25 Feb3 Design Essentials for Exception Processing

Uncluttered: When there are exceptions, make it nigh on impossible to overlook them. The picture below illustrates my own personal view of how to do this. If you are showing what needs attention, suppress, shade out or put elsewhere all the information about things that do not need attention. The picture on the left is like the passenger in a car suddenly shouting out “Watch out” to the  driver and leaving him to guess where.  The picture on the right makes the exception far harder to miss. This is also a feature in planes when in an emergency, there might be too many dials to focus on.

Now me, I am colour blind and if there is too much noise, I am not going to easily see the one red in the middle of many green lights. Recently, the use of lights has crept into car park design, with the newer facilities having a little light above each parking bay that is green when empty, and red when full. Now, why oh why could thy not just have a light when the bay was empty? Might also save a couple of quid in lighting bills.

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Operations or Business owned  and not via E-mail: the vast majority of monitoring with these high tech tools that I have seen is IT owned and run. IT often refers to these as BAM, Business Activity Monitoring. For my tastes, IT is too far removed. Ops or the business need to own this. I am only exaggerating slightly when I say that Ops has become management by e-mail. Group in-boxes used to receive exceptions, emails from outside the firm and from inside, as well as a lot of other reports. Every place I have seen this, it looks like the left hand part of the picture above. People get too many e-mails. When those lights go red, it needs humans and it needs discussion.

Expected vs. Actual Levels: Traffic control is an easy thing on the streets. No traffic news is good news. Inside a bank, life is not quite so binary. Actually, what you want to see is the Goldilocks amount of traffic; the level of activity you would normally expect to see. Normal is a concept discussed in prior posts. In a client facing business, the clients will catch you out. You need to understand and have a feel for what your clients normally send you. The more advanced BAM tools are capable of learning over time. If you decide to use tools of this type, as you calibrate them, you will need to be sensitive to the fact that no news can be bad news.

Lessons Learned: Design. Not something that should be exclusively reserved for the very smart folks at Apple or Aston Martin.  Control Tools. Something that should be in the hands of the end-user and not require IT oversight. Normal. An important concept in monitoring. Are you seeing what you expect to see at this time of day? Be wary of having processes that assume no news is good news.

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