Friday, 27 June 2008

Importing the NLPG (2)

Phew! This has been a bit of a nightmare. The individual .csv files are too large in size for my laptop or the development server that I use (each has 2GB of RAM). What I have ended up doing is the following:
  1. Written a VB script to split each master .csv file into a number of seperate ones, each containing 5000 rows (plus the remainder).
  2. Used a second VB script to 'pre-process' the file ready for import into SQL Server. This has involved working through each file created in 1 line by line and adding the correct number of commas to fit the number of columns in the table schema I am importing into.
  3. When I end up with thousands of pre-processed .csv files I will need to import them into SQL Server. My web trawling on how to do this with a T-SQL script has drawn a blank but it looks like I will be able to create an SSIS package to achieve the import. This is something I have never done before so it's yet more learning to go through.

I have tested 1 and 2 out over the last few days. 1 is pretty slow to run (it gets through a file in about two hours and there are 70 + files). I might have to look at splitting the job between several servers. 2 is very fast - I did 177 files in about 10 minutes on my laptop today.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Structure of the initial NLPG dataset

Today I got my first look at the initial NLPG dataset. I accessed the data on the NLPG / Intelligent Addressing FTP server. I was expecting to see one big .csv file but no, there are actually 19 seperate .zip files on the server representing large geographic areas - i.e. Greater London, North East, Wales etc. If you open one of the .zip files up the .csv's are contained inside - except each large geographic area is subdivided - so East Midlands has a different .csv for Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire etc. Oh, and each large geographic region has a unitary and non - unitary .zip file but it looks like there is only one unitary .csv file in each .zip file.

Phew! Wikipedia ( reckons there are 49 administrative counties in England and Wales so I can expect to see 49 .csv files (plus another 9 unitary .zip files) making 58 in total.

I will need to debatch each of these seperately into SQL Server and then run a join script to create (hopefully) a unique record for each distinct address in the country. I can then load these as entities into the data hub.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Processing the NLPG (part 1)

Here's the plan for processing the NLPG update file every night:
  1. File is grabbed from NLPG FTP server and put onto a location on a server on our LAN. This might be something we can do with Biztalk or we might have to find another way.
  2. The file will need debatching and its data inserting into a series of seperate tables. Biztalk can automate this process - it can pick up the file, put its contents into a string object, pass this object to the web service that I have written for debatching and get a success/fail message back to report on.
  3. Now I have four tables containing the information that I need. I can run my filtering script against these to produce a collection of unique UPRN's that have changed since the last update (or are new inserts) and I need to pass these into the data hub.
  4. The changes / updates will be fed into an 'NLPGChanges' table and picked up by the Biztalk SQL Adapter. This will require a custom schema to be written for the NLPG data as defined by my database script.
  5. Biztalk will process each individual update / insert, convert it into hub - compliant XML and pass into the hub via the Biztalk adapter.

That's the plan so far.

What data do I want to take from the NLPG?

There is a wealth of property information in the NLPG and to take everything would be overkill. My aim is to build a series of single row address records for each distinct UPRN in the database - no duplicates allowed! This data can be brought together from four of the record types in the NLPG:

  • Street Record (11)
  • Street Descriptor (15)
  • Basic Land and Property Unit (21)
  • Land and Property Identifier (24)

by writing a database query that joins the tables together. Referential integrity is pretty easy - the join is either made on UPRN or USRN.

The quest for no duplicates is hampered, however, by the fact that each LPI and BLPU has a status. These range from 1 - 9 and indicate that the record is approved, awaiting approval or historic. Obviously I don't want to include all the historic data - I just want the most up to date information about an addres. Fortunately each record also has a last updated date - so I can take the most recently updated record - and a processing order - so I can take the highest value of this for each UPRN too. It's great working with a dataset that has been well designed!

By taking this approach you seriously reduce the amount of data that you have to store and searching is therefore quicker when you're trying to use this data at the enterprise level. The test extract file from Intelligent Addressing contained 1506 rows of LPI's; by using a filtering script only 347 distinct current addresses are created - 77% of the information is discarded because it's not required.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Importing the NLPG

The NLPG is the National Land and Property Gazetteer; a database of over 30 million residential and business properties in England and Wales. This dataset is available to local authorities for free under a licensing agreement as are updates to the data on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

The first thing that is apparent when you view the dataset in Excel (Intelligent Addressing, the company that administers the data, provide a small sample in .csv format on their website is that it does not adhere to a common schema - there are a mixture of different rows all with differing numbers of elements.

Here are some example rows:
10,"Intelligent Addressing Limited",520,2008-05-01,1,2008-05-01,101427,7.3,"F"
11,"I",1,17800298,1,520,2,2002-07-25,1,8,0,2002-07-25,2003-12-04,2002-07 25,,522749,272912,522601,272879,10

The data adheres to a standard called Data Transfer Format 7.3. This contains a range of different records - type 11 is a Street Record, type 24 is a Land and Property Identifer (essentially a house on a plot of land). This 'jagged' data format makes it extremely difficult to define a 'catch all' XML schema. It's clear then that the file needs some pre-processing before we can even think about loading the data into our hub or passing messages from it into Biztalk.

Here's a short script that will read the .csv file, debatch each row, then debatch each of these individual rows into the component elements and finally generate a dynamic SQL statement to get the data into the right table in a database. It's written in; check the comments on the top level method to find out what you need to have in place to make it work.

