems, will be able to respond dynamically to emotions, enabling, for example, more sophisticated dynamic difficulty adjustments using their brains instead of a keyboard or controller.
LOST IN THE CLOUDS
Cloud computing means Internet- (cloud) based development and use of computer technology. It is a style of computing where IT-related capabilities are provided “as a service,” allowing users to access technology-enabled services “in the cloud” without knowledge of, expertise with or control over the technology infrastructure that supports them. It is a general concept that incorporates software as a service, Web 2.0 and other recent technology trends, where the common theme is reliance on the Internet for satisfying computing needs. For example, Google Apps provides common business applications online that are accessed from a Web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers.
Cloud computing is often confused with grid computing. Grid is a larger concept that allows access to many kinds of resources, including clouds. As such, a cloud is a resource on the grid.
The majority of cloud computing infrastructure currently consists of reliable services delivered through next-generation data centers that are built on compute and storage virtualization technologies. The services are accessible anywhere in the world, with the cloud appearing as a single point of access for all the computing needs of users. Commercial offerings need to meet the quality of service requirements of customers and typically offer service level agreements. Open standards and open source software are also critical to the growth of cloud computing.
As customers generally do not own the infrastructure, they are merely accessing or renting; they can forego capital expenditures and consume resources as a service, paying instead for what they use. Many cloud computing offerings have adopted the utility computing model which is analogous to how traditional utilities like electricity are consumed; others are billed on a subscription basis. By sharing “perishable and intangible” computing power between multiple tenants, use rates can be improved (as servers are not left idle), which can reduce costs significantly while increasing the speed of application development. A side effect of this approach is that “computer capacity rises dramatically” as customers do not have to engineer for peak loads. Adoption has been enabled by “increased high-speed bandwidth,” which makes it possible to receive the same response times from centralized infrastructure at other sites.
Companies like Amazon, Google, Salesforce and Yahoo are driving the cloud computing revolution, as are traditional vendors Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel and Microsoft. It’s primarily being adopted by large enterprises.
RELATING TO SECURITY
If cloud computing catches on with IT, there’s no doubt that it will flow into the security systems’ arena. Why buy security software if you can use and pay as you go?
Applications in the cloud: This is what almost everyone has already used in the form of Gmail, Yahoo mail, wordpress.com, Encyclopedia Britannica, etc. The service being sold (or offered in ad-sponsored form) is a complete end-user application. In this configuration, it’s more Software as a Service (SaaS), than a cloud. Look at third-party access control, security video and visitor management sources to move more aggressively to SaaS and into the clouds.
Platforms in the cloud: This is the newest entry where an application platform is offered to developers in the cloud. Systems integrators and developers write their application to a more or less open specification and then upload their code into the cloud where the app is run magically somewhere, typically being able to scale up automatically as use for the app grows.
Infrastructure in the cloud: Systems integrators, developers and system administrators grab general compute, storage and other resources and run their applications with the fewest limitations. Virtually any application and any configuration that is fit for the Internet can be mapped to this type of service.
Budget savings is obvious. Not so obvious are the dangers from relying on others as well as the potential of illegal bleed-through of proprietary and private information.
FEMTOCELLS HAVE MUSCLES
Although mobile operators are increasingly optimistic about femtocells, there are many doubts circulating around this new technology as it struggles to resolve key challenges such as functionality and cost, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan. These low-power radio systems enable mobile subscribers to use their existing mobile cellular handsets to access both data and voice services.
Operators remain optimistic primarily because of all the benefits femtocells could bring. Femtocells may enable optimum quality mobile services inside buildings and may, one day, apply to corporate use, thanks to throughputs of more than 10 Mbps. Femtocells also promise to reduce operating costs by 30 to 40 percent.
Femtocells today face several challenges that need to be addressed before being commercially launched.
A major issue is that femtocells are costly. The goal of operators is to keep mobile costs around $100, but femtocells are projected to raise this to $150-$300. Femtocells also pose the problem of radio interference. But just weeks ago, Sprint announced it will be offering femtocell technology to its cellular phone customers.
