A commonly accepted principle of architecture and engineering is to avoid a single point of failure (SPOF). A single depot for a chain of over 850 fast food restaurants could be risky, as KFC was warned when it announced that it was switching its ...

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  1. Fail Fast - Why did the Chicken cross the road?
  2. The Exception That Proves the Rule
  3. The Hungry Tapeworm
  4. Another 20 million faces
  5. Bus Safety Announcement
  6. More Recent Articles

Fail Fast - Why did the Chicken cross the road?

A commonly accepted principle of architecture and engineering is to avoid a single point of failure (SPOF). A single depot for a chain of over 850 fast food restaurants could be risky, as KFC was warned when it announced that it was switching its logistics from Bidvest to a partnership with DHL and QSL, to be served out of a single depot in Rugby. We may imagine that the primary motivation for KFC was cost-saving, although the announcement was dressed up in management speak - "re-writing the rule book" and "setting a new benchmark".

The new system went live on 14th February 2018. The changeover did not go well: by the weekend, over three quarters of the stores were closed. Rugby is a great location for a warehouse - except when there is a major incident on a nearby motorway. (Who knew that could happen?)

After a couple of weeks of disruption, as well as engaging warehouse-as-a-service startup Stowga for non-food items, KFC announced that it was resuming its relationship with Bidvest. According to some reports, Burger King also flirted with DHL some years ago before returning to Bidvest. History repeating itself.

However, the problems faced by KFC cannot be attributed solely to the decision to supply the whole UK mainland from Rugby. A just-in-time supply chain needs contingency planning - covering business continuity and disaster recovery. (Good analysis by Richard Priday, who tweets as @InsomniacSteel.)

KFC revolutionizes UK foodservice supply chain with DHL and QSL appointment (DHL Press Release, 11 Oct 2017)

Andrew Don, KFC admits chicken waste as cost of DHL failure grows (The Grocer, 23 Feb 2018)

Andrea Felsted, Supply chains: Look for the single point of failure (FT 2 May 2011)

Adam Leyland, KFC supply chain fiasco is Heathrow's Terminal 5 all over again (The Grocer, 23 Feb 2018)

Charlie Pool (CEO of Stowga), Warehousing on-demand saves KFC (Retail Technology 26 February 2018)

Richard Priday, The inside story of the great KFC chicken shortage of 2018 (Wired 21 February 2018) How KFC ended the great chicken crisis by taking care of its mops (Wired 2 March 2018) The KFC chicken crisis is finally over: it's (sort of) ditched DHL (Wired 8 March 2018)

Carol Ryan, Stuffed KFC only has itself to blame (Reuters, 20 February 2018)

Su-San Sit, KFC was 'warned DHL would fail' (Supply Management, 20 February 2018)

Matthew Weaver, Most KFCs in UK remain closed because of chicken shortage (Guardian 19 Feb 2018) KFC was warned about switching UK delivery contractor, union says (Guardian 20 Feb 2018)

Zoe Wood, KFC returns to original supplier after chicken shortage fiasco (Guardian 8 March 2018)

Wikipedia: Single Point of Failure

Related posts: Fail Fast - Burger Robotics (March 2018)

The Exception That Proves the Rule

My thin clean-shaven friend @futureidentity is reassured by messages that appear to be misdirected.

But when I read his latest tweet, I thought of the exception that proves the rule. Fowler defines five uses of this phrase; I'm going to use two of them.

Firstly, when an advert is exceptionally badly targeted, we notice it precisely because it is an outlier - an exception to the normal pattern or rule. Thus reinforcing our belief in the normal pattern - the idea that many if not most messages nowadays are moderately well targeted. This is what Fowler calls the "loose rhetorical sense" of the phrase.

Secondly, adverts aren't necessarily misdirected by accident. Conjurers and politicians use misdirection as a form of deception, to distract the audience's attention from what they are really doing. (Some commentators regard the 45th US President as a master of misdirection.)