Public Function NLPGDataLoad() As Boolean
'this is the main function in the NLPG debatching process
'the process assumes that you have four tables set up in a SQL Server database
'(define the connection in the web.config file)
' 1) NLPGStreetRecord
' 2) NLPGStreetDescriptor
' 3) NLPGBasicLandAndPropertyUnit
' 4) NLPGLandAndPropertyIdentifier
'It also assumes that you have the NLPG .csv file somewhere on the server
Dim objReader As StreamReader 'streamreader object to hold the contents of the text file
'file path of .csv file
Dim sNLPGFilePath As String = "c:\\documents and settings\\perryma.kmbc\\desktop\\nlpg.csv"
'string to variable to pass the file into
Dim sNLPGFile As String
'string array to hold each row of the NLPG file
Dim sNLPGDebatched() As String
Dim bProcessNLPGRecords As Boolean
'load the full NLPG .csv file into the StreamReader object
objReader = New StreamReader(sNLPGFilePath)
sNLPGFile = objReader.ReadToEnd() 'read csv file into a string variable
objReader.Dispose() 'kill the StremReader
'two more function calls now
'pass the full string into the
'DebatchNLPGFile function and
'get back a string array with all the seperate rows
sNLPGDebatched = DebatchNLPGFile(sNLPGFile)
'then pass the string array into the ProcessNLPGDebatched function and
'put each row of the array into the relevant database table
bProcessNLPGRecords = ProcessNLPGRecords(sNLPGDebatched)
Catch ex As Exception
End Try
Return True
End Function

'this function takes the full nlpg file in a string variable and debatches it
'into seperate array elements - one per row
Function DebatchNLPGFile(ByVal sNLPGFile As String) As String()
'use a counter to run through each character in the NLPG string
Dim iCounter As Integer
'use a marker to record where each cr/lf is in the string
Dim iMarker As Integer = 0
Dim iArrayElements As Integer = 0
'set up a one element (0) array
Dim sNLPGDebatched(iArrayElements) As String
'run through the nlpg string one character at a time
For iCounter = 0 To sNLPGFile.Length - 2
'when the loop hits a cr/lf in the string
If (sNLPGFile.Substring(iCounter, 2) = vbCrLf) Then
'increase the size of the array by one and preserve its existing content
iArrayElements = iArrayElements + 1
ReDim Preserve sNLPGDebatched(iArrayElements)
'add the content of the string before the cr/lf to the array
sNLPGDebatched(iArrayElements) = sNLPGFile.Substring(iMarker, iCounter - iMarker)
'set the marker to the current counter and add 2 to the value for cr/lf
'stops the search from including all previous characters in string
iMarker = iCounter + 2
End If
Catch ex As Exception
End Try
'return the array of debatched rows
Return sNLPGDebatched
End Function

'takes a string array of debatched rows and puts each row into the relevant
'database table
Function ProcessNLPGRecords(ByVal sNLPGDebatched() As String) As Boolean
Dim iCounter As Integer
Dim sMessage As String
Dim bInsertMessageIntoDatabase As Boolean
'work through each element in the array one at a time...
'check to see what the 'header' of each row is
For iCounter = 1 To sNLPGDebatched.Length - 1
'we're interested in four of the row types in the NLPG
'11, 15, 21 and 24
'every time one of these is found pass the row and its header type
'into the InsertMessageIntoDatabase function
'************** MESSAGE 10 (HEADER) *********************
If (sNLPGDebatched(iCounter).Substring(0, 2) = "10") Then
'************** MESSAGE 11 (STREET RECORD) ***********
ElseIf (sNLPGDebatched(iCounter).Substring(0, 2) = "11") Then
sMessage = sNLPGDebatched(iCounter)
bInsertMessageIntoDatabase = InsertMessageIntoDatabase(sMessage, 11)
'************** MESSAGE 15 (STREET DESCRIPTOR) *******
ElseIf (sNLPGDebatched(iCounter).Substring(0, 2) = "15") Then
sMessage = sNLPGDebatched(iCounter)
bInsertMessageIntoDatabase = InsertMessageIntoDatabase(sMessage, 15)
'************** MESSAGE 21 (BLPU) ********************
ElseIf (sNLPGDebatched(iCounter).Substring(0, 2) = "21") Then
sMessage = sNLPGDebatched(iCounter)
bInsertMessageIntoDatabase = InsertMessageIntoDatabase(sMessage, 21)
'************** MESSAGE 24 (LPI) *********************
ElseIf (sNLPGDebatched(iCounter).Substring(0, 2) = "24") Then
sMessage = sNLPGDebatched(iCounter)
bInsertMessageIntoDatabase = InsertMessageIntoDatabase(sMessage, 24)
End If
Catch ex As Exception
End Try
Return True
End Function

'take the message / row content and its type and insert into relevant
'database table
Function InsertMessageIntoDatabase(ByVal sMessage As String, ByVal iMessageType As Integer) As Boolean
Dim iCounter As Integer
Dim iMarker As Integer = 0
Dim iArrayElements As Integer = 0
Dim sMessageDebatched(iArrayElements) As String
sMessageDebatched(iArrayElements) = "Empty"
Dim sQueryHeader As String
Dim sQueryValues As String = ""
Dim connection As SqlConnection
Dim command As SqlCommand
'each individual message needs debatching too because it's divided into a number
'of comma seperated fields
'so this short algorithm divides each row into up into a number of array elements
'it then builds a dynamic sql string and processes this against the database
'work through each character in the message
For iCounter = 0 To sMessage.Length - 1
'when the loop hits a comma
If (sMessage.Substring(iCounter, 1) = ",") Then
'increase the size of the message array by 1 and preserve existing content
iArrayElements = iArrayElements + 1
ReDim Preserve sMessageDebatched(iArrayElements)
'add the text before the comma into the array element
sMessageDebatched(iArrayElements) = sMessage.Substring(iMarker, iCounter - iMarker)
'reset the marker
iMarker = iCounter + 1
End If
'this is a little flaw in my rusty undergraduate programming skills
'if i set the loop above to work right to the end of the string it bombs out
'set it any shorter and it misses out the last element of the message
'so I have to start at the end of the message and work backwards to get the last
'so set the marker to look at the end of the message
iMarker = sMessage.Length - 1
'then iterate backwards through the message
For iCounter = sMessage.Length - 1 To 0 Step -1
'hit a comma, resize array, add element and then exit loop - this only
'needs doing once
If (sMessage.Substring(iCounter, 1) = ",") Then
iArrayElements = iArrayElements + 1
ReDim Preserve sMessageDebatched(iArrayElements)
sMessageDebatched(iArrayElements) = sMessage.Substring(iCounter + 1, iMarker - iCounter)
iCounter = 0
End If
'we're into the dynamic sql statement building phase now
'i.e. replace any blank elements with the NULL string (better for database)
'also identify any elements which are obviously datetime (NLPG has the yyyy-mm-dd
'format as standard which is great) and set them to be cast to datetime in the
'database otherwise they just end up as 1905-01-01
For iCounter = 1 To sMessageDebatched.Length - 1
If (sMessageDebatched(iCounter).Length < length =" 10)" squeryvalues =" sQueryValues" imessagetype =" 11)" squeryheader = "INSERT INTO NLPGStreetRecord VALUES (" imessagetype =" 15)" squeryheader = "INSERT INTO NLPGStreetDescriptor VALUES (" imessagetype =" 21)" squeryheader = "INSERT INTO NLPGBasicLandAndPropertyUnit VALUES (" imessagetype =" 24)" squeryheader = "INSERT INTO NLPGLandAndPropertyIdentifier VALUES (" squeryheader =" sQueryHeader" squeryheader =" sQueryHeader.Substring(0," squeryheader =" sQueryHeader.Insert(sQueryHeader.Length," squeryheader =" sQueryHeader.Replace(" connection =" New" command =" New" icounter =" command.ExecuteNonQuery()">

