Home >


Humourless Links for June 13, 2010

by Michael Keizer on June 13, 2010

'Liquid Links' by Desirae

[Image: Liquid Links by Desirae; some rights reserved.]


Continue Reading 0 comments }Aid and aid work, Logistics, Public health

Do you see? Technology aiding supply lines – or not

by Michael Keizer on November 11, 2009

Does your organisation currently have an IC technology project running that aims to improve the supply chain? Odds are that it has, or has had one in the recent past, or is planning one for the near future – that is, if your organisation is anything bigger than a couple of volunteers with a budget of a couple of hundreds of thousands of euros. And you should: continuous improvement of your supply chain is a necessity, and ICT is indispensable to do so.

Or rather, you shouldn’t.

Too often, ICT is implemented as a stand-alone solution for supply line problems. ICT is indispensable to support any but the most trivial of supply lines, but rarely is it a solution by itself for whatever are your supply chain woes.

Does this sound like a truism to you? In fact, it does to me – but I have seen several of these ICT-as-a-panacea projects in aid logistics, so I think it is fair to say that apparently not everybody agrees. Oh, of course management of these projects will pay lip service to the idea that processes, attitudes, knowledge and training, and many other aspects will need to improve too, but in reality you see that everything concentrates on the technological solution: processes are adjusted around the technology, staff are trained in using the technology, and so on. And there we go again, in a straight line towards the next round of ‘technological innovation’.

ICT can help us to build systems that help us get the right information, at the right time, to the right people, at the right price, to make the right decisions and take the right actions. (Sounds familiar? It should.)

But: the operative word here is ‘system’. No, I am not talking about computer systems – when I say system, I refer to (ahem) ’a coordinated whole of human, physical and organisational resources (including procedures and structure), striving for a common goal’. In other words: your logistical department is only just part of the organisation’s logistics system (striving for logistical effectiveness and efficiency), which in its turn is part of the system that is your organisation as a whole (striving to perform whatever is its stated mandate as effectively and efficiently as possible), which in its turn… you get the idea. What is not a system is the shiny new ERP software that your director of resources has just bought after a slick demonstration; it could be part of an effective and efficient system – or it could break it.

I said it before and I will say it again: information and communications technology are indispensable to run anything but the most trivial supply lines; but it is there to serve the goal of those supply lines, and not the other way around. Technology should be part of an integrated system with more or less clearly defined goals. The systems should not be built around the technology, because that will hardly ever lead to real integration; instead technology, procedures, and people should be seen as a indispensable parts of the whole system, giving us eyes to see what is coming – I-see technology instead of IC technology.

(Image: Airborne Caffeine Delivery System by Todd Lappin. Some rights reserved.)


Continue Reading 4 comments }Logistics

Do you know what you export?

by Michael Keizer on March 12, 2009

I must admit that I am guilty: I have brought my Dell computer into Sudan — and out again, I am happy to say. But in doing so, I was in technical violation of various US export regulations. Over at Aid Worker Daily, Jon Thompson warned us about this already some time ago. I know that at least one international NGO decided on not buying Dells because of these regulations, even though they actually were otherwise the best for their organisation (they seemed to forget that almost every computer these days has regulated technology on board, even if it’s only wifi, so this was a particularly pointless exercise).

You might say: what does that have to do with me? I am not in America, my organisation is not incorporated in the US, what can the US government do to me? The problem here is that the US claims extraterritorial jurisdiction in many areas, of which this is one. When you bought your laptop or router, somewhere in the small print a clause was hidden stipulating that you would not export the technology to any country that is in the US’ bad books. Still, if you feel that you are untouchable for the US government, go ahead. I am sure SportingBet, a UK internet gambling site, felt much the same — until US law enforcement arrested their chairman. And don’t forget that many international NGOs get a large part of their resources from the US…

So what can you do? I see a couple of options:

  • Not use any regulated technology in prohibited countries. Might be an option for some organisations, but in view of the array of these technologies this is simply not an option for the (vast) majority of us.
  • Go the official route: get a license. Not easy, it needs expert legal input, it is a lot of work, and how are you going to do that in the throes of an acute emergency response? And one can wonder whether you will actually get a license for export to e.g. Sudan… although leveraging public opinion might force BIS to relent.
  • Keep your fingers crossed, go ahead anyway, and (again) plan to use public opinion if things do go pear-shaped and your CEO is arrested the moment she sets foot on US soil.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is a conscious choice: don’t get caught on the hop.


Continue Reading 2 comments }Aid and aid work, Logistics