RELATING TO SECURITYThe technology behind femtocells may soon apply to enterprises and their corporate security operations. There is no doubt that these organizations have a desire to move more of their telecommunications to wireless that carries data, video and voice. Femtocells help by being able to better go through facilities with fuller coverage.
MORE DATA AT THE TIP OF A FINGER
A team led by R. Graham Cooks, Purdue’s Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry, has created a tool that reads and provides an image of a fingerprint’s chemical signature. The technology can be used to determine what a person recently handled. “The classic example of a fingerprint is an ink imprint showing the unique swirls and loops used for identification, but fingerprints also leave behind a unique distribution of molecular compounds,” Cooks said. “Some of the residues left behind are from naturally occurring compounds in the skin and some are from other surfaces or materials a person has touched.”
The team’s research was recently published in Science.
Demian R. Ifa, a Purdue postdoctoral researcher and the paper’s lead author, told Security Magazine that the technology also can easily uncover fingerprints buried beneath others.
“Because the distribution of compounds found in each fingerprint can be unique, we also can use this technology to pull one fingerprint out from beneath layers of other fingerprints,” Ifa said. “By looking for compounds we know to be present in a certain fingerprint, we can separate it from the others and obtain a crystal clear image of that fingerprint. The image could then be used with fingerprint recognition software to identify an individual.”
Researchers examined fingerprints in place or lifted them from different surfaces such as glass, metal and plastic using common clear plastic tape. They then analyzed them with a mass spectrometry technique developed in Cooks’ lab.
Mass spectrometry works by first turning molecules into ions, or electrically charged versions of them, so their masses can be analyzed. Conventional mass spectrometry requires chemical separations, manipulations of samples and containment in a vacuum chamber for ionization and analysis. Cooks’ technology performs the ionization step in the air or directly on surfaces outside of the mass spectrometer’s vacuum chamber, making the process much faster and more portable, Ifa said.
The Purdue procedure performs the ionization step by spraying a stream of water in the presence of an electric field to create positively charged water droplets. Water molecules in the droplets contain an extra proton and are called ions. When the charged water droplets hit the surface of the sample being tested, they transfer their extra proton to molecules in the sample, turning them into ions. The ionized molecules are then vacuumed into the mass spectrometer to be measured and analyzed.
The researchers placed a section of tape containing a lifted fingerprint on a moving stage in front of the spectrometer. The spectrometer then sprayed small sections of the sample with the charged water droplets, obtaining data from each section and combining the data sets to create an analysis of the sample as a whole, Ifa said. Software was used to map the information and create an image of the fingerprint from the distribution and intensity of selected ions.
RELATING TO SECURITY
This is a major law enforcement and forensics breakthrough. There are also uses by contract guarding services, which have greater leeway than corporate human resources and security departments when it comes to fingerprints. There may be uses by corporate security when it comes to investigations, however. In the future, the DESI technology could replace urine, blood and hair samples for background screenings.
YOUR CLOTHES SMELL FISHY
Scientists seeking to protect the soldier, police officer and private security officer of the future can learn a lot from a relic of the past, according to an MIT study of a primitive fish – one that could point to more effective ways of designing human body armor.
The creature in question is Polypterus senegalus, a fish whose family tree can be traced back 96 million years and who still inhabits muddy, freshwater pools in
In a U.S. Army-funded study carried out through the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies and published in Nature Materials, a team of MIT engineers unraveled exactly how the layers complement one another to protect the soft tissues inside the body of the fish. The team used nanotechnology to measure the material properties through the thickness of one individual fish scale – about 500 millionths of a meter thick – and its four different layers of materials. The different materials, the geometry and thickness of each layer, the sequence of the layers and the junctions between layers each contribute to an efficient design that helps the fish survive a penetrating attack, such as a bite.
One way in which the researchers tested the fish armor was by experimentally mimicking a biting attack on top of an individual scale that had been surgically removed from a living fish. The team found that the design of the P. senegalus armor kept the crack localized by forcing it to run in a circle around the penetration site, rather than spreading through the entire scale and leading to catastrophic failure, like many ceramic materials.