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Communication enhanced through technology

Communication is now enhanced by means of technology, e.g. by email or by using web pages. In addition to business-oriented communication, it can be used for private communication as well. Do you see a difference between the following situations?
a) An employee is using email and web services from his/her office during working hours for private purposes (dating with a friend, shopping, organizing a holiday trip, etc).
b) He/she is using them for the above purposes from his/her office before or after working hours.
c) He/she is a telecommuter and uses them from his/her home through the computer his/her company has provided to him.

I think that the best way to explain the differences in the following situations is to
perform a rudimentary risk analysis on all three. I think that there are three risks in
situation A, B and C. The first is the risk to productivity. The second is the risk to the
network. The third is the risk to the computer equipment that acts as the communication

Situation A actually contains all three risks. By using email and web services on a
non - work related task the employee's productivity is effectively zero. The employee may
counter this argument (like I do) by insisting that if they are at their desk they are still
working - they can answer the phone, speak to people that approch them. But their extra
curricular activity is affecting the outcome of whatever project they are working on. There
is also the question of what material the employee is looking at. The New York Times website
may be harmless enough, but a recently foiled terrorist plot in the UK meant that "police
seized computers and other material from two hospitals in western Australia in connection
with the failed terrorist plot in Britain" (McConville, 2007).

By shopping or organising online the employee is also presenting a risk to the network;
resources are tied up in whatever he or she is interacting with. Again, an employee could
argue that visiting the easyJet website represents maybe a percentage of one percent of the
total internet bandwidth available to their organisation but it is still an overhead
affecting network performance. An employee could also be unwittingly downloading spyware or
malware while browsing websites. These could have serious network implications in terms of
compromising sensitive data or spreading viruses. These risks also cover the computer
equipment that the employee is using, although in the modern world computer threats are
rarely limited to one machine.

It's interesting to note, I think, that the greatest overall risk is posed in scenario A,
yet only the network and equipment risks are really taken seriously by an organisation.
Internet filters and traffic monitors can stop employees visiting blacklisted sites and flag
up if their non - work related internet use is excessive. But in my experience little is
done to stop employees reading an online newspaper or checking their personal email while
working. One thing that this evolved communication means is that employees abuse their
telephones and the office photocopier / fax machine less (although I'm sure that plenty of
people print off maps, tickets etc.).

Scenario B poses less of a risk. If the employee is trusted then I'm sure that most
organisations are happy for them to use the internet facilities in their own time. Scenario
C is slightly different - I'm assuming that the worker has their own broadband connection at
home and is using their work - provided computer to connect. In this case the organisation
has no idea what websites or material the employee is accessing because this is outside of
their control. A great deal of trust needs to exist between the organisation and the
employee for this to happen. It could be tempting for the employee to download music or
other files for personal consumption; in reality each time this is done it presents a huge
risk to the organisations network. Staff who are experienced in the field of IT should know
enough for this not to be a problem - I am allowed to use my work laptop on my own network
at home to access Embanet, for example, but know full well the consequences of downloading
something 'dodgy'. Staff who are not IT savvy may not fully understand the risks and have a
worryingly blaze attitude.


McConville, B (2007) British look for links in failed plot [Online] San Francisco: Hearst
Communications Inc.
Available from (Accessed 29th Marh 2008)

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Variable pay as a motivational tool

Variable-pay programs are an effective way of motivating people. For that reason, it has been implemented in many companies. For example: in IBM the Salesmen are rewarded according to such a program, while the System Engineers are not. Is that a wise decision? Why do you think it was adopted in such form? Illustrate your position by your experience.

I think that the management in IBM who decide to reward salesmen with a variable-pay program and reward system engineers with a fixed pay program understand the different personality types and motivations of these two groups of employees. From personal experience I would say that salesmen traditionally fall under the banner of extraverts, whereas system engineers fall under the banner of introverts.

Salesmen have to be social animals because their role requires them to meet with all kinds of different people all the time. It requires them to be expressive - they have to get their point across in a way that will make them hard to ignore - and to take risks. Each sales call that a salesman will make in a day is in essence a gamble; they can use their skills and knowledge to improve the odds that they will 'win' (i.e. make a sale) but they have no way of guaranteeing the outcome of the meeting or pitch. You are encouraged to bet on higher risk horses by bookmakers offering a bigger return on your bet if your gamble pays off; similarly the management at IBM know that offering variable pay will encourage their salesmen to take bigger risks with a potentially bigger pay off. Salesmen are encourage by extrinsic rewards - "valued outcomes that are controlled by others, such as recognition, promotion and pay increases" (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). Working in a sales - oriented job can be stressful, and variable pay is a way of compensating the employee for this stress.

