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Home » Captivate Podcasts » The Systems We Don’t See (and ones you’ve never heard of)

The Systems We Don’t See (and ones you’ve never heard of)


We depend on systems in our life, in our business. Sometimes we don’t even know that they exist. This week I’m talking about systems that work well, and systems that sometimes don’t work well, and systems that can leave us in trouble if we don’t know we depend on them. I also have a pop at Microsoft Excel as well as GitHub!

I’m also celebrating the launch of my ‘Own Your Systems’ free email course.


You can subscribe to my free email course “Own Your Systems” by going here:


Systems that are so built into our ways of working that we don’t even realise they’re not working, sometimes the ones that we don’t miss until they’re truly gone” RB

I was lucky enough not to be a middle manager for a very long time. But when that particular role finally caught up with me, I spent a lot of time preparing reports a lot of time converting things from CSV” RB

In my consulting business, I use online tools, which are aware of 21st century priorities and ways of working. I use tools which save me time” RB

GitHub is a great example of a high profile system that you’ve probably never heard of” RB



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Richard Bown

Richard Bown:

Hi, this is Richard Bown and thanks for joining me today on Automation for the Nation. I'm pretty excited this week as are not only at Week Six of the podcast, but I'm also getting my own systems together, which makes me feel like I'm finally accomplishing something. I've been working hard on a couple of important systems. The first is like the welcome email to my mailing list, which is very basic system needs to be done. But I feel like now I can start advertising it and committing to it. If you don't know where it is already, then I will link it in the show notes. In the newsletter, you'll be kept up to date with Yes, the latest podcast episodes. But I'll also link together all of the systems related content that I'm creating and sharing with you including all my free resources, like the Introduction to Digital language, seven steps to automation, and so on. The newsletter comes out once a week, and it's the best way to stay informed. So I recommend you head over there today and check it out. Related to that, I've got another exciting announcement. And that's the availability of my new free email course called own your systems. This is a six day email sequence, which provides a context for taking better control of your systems, whether they be in your business or in your personal life or making a plan for ownership, a way that you can control your systems independently of the technology provider you use. If you're like me, and you're always wanting to change providers or just don't know, which is the best choice between providers, then this course will help you understand the most important systems in your business and in your life, and encourage you to have a plan for both. This doesn't mean a lot of extra work. But it does give you opportunities which you might otherwise pass up, I recommend you check out the course it's free. And like I say available on my website, I'll drop a link into the show notes as well. Okay, messages over. Now this week, I wanted to talk about the systems that we don't always see, and what happens when suddenly they're not there anymore. These are the systems that are so built into our ways of working that we don't even realise they're not working, sometimes the ones that we don't miss until they're truly gone. And then you realise that perhaps you should have had a plan for them. I will use a few examples from the world of software development and enterprise systems, ones that have been in the news recently. But I also use a few examples of personal systems which work or don't work, or don't help us recognise when we should have done something. If you're like me, and you have a family, then you may have quite a busy schedule. I have three teenage kids and they are always needing things reminding about school events, help with homework appointments for the dentist or the doctor, clubs, activities, days out, etc. There's always a million things to remember as a parent. So when there are many things to do, we tried to get organised as a family and we use a shared calendar. Some of the events are long in the future, like vacations or trips away, school holidays. Some of these events are short, and they're happening all the time, things like identities, appointments or school trips, we finally decided to use Google calendars to share this information, there was a little bit of hesitancy on our parts to begin with. But I have to say that this has been a game changer. When the kids were small, it was just the two of us on the calendar. But since the kids have got phones and have email, we can also invite them to events and everyone pretty much effortlessly knows what's going on on any given day. Yes, we tried paper calendars, but that just wasn't gonna work for us. This with Google Calendar fits in with our way of working. So this system almost insidiously has crept into our lives and has provided us with real labour saving real value and a simple way of working, which really benefits our way of living. This is a great example of a solution that has really found us we don't even have to think about it. If it were gone. Tomorrow, we would have some pain, we would have a load of recurring events or future events or any set up which we would know about. Ultimately, it would be inconvenient, but we could rebuild it. Now what's about another form of a system that perhaps you use in your life or business, here's one with which you may be familiar, Excel. Excel is a Microsoft spreadsheet programme. And it's been the mainstay of finance departments and administrators of data of all kinds for many years, and undoubtedly will be for many more years to come. Excel is so well embedded into our business processes. Because it's powerful, its standalone, it's able to talk to many different data sources. Excel is of course all about numbers, manipulating them tabulating them drawing graphs, many a consultant has built a career out of Excel and perhaps in VBA, and not much else besides. Now, as a coder at heart and by profession. I've been taught to look down my nose abetted Excel and the people who use it. I always thought it was slightly unfair that but I guess real code is in quotes, see Excel or some kind of shortcut to proper data manipulation. That's not fair. And in some ways I get where this snobbery comes from. Having said that there is not much need to celebrate anything in excel in any form either. For many years, I've avoided excel as a data tool. I was lucky enough not to be a middle manager for a very long time. But when that particular role finally caught up with me, I spent a lot of time preparing reports a lot of time converting things from CSV that's comma separated value format, to excel format, and back again,


