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Talking Point – The Value of Systems

Never underestimate the value of systems in your day-to-day life – they bring order to chaos, improve efficiency and effectiveness, save time (and thereby money) and generally make life a lot easier.

Oxford Languages define Systems in two ways

  1. a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole. For example, "the state railway system"
  2. a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organised scheme or method. For example, "the public school system"

To quote Google, “a system is a group of related things that work together as a whole. These things can be real or imaginary. Systems can be man-made things like a car engine or natural things like a star system. Systems can also be concepts made by people to organise ideas. A subsystem is a system that is part of some larger system.”

Many systems are only as good as those using them

On a daily basis most of what we do is governed by organisational systems, which are so simplistic and organic and seamlessly delivered so we don’t always recognise them as systems – they are just part of our activities that we undertake sub-consciously. Catching a bus or a suburban train is a pretty obvious one, especially if you use a prepaid card reading system where you tag on and off. It works brilliantly until you forget to tag off when you get to where you’re going, reminding us that most systems are only as good as the user. The system is formal and relies on the users knowing how to use it.

A good example of an informal system is buying a takeaway coffee. There are generally no formal systems in place unless you’re buying from a franchise or chain like Starbucks or McDonalds. Your local corner café / bakery / coffee cart usually relies on the intelligence or awareness of its customers, which is often not that great. How often have you stood in line behind someone at the counter who has already ordered their extra hot, decaf, oat milk, half-strength latte with chocolate sprinkles and a pink marshmallow on top, yet continues to stand in front of the counter while they wait for their (questionable) coffee to be made, meanwhile the long queue of potential customers that has formed behind them are wondering what the hold-up is and the counter staff are too polite to move them on to wait out of the way of those wanting to place an order.

Universally-used systems limit confusion

Finding a table on your own or being seated, placing an order, and paying for a meal (at the table, at the bar or at the front door?) in restaurants is another classic example of how much better life would be if all hospitality outlets used a common system. Based on my years of travelling in other western countries, this appears to be a problem that is a uniquely New Zealand one and it must be a real headache for international visitors to our country. We have a restaurant association so maybe they could create a universal system based on other countries models and get their members to adopt it, rather than use an ad hoc one that seems to be different for each establishment.

With the shortage of waiting staff and the uptake of paying for things on your phone, most overseas eating establishments that I’ve visited since Covid (Australia, Europe and the UK) have resorted to using QR codes for supplying menus, placing orders and prepayment of drinks and meals. Such a great system which was borne out of necessity. The uptake in NZ bistros and restaurants is just getting started, so maybe that will eliminate much of the confusion that currently exists here.

Systems to keep you safe from harm

Safety Briefings on planes is another example of how a universally adopted system can provide better safety for passengers and crew. Most airlines use a standard format and whether we like it or not, a fair amount of the safety info finds its way into our subconscious minds, so hopefully in an airline emergency we’ll switch to auto pilot (no pun intended) and follow instructions.

The recent incident when a Japan Airlines jet (flight JAL516) collided with an earthquake relief plane and burst into flames on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda airport (2 January 2024) is a classic example of how a good safety system was instrumental in saving the lives of all 379 passengers on board who were safely evacuated. The flight was a scheduled domestic passenger flight, so the majority of passengers were Japanese and culturally used to living with systems and following rules on a daily basis. Reports indicate that no-one panicked, no-one tried to take their hand luggage with them, and they all followed the crew’s instructions and evacuated in an orderly fashion, with very few injuries and no fatalities from Flight JAL516.

The same can’t be said for the Latam flight LA800 from Sydney to Auckland on 11 March 2024, with 263 passengers and nine cabin crew, where the plane suddenly lost altitude an hour before it was due to land in Auckland, resulting in around 47 passengers and three crew being injured, some of them seriously. Seems despite being constantly reminded throughout the flight to keep their seatbelt buckled up, those passengers who were injured weren’t using theirs. The ten hospitalised included four passengers from Australia, two from Brazil, two from NZ, one from France and one from Chile. There was no mention of the nationalities of the other 37 injured passengers.

So instead of providing safety briefings on planes as entertainment or history lessons, as we do with our national carrier in NZ, maybe sticking to the facts would be a better option.

Systems make the world go round – systems thinking and AI partnership

The moral of the story is that systems make a difference to pretty much everything we do and they always have. Systems go back to 350 BCE, so they’re not new. If you’re having a slow day and would like more info on systems, check this out .

In the 1990s many a management guru made a good living out of sharing information about the value of Systems Thinking, whether it was through writing books, running training courses or providing consultancy services to organisations, and with the major leaps forward in artificial intelligence, systems thinking is even more crucial these days. A systems thinking approach is vital to understanding the place of artificial intelligence (AI) as a component within solutions to real world problems. AI can also point toward creating and refining operational systems more efficiently.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is the science of designing systems that exhibit similar characteristics associated with the intelligence found in human behavior. It is a significant aspect of computer science that deals with system recognition such as learning, reasoning, understanding language, and taking actions to solve problems. As a computational system, AI can, for a given set of human-defined goals, make predictions and recommendations or make influencing decisions in real or virtual environments …” Source: IGI Global

In terms of your website – it’s really just a cluster of systems that interact and interrelate to provide a platform; or the parts that make up a whole – and every website needs a process or system to be able to operate and to allow for editing and updating. Done well, it’s the system that creates the intuition factor that is so important to navigation on a website.

Your job is far simpler - to ensure you have a system for adding content, and archiving information that is no longer required in the live parts of your site.

How is your web-editing and updating management system looking? Expert can help you to set up systems to manage these tasks - just give us a shout.


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