Systems engineers, on the other hand, are usually textbook introverts. They enjoy the
responsibility of designing and maintaining computer systems that they understand and their superiors don't. They tend to be pretty unsociable - being able to work on their own for large periods of time. Working with computers gives them control because the computer is only ever going to do what they tell it to do. Systems engineers, I think, value intrinsic rewards ("valued outcomes within the control of the individual, such as feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment" (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007)) much more than extrinsic rewards - they enjoy the feeling that they have implemented something that is clever or well designed, and get a kick from the fact that the people in 'userland' have no idea how it all works.

From a personal point of view I would definitely class myself as an introvert. I tried working as a telephone salesman and found all the aspects of the job - the lack of control, the need to be chatty and engaging with total strangers - a complete turn off and lasted two weeks before I quit. I was on a variable-pay (commission based) program but the money did not motivate me one iota. Contrast this with my current job where I am the technical lead on an organisation - wide change agenda, a job I would happily do for free most of the time (if I won the lottery I would probably still keep working and donate my salary to charity). Is it wise for IBM to offer salesmen variable pay and engineers fixed pay? "Mr. Garcia [a salesman at CompUSA], too, is already thinking about what's next, especially once he earns
his degree. He sells technology, but he could be selling anything, really" (Hafner, 2003). IBM have to offer the best variable pay packages to attract the best salesmen because variable pay is what motivates them. Similarly, they have to offer different incentives to engineers - which could be working environment or the chance to learn a specific technology - because that is what motivates them.


Huczynski, A & Buchanan, D (2007) Organizational Behaviour (6th Ed.) Essex: Pearson Educational Ltd.

Hafner, K (2003) A PC salesman who pushes the right buttons [Online] The New York Times Company.
Available from (Accessed 23 March 08)

Creative thinking skills

It has been shown that tolerance for ambiguity is closely related to creative-thinking skills. In other words, creative persons are not convinced that “there is only one truth” and are ready to challenge “the current truth”.
(1) Do such approaches really work? Is it worthwhile to give the “creative” a free hand? To what degree?
(2) Can cultural differences affect this view on the world around us? Under what conditions? Give examples and discuss them.

Apple Computers Inc. had a total revenue of $24bn in the financial year 2007 and was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The latter invented the Apple I and Apple II, computers that made the company huge. Although no longer a full time employee, Wozniak made the following comments about his time there: "we both had pretty much sort of an independent attitude about things in the world, we were both smart enough to think things up for ourselves" and "being the sort of designer I was, I was designing things all on my own, working alone...I could still hang around and do any project I felt like" (Moon, 2007).

Apple is one company that proved the approach of giving a creative genius 'free hand' can pay huge dividends. Wozniak was given all the time and materials he needed to create a commercially viable product that he was absolutely fascinated with. This weeks lecture spoke about intrinsic task motivation - 'the main source of motivation for creative people is in their souls' (Laureate Online Education, 2005 - 2007). I am sure that Wozniak would have sat and worked on his designs for Apple for free, it is unfortunate for these sorts of people that real life (the need to eat, sleep, pay the rent) tends to get in the way. "Truly creative people are intensely career oriented, pay particular attention to the intrinsic satisfactions in their work, look for interesting, stimulating, challenging, and creative projects, need a variety of problems, professional and organizational recognition of their achievements, ascending degrees of responsibilities and steady advancement and self-realization" (Raudsepp, 1978).

But genius still needs to be channeled properly. After all a company has strict deadlines to meet and profits to make. Managing creative people can be easy in one respect because they don't view what they do as 'just a job', they view it as a very important part of their lives. So getting them to turn up for work and focus on what they are doing is usually not a problem. I have a friend in Canada who designs routers for Cisco and as he puts it 'they pay me to play with computers every day!' However, creatives can also require careful man management. They have a tendency to go off at tangents - working on things that they find interesting but are not strictly realted to the work they are supposed to be producing. They often have egos that require careful massaging - 'you just don't understand me' syndrome. They can sometimes be difficult to communicate with and because they are very good at working in a virtual vacum on their own can struggle in team situations.

I think that the biggest barrier in terms of cross - cultural creativity is the pre-conception that only the creative efforts of your native culture have any relevance to the world around you. This has been a pretty consistent theme throughout history - at the time when British foreign policy could be succinctly described as 'make the world England' missionaries from the Protestant church did their best to drive out local religions in Africa, China and anywhere else the Union Jack was raised. Dr. M. K. Raina describes 'Torrance Phenomenon' "which advocates giving honour where honour is due, as opposed to universalising a particular culture and ridiculing others" (Creativity Centre Ltd., 2007).
In modern globalised business managers are sent to work in offices all over the world and work with people who come from numerous cultures and this exposure to different ideas and viewpoints can only enhance creative thinking.


Moon, P (2007) Wozniak on Apple, AI and future inventions [Online] London: IDG Communications Ltd.
Available from (Accessed 23rd March 2008)

Laureate Online Education, 2005 - 2007 Seminar for Week 3 - Decision Making and Motivation

Raudsepp, E., Characteristics of the Creative Individual, Princeton Creative Research, 1978.
(I have cited the original publication but I took the paraphrase from

Creativity Centre Ltd. (2007) Creativity & Cultural Diversity International Conference 15 - 19 Sept 02 [Online] Leeds: Creativity Centre Ltd.
Available from (Accessed 23rd March 2008)

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Expressions of self-esteem

Let us consider you saying to your colleagues: “I am likely the best Java programmer in this company.”Presume for now that your statement is correct. Discuss the following questions:
  • How would your colleagues probably react to such a statement of yours?
  • Is their expected (positive or negative) reaction the local cultural habit in your company or is it a wider position common for people in your country?
  • If your opinion is opposite to the common view, what makes you certain about the rightness of your position?
If I were to stand amongst a group of my colleagues and announce to them "I am likely the best Java programmer in this company" then I would expect a pretty negative response.

