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Its the system, stupid!

The David Headley affair in India has been a worrying one. To have an LeT operative roam the streets with impunity surely sets off alarm bells. Yet the response of the administration to its aftermath reminds me of similar responses, in the organisational context. How most organisational administrative systems respond to crisis.

The response almost always is focused on the outcomes. Never on the 'root cause'. That is, the mad scramble by the authorities, post the Headley fiasco, has seen them target the 'usual suspects'. Business places he visited (read, cyber cafes, health clubs, hotels) and people he engaged with (read, at places he was at). Now I am no expert at investigations, but common sense tells me if a suspect were to roam the streets with legitimate documentation that bails him out, how are business places and people supposed to know he's the dangerous kind?

The 'real' problem lies deeply embedded within failures in the intelligence and law enforcement community. Systems or people messed up. And they must be set right. Trying to increase vigilance at a social and business level is a good thing, but that isn't where the core problem lies.

In organisations too, the above mentioned practice is rampant. A crisis is almost always succeeded by a bout of fit that sees most, except the perpetrating system administration, being admonished. I remember while at the hotel I used to work, almost two decades ago, there was this incident regarding a customer complaint on coffee. Coffee, from the customer complaint, seemed to have been served lukewarm. In response, the Food & Beverage management jumped to the conclusion that it was the serving stewards at fault. And so all the F&B Department personnel were ordered to undergo a training on coffee and how to prepare it. Little did the ignoramuses at the top of the F&B administration realise that coffee wasn't being served lukewarm, because the steward was screwing up. It was because of a variety of other reasons. One, the decoction used in coffee preparation (constituting 15% of the prepared coffee) was kept lukewarm in double boilers in the kitchen. Two, the milk and coffee pots used in the service of coffee would be made of EPNS which when kept in the pantry, would turn deathly cold when not used. Therefore when the lukewarm decoction and the hot milk were poured into these EPNS pots (when there's an order), temperatures automatically dropped further. Three, the distance between the kitchen area and the restaurant, though not much, meant the steward had to walk some distance to reach a guest table. In an air conditioned environment such walks are again responsible for drops in coffee temperature.

All of this meant the steward wasn't at fault, or even if he was, his role was negligible. To arrest coffee temperature declines the administration had to look elsewhere. Just like, to arrest a Headley scenario from repeating in the future, a hard look has to be taken at intelligence and law enforcement systems in India.

Because that's where the problem lies. And should such comprehensive analysis be undertaken, its akin to what's known as 'Root Cause Analysis'. A must in preventing the present from playing out in the future.


Unknown said…
Good coffee example to illustrate the lacunae in the Indian system. I feel the babus and the politicians deliberately do not want to fix a problem due to various vested interests...
Ray Titus said…
Agree...the 'problem' suits many...

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