RELATING TO SECURITYArmed forces personnel in Iraq routinely wear bullet-resistant clothing. More law enforcement in the United States now wear the protection. Security officers, especially those who are armed, may wear protection. Often the gear is made from Kevlar. Fish armor may one day prove a better, lighter alternative.
PSIM – I LOVE YOU
The concept is being eagerly embraced by chief information security officers. But, at the leading edge for PSIM, Global Crossing is using remote security guard technology.
“Using BrightSite has enabled Global Crossing to streamline security across various locations while increasing scalability, reducing false alarms, maximizing security officer productivity and security effectiveness, and securely supporting Global Crossing’s multi-billion dollar global business model and network footprint,” said Global Crossing vice president of security and services Michael J. Miller. Global Crossing’s core network connects approximately 390 cities in more than 30 countries worldwide, and delivers services to approximately 690 cities in more than 60 countries and six continents around
Global Crossing wanted to strengthen its control and audit trails of access to its critical data infrastructure throughout the
BrightSite ties their card access systems and intrusion detection systems together with existing video surveillance cameras to create visual and transactional records of every card access. These precise and timely log records are kept in a database that can be searched, filtered, printed or exported. Each record includes links to video of the transaction. In addition, rule-setting capabilities allow Global Crossing’s security operations staff to configure logical rule triggers from any integrated device, based on their own policies and procedures. The rules can be tailored and fine-tuned, and alerts are issued only when the pre-configured triggers occur. Using rules, even though all transactions, incidents and other data are still captured and logged, only those situations that meet criteria trigger notification and response. By operating on the WAN, the new technology provides secure sign-on access to the software from any workstation.
Added Miller, “We like the rules-based aspect of the technology. Once we set rules for one location, it is easy to apply them for other locations.”
RELATING TO SECURITY
Remote security guard technology allowed Global Crossing better internal controls over critical data. The company achieved one-stop administration of all card access across the organization using the same cardholder records across various sites. Company auditors liked the audit trail this creates, and more importantly, the security staff now has visual records and searchable logs of all card transactions across the enterprise. The firm has reduced false alarm incidents by over 90 percent.
GIVE IT THE BACK OF YOUR HAND
There is hardly anything new in the world of biometrics, except that some emerging methods are finding niche uses.
Take the biometrics’ approach that captures and encrypts individuals’ unique vascular patterns on the back of the human hand. The user first enters a personal identification number or presents a proximity card followed by placing his or her hand to the scanner where the live vascular pattern is matched to a stored template, identifying the individual.
The market for vascular pattern recognition is governmental operations, law enforcement, sea and airports, hotels and casinos, campuses and hospital applications.
RELATING TO SECURITY
TERRORISM, RADIATION AND DETECTION
New solutions are emerging that enable remote monitoring of any type of sensor or detector. These new solutions have worldwide applications and allow systems to communicate with conventional detectors and/or any type of industrial hygiene, gas, water or process detector/sensor. The complete monitoring system can integrate radiological and non-radiological devices into a complete, global monitoring system, enabling real-time detection of any possible security threats.
Security products currently available include fixed and portable instruments used for chemical, radiological and nuclear detection and can also be used to detect the quality of air and water. These products can be employed at airports, ports and embassies, cargo facilities, borders, critical infrastructure and other high-threat facilities. Police departments, security forces and government agencies utilize such products in daily operations. Today, there is a greater recognition of the interconnected nature of security requirements. A complete, global monitoring system for the detection of non-radiological and radiological security issues is of fundamental importance in order to identify any threats.
RELATING TO SECURITY
Such complete security detection systems have been used in global situations for asset and threat identification, including in hospitals and political gatherings. Recently, a UK police task force deployed ViewPoint (Thermo Fisher Scientific), a complete radiation monitoring system to manage and monitor the radiation threats at a recent Labour Political Party Conference. Expect more law enforcement applications with selected enterprises not far behind.
EVEN THE SOAP OPERAS?Law enforcement and private security operations are now seeing value in viewing television and cable stations’ newscasts. But with scores of news outlets, it is an almost impossible assignment. Emerging is technology that provides continuous recording and monitoring of local and national newscasts.