There are a number of contexts in which my outburst should be viewed before deciding why I received this negativity. The first of these is to consider the attitudes of my peers towards me. If I am not very close to them personally - if I am a newcomer, or if I have worked with them for years but never really got to know them (I suffer from the latter) then my statement will only reinforce in their minds why we are quite so distant. If this is the case I could expect to be ignored, or challenged aggressively by a more established member of the pack. On the other hand if I am pretty close to my colleagues then my statement is still likely to be received negatively but the response will come with an understanding and a willing to either forget it or forgive it - "that's just Mark being himself".

The manner in which I communicated the statement is incredibly important in understanding how it is received by others. The tone of delivery should be looked at. I could put the opinion forward very seriously, leaving others in no doubt that I mean what I say. I could put it forward obviously jokingly, or obviously sarcastically (this would be if I had never programmed anything in Java before in my life, which is actually true). The differences in these - and other - types of delivery are often subtle and can be easily misinterpreted by someone who is not used to it. Sarcasm, I think, is a particularly British trait. "Both nations [Britain and the USA] liked positive humour, but only the British appreciated sarcasm" (Hamilton, 2008). I have stayed with a family in Canada and my habit of saying that something is especially wonderful when in reality it is not is met with "are you kidding"; a lady from Norway that I used to share a flat with at University had lived in Britain for a number of years and was tuned in to my British brand of humour (and Fawlty Towers). These differences in misinterpretation can easily mean that my statement is misconstrued.

Non - verbal communication will also determine the way that my message is decoded. This will be done sub-conciously by my colleagues but will have an influence on how they react. An open stance that shows I am not trying to hide anything coupled with eye contact will make people more likely to believe what I am saying, but putting the message across with my arms folded or while I am jigging around or looking at the floor will probably make my colleagues take the information with a pinch of salt.

The external influences to my message may also come to bear. For example, there may be competition for jobs among Java programmers - say that two positions are going to be made redundant and the management have yet to announce who will be axed. If the statement is true then one could probably conclude that the company is unlikely to get rid of its best programmer. In this case my statement will cause angst among my colleagues who are less secure about their future. Alternatively, there could be a rumour going around that the company is outsourcing all its Java development to a company in India - a rumour I may not have heard about. My statement may make people feel amused or superior (or upset to lose me) because they know that I am unlikely to be in the office for much longer.

There are a wide range of reasons as to why a statement is interpreted by others in one way or another; just taking the content of the statement is not enough to reason why.


Hamilton, A (2008) Brits are glad to be grumpy, but the Americans are not amused [Online] London: Times Newspapers Ltd.
Available from (Accessed 19th March 2008)

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Machiavelli vs. Ghandi

Machiavellians believe that “The aim justifies the means” While Gandhi maintained that “The end is not important, only the means are important.” Do you agree with either of the statements? Why yes or why not?What about your neighborhood? Do many people believe in it or is there a resistance against such attitude?In your opinion, does the attitude differ among nations?

The film A Few Good Men ends with a powerful final courtroom scene where Gen. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) is on the witness stand and being interrogated by Lt. Dan Kaffee (Tom
Cruise) over the death of Santiago (a US Marine) in suspicious circumstances. Jessep spits
the following line as part of a monologue "You have the luxury of not knowing what I know:
That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives" (Sorkin, 1991). I am a firm
believer that the aim justifies the means especially when difficult decisions are made that
affect the lives of others. Few people could argue that the Allied forces were not justified
in sending so many of their young men to their deaths in order to achieve the higher aim of
stopping the evil that was the Nazi party; before the war began both Britain and France had
the opportunity to make this decision but were unwilling to face the horror that would be
unleashed as a result. The irony is that taking the viewpoint of Machiavelli before 1939
would probably have saved many, many lives.

I think in the business world too the aim justifies the means whatever those means may be.
From my studies in economics I think that a free market is stronger and healthier than one
that is restricted by trade or employment practices. If a company such as Siebel, "known for
its annual 5 percent cull of those employees who are seen to be underperforming" (Thompson,
2002), finds that this employment practice improves profitability then I think this is to be
encouraged. Much is made in the UK (by the Prime Minister himself, for starters) about the
inefficiency of the public sector. Introducing a structure where performance could be
measured and the chaff weeded out would be unpopular but it would make a huge difference to
the value that tax payers receive for their contributions.

The actions of Ghandi and his followers and those of protestors in the American Civil Rights
movement also achieved their aims so the sentiment contained in the statement "the end is
not important, only the means are important" cannot be written off either. But to go back to
a point I made above, Ghandi's advice to the people of Western Europe who elected to fight
against the AXIS was "if these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them"
(Ghandi, 1972). Millions of black people in America still live in poverty and the attitudes
of the government towards them after the hurricane in New Orleans does raise questions as to
how far they still have to go to win equality. Mao Tse Tsung said "political power grows out
of the barrel of a gun", Al Capone said "you can get much farther with a kind word and a gun
than you can with a kind word alone". I am inclined to agree with these two more.

I live in the North West of England and think that if you visited any large city here -
Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington - and conducted an opinion poll you would find the
Machiavellian viewpoint taken much more than Ghandi's. One issue causing much tension is the
issue of immigration - British people perceive that illegal immigrants get a much better
deal than nationals who need help from the state. Much of this furore is whipped up by the
right wing press but when people's livelihoods are threatened they are unlikely to take it
with good grace. I believe that this attitude is held by the people of pretty much every
nation on the planet - but I also believe that most people are quite willing to live and let
live until clever and manipulative leaders are able to bring out the worst in people.


