Older columns

Here you find the titles of columns that appeared on my website before, sorted according to date. For the text of most of them I refer to my book Facts and Stories. For some of them I kept the text to give you an impression of the contents of this book, which is well worth reading. Click here for more information about publications.

Facts and Knowledge workers

The following really happened. And it actually saddened me a bit to see, how an IT-department could create something that was so far away from … the facts!

"A model is a schematic representation of reality." That is what you find, when you look for the word "model" on Wikipedia. That is to say, apart from an explanation about a totally different type of models, which I leave omitted here for the sake of convenience.

Recently I was asked to review a model for an organization of physicians I was not familiar with. The goal of the logical data model that was presented to me was to provide the basis for an enterprise wide business intelligence application, in which "all relevant data" of the enterprise were stored.

When I saw this model, a few trivial things caught my attention. Form errors as ambiguities regarding the notation used, unclear semantics of attributes, entities and relations, questions about cardinalities… ‘the usual stuff’.

When I had reported my first findings, I experienced an unpleasant feeling that "something else" was wrong with the model as well. And suddenly I realized what it was. The model had entities such as "Invoice", "Invoice line", "Service", "Department". All seemingly normal, but something was missing. If it is an organisation for health care, you would expect something like "Patient" or "Person", or perhaps "Client", wouldn't you? Nothing of the kind! The grammatical direct object was missing completely. Well, some fields in invoice address might eventually lead towards such direct objects, but then only in a very implicit way.

The sad truth was that the model wasn't based on their own vision of their reality, but rather on the financial package which was already used for years within the organisation to their full dissatisfaction. Thus the model had become a reflection of the administrative reality of the organisation ‘imposed from the outside world’, but it showed no insight at all on the mission, vision and strategy of the organisation. A peek on the website of the organisation learned that patients ought to be central in the health-care process. This was not reflected in the model at all.

Instead of finishing the review, I assembled the modelers. In a joint session we went through the annual report and the website of their own organisation. Subsequently, we investigated in a workshop to what extent their own model matched this (external) communications. The word invoice was literally not present in their annual report nor on their website, while both were full of terms like "health service", "treatment", and of course "patient". It became a very fruitful workshop that led to a lot of enthousiasm with the modelers, because the model now fully reflected their way of talking about reality!

The next version of the model that was offered to me for review, did a lot more justice to the vision of the knowledge workers in the organisation, and so to the definitions in Wikipedia and Van Daele as well.

- Rob Arntz, April 2018  ¿

Facts and Things that passed

This column describes the remarkable story of the German soldier's song Lili Marleen, which during the Second World War was initially forbidden by the Nazi regime.

- Peter Alons, February 2017  ¿

Facts and Value judgements

This column is about a quote taken from Plato, "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder", and how this can be applied to the trial of Geert Wilders regarding his statements about Moroccans. A funny extension of the quote was given by Miss Piggy (i.e. Jim Henson): "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye."

- Peter Alons, January 2017  ¿

Facts and Visions

This column shows how much the text of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-changin' is still applicable time and again in our days as well.

- Peter Alons, November 2016  ¿

Facts and Management

In my recent research into Data Governance principles I came across a presentation of the late dr. Marcel Nieuwenhuis about 'Management Fundamentals'. Herein, he discussed a number of management models such as the INK-management model, the 7-S Model of McKinsey, the KPMG-model, and the Balanced Scorecard. The essence of his story was that all these models can be compared with each other in a matrix of reference models against building blocks.

These building blocks are: Strategy, Structure, Culture, People, Means, and Results. He then showed that for a successful approach of all serious organizational problems a good implementation for each of these building blocks is needed. Suppose for instance, that in the approach of a problem a good strategy is lacking. Then there is no vision and coherence in the other building blocks, which leads to confusion.

Likewise, if a good structure is lacking, there is no steering and control in the other building blocks, resulting in chaos. If the people that become involved are not carefully informed and prepared, the result is a lack of binding and skills leading inevitably to resistance and anxiety. If the means are not taken care of sufficiently and in time, there are no adequate facilities resulting in frustration. And finally, if no acceptable results are offered in advance or to be expected, there is no prospect of added value, which will be perceived as futility. To put it briefly, in a good management approach - leading to a desired growth and change - a good, coherent implementation for all six of the building blocks is ensured.