RELATING TO SECURITY
The Media Relations Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has such a video monitoring and logging system to provide continuous recording. The Observer (Volicon) provides an easy-to-access solution for information officers to remain aware of breaking news items and easily access and search archived video for any material concerning the LAPD and law enforcement in the city of
The emerging technology plays a critical role in the LAPD’s efforts to share information internally and stay prepared for events requiring a law enforcement response, such as terrorist activity. The system receives live video feeds from all national and local news outlets, as well as closed-circuit city channels and downlinks from police helicopters. Only the LAPD’s public information officers have access to the system, but they are able to share video easily with other select members of the department, as required.
Before the new technology, the Media Relations Unit relied on an analog system in which each broadcast was displayed on a different monitor and recorded onto videotape for later reference. The system required constant live monitoring by public information officers, who then had to search manually through videotaped recordings to find archived clips. The file-based system removes videotape from the process, continuously recording and displaying broadcasts from all channels on a single monitor and giving officers access from any networked PC with a Web browser.
The new system uses closed captions to index video in its database; the system can issue alarms and trigger e-mail notifications, complete with a clip of the video, when a breaking news event is taking place. In addition, the closed caption database enables officers to search for and retrieve archive clips quickly and easily, and then e-mail them to others in the department.
THE GREENING OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN
The supply chain is one of the most important areas in which a company, its security operation and employees can demonstrate attention to climate change and energy use. Spanning every stage of a product’s life cycle, the concept of a green supply chain is being broadened to take in every manufacturing process that generates pollutants and consumes significant amounts of energy.
RELATING TO SECURITY
An IOMA report includes material from research work underway at the
Addressing the challenges faced by most commercial organizations as they set about the task of reducing carbon footprints, this report discusses the following issues:
- Measurement. How to calculate the carbon footprint of a supply chain; where to measure and what measurements to include.
- Strategy and decision making. The right strategies to reduce the energy and carbon emissions associated with supply chains, and how to prioritize technology investments based on the current footprint and supply chain strategy.
- Labeling and reporting. How companies communicate information on the carbon footprint to customers and stakeholders, as well as within the supply chain between trading partners.
THE GOOD PIRATE
As reported by The Economist: Given that a certain amount of pirating is going to happen anyway, some companies are turning it into an advantage.
For example, around 20 times as many music tracks are exchanged over the Internet on “peer to peer” file sharing networks as are legitimately sold online or in shops. Statistics about the traffic on file sharing networks can be useful. They can reveal, for example, the countries where a new singer is most popular, even before his album has been released there. Having initially been reluctant to be seen exploiting this information, record companies are now making use of it, according to The Economist.
Piracy can help to open up new markets. Take software, for example: Microsoft Windows operating system is used on 90 percent of PCs in
SIDEBAR: Choose Innovation over Complexity
“Innovate or die” is a commonly used phrase to describe the urgency of innovation to drive growth. But there’s a problem, which most managers commonly cite: “We have no time or resources left for true innovation. We’re buried just supporting our day-to-day business and solving problems.” These are common complaints. Everyone agrees that innovation is the path to future success, but only a few companies, such as Apple and Proctor & Gamble, seem to get around to it or devote enough time and resources to finding the big breakthroughs. Why is this the case?
The answer, in a word, is complexity. Companies and their security operations around the globe are reeling from self-induced complexity. In their frustrating search for high growth in low growth markets, they have substituted proliferation for innovation. They have proliferated everything – products, technology, customers and markets – but innovated virtually nothing. The result is a tidal wave of extra work that leads to huge, hidden costs. Complexity costs hide in places that modern accounting systems use as “catchall accounts,” where no cause is easily determined.
Is security drowning in complexity? Does it seem the faster you go, the more behind you get? Is overhead up and are people still straining to keep their heads above the piles of work? If so, it’s time to run down the causes of these problems and find some solutions.
Investigation reveals that most complexity is due to undisciplined expansion in many areas. Because there are few to no metrics to track complexity and its adverse impact, it continues to fly below the radar, costing companies millions and in some cases, billions. Worst of all, it keeps people from working on the most important, highest-potential opportunities.