Sorkin, A (1991) A Few Good Men (Screenplay) [Online]
Available from (Accessed 16th March 2008)

Thompson, E (2002) Siebel: 800-Pound Gorilla or Sitting Duck [Online] Gartner Inc.
Available from (Accessed 16th March 2008)

Ghandi, M (1972) Non-violence in peace and war, 1942–[1949] Garland Publishing
The quote is available online at

Both quotes of Mao Tse Tsung and Al Capone were taken from www.brainyquote.com

Friday, 14 March 2008

Learning and training methods

Learning is characterized as “any relatively permanent change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience”. This also means that it also happens outside of schools, e.g. at workplaces. Give us an example of such a “lesson” that helped you to improve your job performance. Try to generalize this isolated experience of yours into a “training method” that would help others to improve their performance as well.

I am lucky enough to work for a 'learning organisation' - an organisation that I believe
"enables individual learning to create valued outcomes such as innovation and efficiency"
(Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). I am encouraged to learn on the job - the work that I do
(managing and developing middleware engines and data hubs) is a little specialised and there
is more information to acquire than a week long course could ever hope to teach. One of the
biggest advantages (to me at least) of the Internet is that it allows other specialists to
blog their experiences and methods for achieving different results and I just have to tap
into this via Google.

Yesterday I was faced with a problem - one of the processes that I had set up for getting
data from point A to point B in a format that point B would understand was not working
properly. After looking at the problem with a colleague I came up with an action plan, one
item of which was to make the middleware engine talk directly to the source database and
poll information, rather than writing the data out manually and having the middleware engine
poll that. This is a much more efficient way of doing things, but was marred by the fact
that I had never engineered a process in this way before.

So I had to give myself a lesson on how to make this work - no one else in my office knows
how. My first step was to use Google to try and find some examples that other people have
done. Getting the search terms correct is an art in itself - using as many technical words
as possible really focuses the search results. I found one promising blog post straight away
from a blogger whose resources I have used in the past. His method was based on an older
version of software but I gave it a go. However what he prescribed didn't work - there
wasn't sufficient detail for me and some of the concepts he used I know nothing about.
I started looking for other examples and found another a few minutes later by a well
respected blogger who has recently left Microsoft. His example was perfect - he gave a step
- by - step guide but also relied on the fact that the reader (i.e. me) had plenty of
background knowledge. I started working through his example on my computer and trying to
mirror exactly what he was doing. Some of it required a little guesswork and the first
solution I ran failed completely. But I got there in the end and after about two hours of
training I was able to implement a technique that would a) solve my immediate crisis and b)
stay with me and be re-usable again on other problems.

This self - teaching training method requires patience to work - it's not the same as having
someone teaching you face to face because bloggers quite often concentrate on just the
important steps in a process and leave the rest to you. But I would definitely advocate it
to all software professionals - for me classroom training is a waste of time because what
you are learning is quite often out of date.

Huczynski, A & Buchanan, D (2007) Organizational Behaviour (6th Ed) Essex: Pearson Education

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Predicting behaviour

Behavior of people cannot be predicted with 100 % precision.

a) What causes people to behave differently in similar situations?

I think that the reasons why people behave differently in similar situations are too diverse and numerous to list here and I don’t for a minute think that I could list every single one. If I were to narrow the boundaries of this question and undertake an experiment to see the differences in how a group of people behaved in one similar situation I would try to examine the subject through either variance theory or process theory depending on which school of social scientific thought I subscribed to.

If I were to take the variance theory approach I would base my experiment on my belief that “human behaviour should be studied and explained with the same scientific methods that are used to study natural phenomena” (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). Take, for example, an experiment designed to see how a group of ten randomly selected students in a class each reacts to being offered $5 in exchange for letting me take a digital photograph of them, measured in the strength of their willingness ranging from totally willing to totally unwilling. In this experiment the dependent variable will be the reaction of each student and the independent variable will be the act of making them the offer. I would also have to define the operational definition of willingness – in this case I would see it as first time acceptance with no questions asked by the student.

Of course it can be argued that this experiment is invalid because of the combination of external factors that come to bear on the experiment have indeterminate effects. For example, one students’ total willingness may be down to the fact that he left his wallet at home and was unable to pay for a bus ticket. Another students’ total unwillingness may have been caused by the fact that she had been a victim of identity fraud and was very, very wary of her personal details. The positivism approach that my experiment takes would not be able to account for these factors.
A second approach to take would be process theory which studies how “a sequence of events, unfolding in a particular context, contribute to a series of outcomes of interest” (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). None of the factors external to my variance theory experiment could be considered stable and process theory takes a probabilistic view in that it attempts to show how there is a greater or lesser probability that certain combinations of explanatory factors will lead to an outcome (but it will never say the probability is 0% or 100%).
Constructivism is an alternative to the positivism idea in that it sees many elements of objective reality as being socially constructed. In the case of my experiment I would have to ask how the willingness of different students to accept my offer is socially constructed. It may be the case that if I asked another person to observe the experiment with me and rate the reactions that they may rate a student who I rated as ‘reluctant’ as ‘totally willing’. The interpretation of individuals is more important than a pre-determined operational definition, which within a constructivist world is irrelevant.

b) To what degree can we predict their behavior? Give an example of a situation in which the prediction is simple and one in which it is difficult or impossible.

Prediction of individual behaviour becomes harder as more external factors become part of the prediction. An example of a situation where prediction is simple would be this; sit a person at a desk with two overturned cups in front of them and tell them that one has a $20 note underneath it. Tell them that they can choose one cup to lift up and if the $20 note is underneath they can keep it. I think it’s pretty simple to predict that a person would choose to lift up one of the cups rather than elect not to bother – human nature is pretty consistent in its fondness for something for nothing.

I would imagine that a situation in which prediction of human behaviour is difficult or impossible is sending men into battle for the first time. There are hundreds of influencing factors that will decide how each man reacts – will they head towards the enemy, or turn and run, or try and hide; will they be calm and rational or irrational or will they go berserk.

c) Can Organizational Behavior help us to increase the probability of some predictions? Why do you think so?

After reading the introduction to the topic of Organisational Behaviour I think that the answer to this question is ‘yes’. This is because Organisational Behaviour doesn’t treat the people that make up an organisation as islands that are cut off from the rest of the world, rather it tries to understand the different aspects of the environment – political, economic, social – that may cause certain behaviour to happen. By taking this approach and removing uncertainty the probability of certain predictions will increase.