And how could it be any different than that I was assailed by perplexity when reading this presentation. And this, all because of the approach to the refugee problem by the government in our country and elsewhere within Europe. After all, the fact that virtually all governments and Brussels were apparently taken unawares by the flood of refugees from the Middle East has led to an approach of the problem in almost all countries in Europe, in which a good implementation for all six of the building blocks is lacking. How about the consequences thereof? Have we seen any of these around us? Just let me run through them with you.

No a priori thought-out, sensible strategy and therefore complete Confusion? Check. No clear, well thought-out organizational structure, hence quite some Chaos? Check. No to-the-point and timely briefing and preparation of the people involved in villages like for instance Oranje, and so a lot of Resistance and Anxiety? Check. No timely provision of adequate means and as a consequence general Frustration? Check. And finally, no prospect of acceptable results and so a widespread feeling of Futility? Check.

It is not my intention to tire you with a personal view on the refugee problem. That is beside the point here. My perplexity is due here once again to the general state in which we find our politicians in this matter. There is every reason to believe that they have not anticipated the full size of this problem at all and therefore have not developed any sensible vision and strategy, before the problem urged itself upon us. And my question is then: How is this possible? Where were the so highly needed Mission, Vision, Goals, and Strategy from the Strategy Pyramid? As citizen of a country, can one expect from people who consider themselves eligible to govern a country, that they have at least some knowledge of good management approaches? Definitely!


- Peter Alons, October 2015  ¿

Facts and Context

A column about April the 1st in the spirit of Godfried Bomans.

- Peter Alons, April 2015  ¿

Facts and Explanation

Matthew 20: 1-16 contains a parable about a landowner who went around during the day to hire workers for his vineyard and at the end of the day pays all of them the same wage irrespective of the time he hired them. The column shows that from the viewpoint of quality principles this parable can also be interpreted quite differently than is usually done in churches.

- Peter Alons, December 2014  ¿

Facts and Quality

This column examines the blunder of the Amsterdam Revenue Service in January 2014, which in the end cost the city 1.5 million euros, and what to think of that from the viewpoint of quality principles.

- Peter Alons, May 2014  ¿

Facts and Business Intelligence

This column shows that most companies rank Business Intelligence as strategically very important, but that only a minority of them manage to draw high profits from it.

- Peter Alons, November 2013  ¿

Facts and Statistics

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

This statement was made popular by Mark Twain, who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli; even though there is no indication whatever for this in Disraeli's legacy, so Wikipedia says.

Be that as it may, the statement suggests that statistics lie. Of course, this is not true. Statistics describe exactly how certain things are related to each other. It is the interpretation that people sometimes give to statistics that is wrong, and that then leads to the 'lies'. Interestingly enough, this insight is applicable to many other things. From 1895, for instance, this paraphrase by a well-known lawyer and later judge circulated in the literature on jurisdiction:

"There are three classes of witnesses: simple liars, damned liars, and experts."

This suggests, that experts are liars or unreliable as well. And that too is not necessarily true. Generally, they speak the truth, for example about probabilities based on averages, exceptions, medians, and sigma’s. But one cannot draw any conclusions from this for individual cases.

A typical example where this was done nonetheless is the case against Lucia de Berk (2003). Based on a forced confession and 'probabilities' discussed by experts - which in turn were based on a biased sample of data - she was initially sentenced to a long time in jail, while any physical evidence for murder was completely missing. This makes this case a clear example of a modern 'witch condemnation'. Meanwhile, Lucia de Berk has been declared innocent.

The danger of misinterpretation popped up again immediately in the case of the stolen exam finals in the Netherlands. Students who achieve a much higher grade for a stolen exam than their average so far are suspect. Dangerous! Undoubtedly, statistics indicating that there are many students with a significantly higher score than their average score is indicative of the use of stolen exams. But for individuals you may not advance this as evidence. After all, there will also be students who have studied a given subject unusually hard or suddenly developed a keen insight into a subject at the decisive moment. Those are the 'annual' outliers. But which they are and which have been fraudulent cannot be judged based on the results alone.

For us this shows, en passant, the particular importance of individual facts as opposed to statistics. What does this have to do with my domains of expertise? Well, if statistical data is used for proper conclusions, we can speak of information quality, and otherwise of non-quality.

- Peter Alons, July 2013  ¿

Facts and Reports

In this column a comparison is made between the abuses in the Dutch and American Health Care.

- Peter Alons, April 2013  ¿

Facts and Interpretations

This column goes into one of the many columns of Mark Twain, which begins with "The Christian's Bible is a drug store. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies…, and shows that an important distinction exists between facts and their interpretation.

- Peter Alons, February 2013  ¿




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