This is how Target does it, so the pregnant customer doesn't feel she's being stalked.
"Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance." (Forbes)

So just because a marketing message appears to be a random error, that doesn't mean it is. Further investigation might reveal it to be carefully designed to foster exactly that illusion in a specific recipient. And if it turns out to be targeted after all, this would be what Fowler calls "the secondary rather complicated scientific sense" of the phrase.

Related posts

85 million faces (Oct 2016)


Charles Duhigg, How companies learn your secrets (New York Times, 16 Feb 2012)

Kashmir Hill, How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did (Forbes, 16 Feb 2012)

Wikipedia: Exception that proves the ruleMisdirection (magic)

The Hungry Tapeworm

This week, three American companies announced a joint venture to sort out healthcare for their own employees. Ambitious, huh?

This is not the first time large American companies have tried to challenge tho market power of healthcare providers. According to Warren Buffett, "the ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy". Intel and Walmart are among those that have previously ventured into this area. In 2016, 20 companies including Coca Cola, American Express, IBM and Macy’s joined the Health Transformation Alliance (HTA). So why should anyone take this latest attempt seriously? Only because the three companies are Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. And Amazon (need I remind you?) eats everyone's lunch.

John Naughton sees this as a typical play for a data hungry tech giant, based on two hypotheses.
  • Transactional data will lead to transactional efficiencies. The joint venture starts with the three companies experimenting on their own employees, who will "tell Amazon and its algorithms what works and doesn’t work". 
  • "Mastery of big data might yield clinical benefit".
As Pressman and Lashinsky note, the experiment is based on a pretty good sample of Americans: "a diverse workforce spanning low-wage normal folk to the most elite of our society".

Amazon is obviously a major player in the data and analytics world, but so is IBM, which is playing an important role in the HTA. Not only is IBM a corporate member, but IBM Watson Health will do the data and analytics. According to Pharmaceutical Commerce, it will "aggregate participating HTA member companies' data, enabling insights both into outcomes of medical interventions, as well as wellness initiatives to improve employees’ health".

And what about Google? Google Health was discontinued in 2011, following a lack of widespread adoption. Perhaps data isn't the whole story.

But Amazon is not just about data. In an article published before this announcement, Zack Kanter attributes Amazon's strategic dominance to SOA. "Each piece of Amazon is being built with a service-oriented architecture, and Amazon is using that architecture to successively turn every single piece of the company into a separate platform — and thus opening each piece to outside competition."

Moazed and Johnson discuss the platform implications of the healthcare announcement. They argue that "platforms thrive with fragmentation, not consolidation", and that "the new platform needs to offer enough potential scale to outweigh those risks, otherwise manufacturers may be too afraid to join". Sarah Buhr sees this as an opportunity for smaller players, such as Collective Health.

Three employers, even large ones, probably won’t have enough muscle to negotiate fair prices for healthcare and pharma. But if Bezos can create the right expectations, and provide a flexible platform for smaller players ...

Health Transformation Alliance sets its 2017 agenda (Pharmaceutical Commerce, 9 March 2017)

Amazon alliance takes on ‘hungry tapeworm’ of healthcare costs (Pharmaceutical Technology, 1 February 2018)

Sarah Buhr, Collective Health Wants To Replace The Health Insurance Industry With A Software Program (TechCrunch, 11 Aug 2014)

Sarah Buhr, Amazon’s new healthcare company could give smaller healthtech players a boost (TechCrunch, 30 Jan 2018)

Paul Demko, Amazon's new health care business could shake up industry after others have failed (Politico, 30 January 2018)

Zack Kanter, Why Amazon is eating the world (TechCrunch, 14 May 2017)

Paul Martyn, Healthcare Consumerism: Taming The Hungry Tapeworm (Forbes, 30 January 2018)

Alex Moazed and Nicholas L Johnson, Amazon's Long-Awaited Health Care Platform (Inc, 30 January 2018)

John Naughton, Healthcare is a huge industry – no wonder Amazon is muscling in (Observer, 4 February 2018)

Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky, Data Sheet—Why Jeff Bezos Just Might Crack the Health Care Challenge (Fortune, 31 January 2018)

Jordan Weissmann, Can Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Revolutionize Health Care? (Slate, 30 Jan 2018)

Wikipedia: Google Health

Updated 5 February 2018

Another 20 million faces

Just over a year ago, Microsoft launched some software that would guess how old you were. Millions of people were persuaded to donate a selfie to Microsoft in return for playing this game. See my post 85 Million Faces (October 2016).