I was enthused by the section in the text on the post – modern organisation and think that this concept will increase the probability of certain predictions because it brings the workforce and those managing them closer together and therefore provides management with more information on which to base decisions. In a post – modern organisation, for example, employees are empowered to make decisions and are usually doing their job because it was something they chose to train for at college or university and therefore it is something that they enjoy doing. Management knows then that the reaction to being offered more responsibility in their chosen area of expertise for no more money will probably not be turned down. In a post - modern organisation employees’ work in small teams and the managers help and facilitate their work rather than being draconian. Concepts like being at work on time or dressing appropriately are becoming increasingly outdated and managers take an interest (and are maybe a part of) their workers private lives too. This means that managers are better placed to understand how different individuals will react to certain changes that are forced upon them.

Also, if an individual works in an organisation that responds positively to change – very elastic to borrow the term from economics – then the employee too is likely to respond positively to change. The behaviour of the organisation has increased the probability of the prediction in this case. The organisation that I work in tends to be one that attracts people because of the relative stability within. This in turn creates workers who only respond well to stability. In recent months the pace of change has been quickening and the organisation is critical of people who do not respond well to it – but this is simply a failure of the organisation to equip its people to deal with change. The behaviour of the organisation increases the probability that its workers will deal well with change by implementing more frequent change.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Enhancing ethical behaviour with IT

Ethical behavior is an important part of a company’s culture. Can you enhance it by using IT? Discuss.

I think that before IT is used to enhance ethical behaviour within a company the company
first has to make the decision on just how far reaching its code of ethics will be. "We find
that firms using ethics-related terms [in their annual 10-K reports to the Securities
Commission] are more likely to be “sin” stocks, are more likely to be the object of class
action lawsuits, and are more likely to score poorly on measures of corporate governance"
(Loughran, McDonald & Yun, 2007). Companies like this - that allude to considering ethical
implications in its day to day business but don't actually follow this through will never
enhance anything through IT.

What about when a company decides that it does actually have some moral backbone? Take Gap
as an example. "An undercover Observer investigation in the back streets of New Delhi
exposes how, despite Gap's rigorous social audit systems launched in 2004 to weed out child
labour in its production processes, the system is being abused by unscrupulous
subcontractors. The result is that children, in this case working in conditions close to
slavery, appear to still be making some of its clothes" (McDougall, 2007). Gaps' obvious
good intentions in 2004 contained loopholes that subcontractors were able to expose and
profit from. My answer to closing these loopholes would be the implentation of a watertight
IT - based supply chain system.

Thinking out loud I would expect that only Gap - endorsed factories could enter production information into Gaps databases and tag the items with barcodes / radio frequencies that only Gaps computers would understand. Any exceptions to this can be quickly reported - to the manager of a warehouse taking delivery, or to the team of executives that run the company. A spokesperson for Gap said "At Gap, we firmly believe that under no circumstances is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments" (McDougall, 2007). I believe that if the company were more thorough in checking its processes - and all processes in multinationals now involve IT, it's a fact - then its ethical behaviour could have been enhanced much sooner than the point where it was taking some stock off the shelves.

A company's IT recycling policy can also greatly enhance its ethical behaviour. It is one
thing to ensure that old computer equipment is correctly disposed of rather than just ending
up on a landfill, but it is another to donate obsolete equipment that has been written off
to companies such as Comm-Tech in London (which helps charities with IT requirements and
refurbishes the obsolete kit for them at a low price).

Loughran, Tim , McDonald, Bill and Yun, Hayong (2007) A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Use of
Ethics-Related Terms in 10-K Reports [Online] University of Notre DamAvailable from (Accessed 9th March 2008)

McDougall, D (2007) Child sweatshop shame threatens Gaps ethical image [Online] London:
Guardian Media Ltd.Available from
(Accessed 9th March 2008)

The contribution of IT to Organizational Behaviour

Information technology influences the behavior of organizations. Name one effect of IT implementation and long-term usage you assume having a positive contribution and one having a negative consequence. Explain why you see them as such.

"Honey, I'm leaving for the psychic prison, see you tonight". Genius.

I work as an IT specialist within a local government organisation. Historically these
organisations have been considered poor when quantifying their performance in terms of
'Organisational Effectiveness'. "We live in a world in which the resources available to us
are not sufficient to meet all of our desires" (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). This statement
has never been truer in local government where a series of reports commissioned by
parliament are forcing organizations like mine to do more with less - at the moment my
workplace really is a system of change and transformation. The implementation of IT is
probably seen as the biggest factor in realising efficiencies - bigger than improving the
workforce, bigger than giving better service to customers.

The IT implementation that I see having a positive long term effect is CRM (Citizen
Relationship Management). Organisations like mine provide an incredibly wide range of
services - administration of housing benefit, environmental health, domestic and commercial
waste and social care are just four of hundreds. A computer-based CRM system allows the
council to join all these services together and means that the citizen only has to
communicate with the council once to engage with any or all of these services, rather than
having to deal with a number of discrete departments. The implementation has come as a
result of environmental pressure in terms of the needs of citizens - when they deal with a
private sector organisation such as a bank or telephone company they expect to communicate
with a single representative who can sort out all their queries. The same expectation comes
when dealing with the council, and the idea of a 'one stop shop' for services is being
embraced nationwide and backed up with an effective CRM system. Work is now being done on
creating 'one version of the truth' - in reality a single unified view of a customer which
combines all their interactions with different council departments. There is also a drive to
include georgraphic information in an effort to further improve customer service. This IT
implementation is definitely a long term investment.