that's when I finally got to grips with Excel, pivot tables reporting pie charts, oh my goodness. Well, it's a venerable product. And while there's an office 365 version of Excel, most of the functionality still resides in the desktop version, which you Need to get installed by IT departments where you can buy a licence for it from Microsoft in 2022, this seems a little insane. I use a Mac and the Mac versions of Microsoft software usually isn't that good. So nowadays, I prefer to use Google Sheets, it's always there. It's always on it does everything that Excel does, at least that I need. And it seems to handle for example, locales better. I'm an immigrant, and expats, if you will, to the Netherlands. As a native English speaker, it's actually super simple to get by in the Netherlands, because you can speak English practically anywhere. English is taught in many parts of the country as a second language. Therefore, as a native English speaker, you can get lazy and you have to make a conscious effort to learn the language rather than just hoping that you pick it up. I lived here for seven years or so and didn't pick up enough to have a conversation. So what changed? My kids going to school and starting to speak is when I realised that I wouldn't be able to converse with them in their language, I was determined to do something about it. So I did, I learned it. One thing you notice with another language is that sometimes it comes complete with the different number system. And in this case, the decimal and 1000 separator in Dutch and English are swapped around the decimal indicates as a comma 1000 indicator as a period. How has this affected my experience? And why is this relevant? Excel, when you instal Microsoft Windows, you can choose a locale, the region of the world that you live in, and you can choose a language. Usually the language is tied to the region, but you can also change the defaults. As a native English speaker living in the Netherlands, my locale will be the Netherlands but my language would be UK English, along with a region, I would get to set a default numeric settings, including my decimal and 1000 separator, perhaps now you can see where I'm heading with this. Working in an international software company, I would often be dealing with people from other regions of the world. And we will want to share data naturally. Therefore, if I wanted to ensure that the Excel I shared with someone would work on their computer, I would need to make sure that the number format was correct. Number Formatting and portability, and Excel is one of its poorest features. And even this morning, I had another reminder of this with one of my current clients. I work a lot with GitHub, the enterprise an open source code repository that drives a large percentage of the world's software development. It has a feature that allows my enterprise clients to download all of the charges for the last quarter or last half year in order to reconcile billing. Now GitHub is an American company. And of course, all of its billing is in dollars. It uses the period, the decimal separator and the comma for the 1000 separator. When I received my report from GitHub, and this can be sizable for a half year file, it's around 30 megabytes, then I have to convert all of these periods to commas and vice versa before I can get Excel to start behaving like Excel. Or I can change my region to us on Windows. But that might not even be allowed by my computer administrator, and it might screw up some of the rest of my software. What's worse, as I've discovered this morning, is that Excel will try to be helpful to you and convert what it thinks are numbers into number format itself. So Excel is an example of a system that's been around for a long time, and it's no longer really fit for purpose. In my consulting business, I use online tools, which are aware of 21st century priorities and ways of working. I use tools which save me time, Excel is slow, I've to instal it even changing the periods to commerce can take a few minutes of my time. This is a simple task that I want to do regularly. So those minutes add up. So I will challenge the status quo. If a system is slow, or costing me too much time to use that I will change it. As a soloist, this works, I can make a decision. But it can be more complicated when you're doing this alongside others in a bigger organisation. Talking of GitHub, what happens when a core system like this fails, if you don't believe me how cool the system is, here are a few facts and figures about GitHub. GitHub describes itself as where the world builds software, it has 73 million plus developers 4 million plus organisations, 200 million plus repositories. And according to get up 84% of fortune 100 companies are using it. millions of developers and companies build ship and maintain their software on GitHub, the largest and most advanced development platform in the world. So what happens when something so big and so crucial to the software development side of literally millions of businesses fails. And when we talk about the software development side, we're talking about daily systems that we all use our banking services, our communication services, shopping for food, clothes, entertainment, our military, our education, our agriculture, our governments, all of this runs on software, and a majority of it is looked after by GitHub, which by the way, is a Microsoft company, Microsoft acquired GitHub in June 2018 for $7.5 billion of Microsoft stock. GitHub is a great example of a high profile system that you've probably never heard of. GitHub has had some serious outages in the last few months, which has affected the ability of customers to deliver their software updates. This can have serious implications in our connected world. It can mean reputational damage or worse cause actual damage or even in extreme circumstances, loss of life. Similarly, another enterprise system you've probably never heard of. JIRA has also had some serious stability issues which has affected many customers. Globally, the high profile systems that you've never heard of can fail. Sometimes they affect the rest of us. Sometimes they don't. Responsibility is something we've covered already. It's easy to use a system when it works. But if it doesn't, who is responsible for fixing it? Here are two which are vital, almost fundamental to worldwide software development, JIRA and GitHub. Both of them have had an unimpressive starts 2022.


Bear in mind that even the biggest system used by millions of people can disappear. How is that going to affect your business or your customers business? When those systems aren't there anymore? How can you ensure that the impact can be mitigated? Can it be done quickly? Do you take backups of the data? Can you take backups? Can you import this to another system easily? This week, I'm launching a new course called own your systems. This is a six day email sequence that walks you through the process you need to firstly understand and then better control the systems that you use. systems provide opportunities for labour saving and efficiency, but they also pose a risk through own your systems, you'll start to put that picture together for your business. And I really hope that you find it useful. For the moment I hope this has provided something to think about. And please do feel free to reach out and share your thoughts on systems on Excel in particular, if you like on gets up on JIRA and tell me what you find the most useful, the most frustrating systems that you have in your business right now. I'm really interested to find this out. So for the moment, this is Richard Bown, wishing you goodbye, and good luck. And I'm looking forward to speaking to you again next week on automation for the nation. Goodbye