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Someone to watch over you

A new system is about to go live at Mott MacDonald, aimed at alerting managers to potential problems.

'As in any significant-sized organisation, you start to build up a considerable amount of data,' says head of IT John Gill. 'We wanted something that would look automatically at that data, and warn if something was going wrong.'

This could be anything, he says, perhaps a discrepancy between planned and actual work on a project. 'We are all human, and this system checks

and sends e-mail messages to the appropriate manager.'

Alerts from Categoric Software has been taken up by Motts. The new system will gradually be built up to cover a range of subjects.

'I've always felt that data which sits and does nothing is pretty wasteful,' says Gill. 'I was looking for a way in which inert data can talk back in such a way that you can take action. This system does just that - I had always thought we would have to program something ourselves.'

The software sits on top of the databases, and is set up to look at particular aspects and send out warning e-mails in predetermined situations. The idea came when Categoric's founder wanted a way to keep track of shipping deliveries, ensuring they had arrived safely.

'It will help us use rather than hoard data,' says Gill. 'It gives us the ability to respond to events as they happen. Passive systems which rely on the manager to notice things are not as reliable as those which actively alert the manager to a problem.'

First step is to define in the software what constitutes a problem, he explains.

Implementation will start at the Croydon head office. It could, for instance, flag up if timesheets for staff in any office around the world have not been entered on the due date. Engineering divisions will then pick it up for some of their management controls. 'We will have the system well bedded in by the end of the year,' Gill adds.

But there will be human issues to address, he acknowledges. It is one thing for the computer to send out a message, but it will be just as important to ensure that people take the appropriate action.

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