Google's latest face-collecting gimmick is to find a painting that looks like you. Although the Arts and Culture app was originally launched in 2015, the face-matching feature was only added last month. This weekend the app shot to the number one slot in the downloads chart, and 20 million selfies (and counting) have already been donated to Google.

As @ArwaM comments, facial recognition technology allows Google to find the artwork you most resemble – but it also supports the rise of the surveillance state.

And yet Google cannot (yet) compete with old-fashioned serendipity. Before Museum-Doppelgänger-Hunt was an app, it was a viral meme, featuring (among others) @fleezee.

But there have been other Doppelgänger-Hunts before, using Face Recognition software. For example, the TwinStrangers project. So which is the egg and which the chicken?

Rebecca Fleenor, I'm on the front page of Reddit. This is how it feels (CNET, 13 September 2017)

Christine Hauser, Meet your art twin: a 400-year-old with an oily complexion (New York Times, 17 Jan 2018)

Arwa Mahdawi, Finding your museum doppelganger is fun – but the science behind it is scary (Guardian, 16 January 2018)

Rosie Spinks, Why the Art Museum Doppelgänger meme is to profoundly addictive (Quartzy, 2 January 2018)

Der fremde Zwilling (Spiegel, 15 April 2015) in German

Bus Safety Announcement

Transport for London (TfL) reckons around 3000 people are injured every year by slips, trips and falls on London buses. So it is running trials of an automated system that announces the departure of the bus from the stop.
"Please hold on, the bus is about to move"

or as Bon Jovi might say
"We've gotta hold on ready or not."

The problem is that these alerts often come after the bus is already halfway down the road.
"Whoa, we're half-way there."

As the BBC News explains, the timing of the alert is based on the average amount of time a bus would spend at a bus stop, and is often hopelessly inaccurate. Passengers have taken to social media in droves to complain or mock. Many have wondered whether it was such a problem in the first place, and whether an alert would help to alleviate the problem. Others have pointed out the potential value of such an alert for certain categories of passenger - such as the elderly or visually impaired - but of course this only works if the alert comes at the right time.

I haven't spoken to anyone at TfL about this, but I can imagine what happened. In order to get a trial up and running quickly, they didn't have time (or permission) to link the alert with any of the systems on board the bus that could have sent a more accurate event signal. So we have a stand-alone system, knocked up quickly, as an experimental solution to a problem that most people hadn't previously recognized. In the trimodal scheme, this is a classic Pioneer project.
"For love we'll give it a shot."

So if the trial isn't laughed into touch, then maybe the Settlers can take over and do the alert properly.
"Take my hand, we'll make it. I swear."

And the Town Planners can come up with a joined-up long-term vision for passenger comfort and safety. Altogether now ...
"Whoa, livin' on a prayer."


The wording of the announcement has changed, but the timing hasn't. It now says.
"Please hold on while the bus is moving"

What can I say to that?
"Standing on the ledge, I show the wind how to fly. When the world gets in my face, I say, have a nice day."

Londoners hit out at 'mistimed' bus safety alerts (BBC News, 14 January 2018)

Nadia Khomami, Please hold on: TfL urged to get a grip over annoying bus warnings (Guardian, 15 January 2018)

Eleanor Rose, TfL anger London commuters again with replacement bus announcement that is 'still annoying as hell' (Standard, 26 January 2018)

Londoners baffled by 'bonkers' bus safety announcements warning them 'the bus is about to move' (Evening Standard,15 January 2018).

For more on Trimodal IT, see my post Beyond Bimodal (May 2016)

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