Rethinking just-in-time

Several years ago I interviewed the test pilot of the first British totally fly-by-wire jet - a prototype of the Eurofighter. A...

Several years ago I interviewed the test pilot of the first British totally fly-by-wire jet - a prototype of the Eurofighter. A few minutes into his first flight the warning system sounded incessantly. It turned out the software tolerances had been set too high - one sensor found a fuel tank dry while another reported a teaspoonful of fuel slopping about in the same tank.

I was reminded of this incident last week when Gartner Group's chief executive Michael Fleischer advised the organisation's annual European conference that we now have to rethink the whole concept of just-in-time. The devastating impact of modern terrorism on global transportation showed how taut and over-efficient just-in-time has become. Before 11 September the focus of just-in-time systems was on ever-increasing efficiency and lower cost. Now we have to build in slack and latency to ensure survival.

The New York tragedy has also broadened our notion of disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Whereas before back-up sites might be the other side of the street, now they cannot. We must also consider the impact of exclusion zones, or the demands of a huge number of IT systems requiring simultaneous back-up. Large cities are now beginning to consider, for example, the creation of large-scale virtual business services to ensure future resilience.

We are entering a period of discontinuity within a period of step change. More than ever we need to take two steps backwards, to re-visit and challenge our most fundamental assumptions, to be sure of moving forwards.

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