The good news: There are solutions to these problems. The better news: There are tools and techniques that help in new and better ways. The best news: Once complexity has been exposed and managed – either driven out, or put to good use – there will be more resources, more time and more money to devote to innovation. The path to truly profitable growth is through innovation in products, processes, methods, and strategies.
SOLUTION 1: Conquer Complexity – “Sort & Simplify”
There are two approaches to dealing with complexity. Some see complexity as an advantage, streamlining processes and using a high-variety, high-value strategy. Others see complexity as a menace, and must get rid of it to make room for free time and resources for better uses. The key for both is “sort and simplify,” then “focus on the future.” Sort products and your security budget and profits in descending value order and calculate the cumulative percentage contributed. It’s no surprise if you find the top of the list – 20-25 percent of your business items – generates most of your successes. The bottom 20-25 percent of the list is populated with mostly “losers” that generate very little in benefits. Get rid of them, but not indiscriminately. That’s the key point of developing a sixth sense.
SOLUTION II: Use a Sixth Sense & See the Way
You know that most of those bottom dwellers are losers that need to be dumped. However, a few of them are high potential future “stars” or important niche fillers in your operation. An improved approach is needed. Just as we use our five senses to evaluate our surroundings, it’s necessary to develop a “sixth sense” to use in this case. Our senses help us make decisions based on our environment. Using this sixth-sense process will help identify what is important to customers and consumers, both current and prospective.
The problem: This is easy to say, harder to do. Some people’s decisions are based on complex considerations that even they usually don’t fully understand. Too often security deals with this by trying a little (or a lot) of everything, and the result is that a few tries hit the target. Most of them miss and lead to more complexity.
This sixth-sense process is critical to sorting the few winners from the many losers at the bottom of the list. It also helps reinforce why many of the big winners are so successful, adding insights that will create more winners. The key is to make the use of this process routine; engage security’s bosses and customers and translate their desires, wishes and preferences into the best kinds of services to offer. Sort and simplify first, and then engage next. Clean out the bottom of the list wisely, and do it several times each year. Suddenly, instead of creating complexity and waste, you are eliminating it by carefully targeted solutions. What’s next? Now it’s time to solve the stickier problems.
SOLUTION III: Optimization Solves Complex Problems
Sometimes the solutions must address more complex situations. Typically, when there are many available options (e.g., accessories on a car), the question becomes how to plan for them. Accommodating all variations is wasteful since few cases result in every available option being selected. Accommodating each uniquely is also wasteful; it leads to enormous variety and no volume-cost advantage. Whereas many cases of complexity yield to the “sort and simplify” or sixth-sense approaches, these situations require a different solution. The key here is optimization.
Optimization is something we do every day, such as deciding which route to take to work, based on time, traffic, etc. Which security system features to buy is another example. We estimate our use of the features and “optimize” by purchasing technology that meets most of our needs. To handle a large number of variables, computer algorithms analyze the choices. Fortunately, such solutions exist. Rather than guess, or err to either extreme, it’s better to use proven methods to reduce unnecessary complexity, and make the optimum choice.
RESULT: Time for Innovation – The Best Path to Growth
We have come a long way just to get back our starting point: innovation for growth. Complexity creates obstacles, and if not contained, consumes (wastes) so many resources that none are left for innovation. If the true nature of complexity is understood, decisions can be made on whether to create a high-variety, high-value strategy (“use it”) or one that drives out wasteful complexity, simplifying work and reducing waste (”lose it”).
Fortunately, after sorting and simplifying, new solutions help understand motivations, and then optimize choices. Now that you see the path, the decision is easy. It’s time to move from drowning in complexity to focusing on the future, through innovation for profitable growth. Remember, business is a game where the score is kept in money, and the winners get to play again. Choose innovation over complexity and make sure you are one of the winners!
About the Author
John L. Mariotti’s new book “The Complexity Crisis – Why Too Many Products, Markets & Customers Are Crippling Your Company – And What to Do about It” is available at www.amazon.com and most leading bookstores. Mariotti is former president of Huffy Bicycles and Rubbermaid Office Products Group. He can be reached at www.mariotti.net