An IT implementation with negative consequences has been the IT system used by Human
Resources to administrate workforce - related issues. I usually take a dim view of human
resources officers but having read the introduction to organisational behaviour I realise I
am falling making 'fundamental attribution error' and should look at organisational - based
reasons as to why I find them difficult to deal with. Certainly their IT system was forced
upon them with absolutely no consultation at ground level. It is difficult and unintuitve to
use making their organisational structure slow to respond. They don't get much support at
all - one IT specialist is available to help with their problems. Contrast this to CRM which
has as many as ten specialists available on the phone to answer all manner of queries (be
they to do with functionality, training, development or error handling). I know from talking
to some of the officers that the system stops them doing their job well because they know
that no matter how hard they work at a task the system will limit its overall effectiveness.
And management constantly talk about replacing it, but because the system is bolted onto the
payroll infrastructure its very hard to do so. This sort of 'will they, won't they' talk
saps morale to the extent where people quit their jobs which causes even more problems.

Huczynski, A & Buchanan, D (2007) Organizational Behaviour (6th Ed.) Harlow: Pearson
Education Ltd.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Cash Flow Statement

What information does a cash flow statement provide? Using a self-created example, explain the direct and indirect methods for calculating cash flows from operating activities.

The cash flow statement that a business produces "reveals the movement of cash over a period of and the effect of these movements on the cash position of a business" (Atrill & McLaney, 2006). This third mandatory financial statement is required because of the vital importance that cash has to a business. The cash flow statement summarises the receipt and payment of cash (and cash equivalents such as deposits held in a bank account which are easily accessible) over a period, and displays the net increase or decrease of cash in the business.

The cash flow statement will contain four main sections. The first shows cash flow from operating activities. It is the cash received from sales and trade receivables minus the cash paid to purchase stock, pay the workforce and other such activities. This section is calculated after tax and financing costs have been taken into account. The next section shows cash flow from investing - cash received from payment for non - current assets minus cash paid for non - current assets. The third section shows cash flow from financing - long term borrowings and share - related activities are examples of this. Finally, the fourth section will show the net increase or decrease in cash.

While the direct method of preparing a cash flow relies on combining all cash - related transactions for a particular category of operating activity, the indirect method uses the income statement as its starting point and works out the cash flow of the business from that (this appears to be much less work than crunching all the numbers for the direct method). "Most of the items in an income statement are related to operating activities as defined by the cash flow statement rules. Therefore, it is possible to reconcile the net income from the income statement to the cash from operating activities" (Trent, 2007).

A direct cash flow statement would look similar to the following:

Cash Flow Statement for month ended December 31, 2007

Operating Activities (£)
Cash collected from customers 50,000
Cash paid for rent (2,000)
Cash paid in wages (5,000)
Cash paid for utilities (1,000)

Investing Activities (£)
Purchase of machinery (75,000)
Sale of machinery 10,000

Financing Activities (£)
Issue of Shares 80,000

Total Cash Flow 57,000
Starting Cash 0
Ending Cash 57,000

whereas an indirect cash flow statement will resemble this:

Cash Flow Statement for month ended December 31, 2007

Operating Activities (£)
Net Income 10,000
Less Increase in Inventory (8,000)
Less increase in A/C Receivable (7,000)
Plus increase in A/C Payable 47,000

Investing Activities (£)
Purchase of machinery (75,000)
Sale of machinery 10,000

Financial Activities (£)
Issue of Shares 80,000

Total Cash Flow 57,000
Starting Cash 0
Ending Cash 57,000


Atrill, P. & McLaney, E. (2006) Accounting and Finance for Non - Specialists (5th Ed.) Essex, Pearson Education Ltd.

Trent, W (2007) Cash Flow Statement - The Indirect Method [Online]
Available from (Accessed 19th Jan 2008)

Financial Ratios and Trend Analysis for Financial Statements

How are financial ratios and trend analysis used to analyze and interpret financial statements? Which category (profitability, efficiency, liquidity, gearing, or investment) of ratios is most useful for company managers and why?

"Financial ratios can be very helpful when comparing the financial health of different businesses" (Atrill & McLaney, 2006). The percentage values calculated by the ratio equations remove the issue of scale from the comparison, and allow an analyst to see, for example, how an older IT leviathan like IBM compares to one of the IT industry upstarts such as Facebook. The ratios can also be used to show the performance of the same company over a period of time and indicate why it is succeeding (or failing). They are also used by analysts to compare the performance of similar companies in the same industry and show if a company is achieving the financial targets that it has set itself. The most common financial ratios can be largely divided into five categories; Profitability, Efficiency, Liquidity, Financial Gearing and Investment.

Trend analysis is extremely useful in understanding the performance of one or several businesses over a period of time. Plotting key financial ratios on a graph can quickly illustrate which companies are doing better than their rivals, what the general trends are, and even help to see into the future - very important when considering investment opportunities.

In answer to the second part of this question I would say that different management roles within a company will find different ratios useful. Speaking from personal experience of having worked on the shop floor of multinational wholesalers the most important ratio for the store manager was the profitability ratio. This could quickly inform him of any problem areas - for example, if the net profit of fresh food fell below a certain threshold then it was usually down to too much wastage, and he would be able to get his line managers to take corrective action - review what was being ordered or review stock rotation. In my current job in local government the profitability ratio has absolutely no relevance to the upper echelons of management. I would think that ensuring the financial viability of the Council - making sure that all its liabilities such as benefit payments and services are met. A report prepared by PriceWaterhouseCooper on the financial sustainability of local government in Australia stated that interest cover ratio, median sustainability ratio (which is capital expenditure / depreciation) and current ratio were important financial ratios in this particular industry which backs this theory up.


Atrill, P. & McLaney, E. (2006) Accounting and Finance for Non - Specialists (5th Ed.) Essex, Pearson Education Ltd.

Pritchard, J. (2006) National Financial Sustainability Study of Local Government [Online] Canberra, Australian Local Government Association
Available from (Accessed 20th Jan 2008)

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Accounting & finance features for limited companies

List and describe three accounting and finance features for limited companies? How is accounting and financial reporting regulated in your country?

There are a number of accounting and finance features that are specific to limited companies. The first of these is the way in which the company is owned. This is facilitated by the creation of shares when a company is formed, which allows the ownership to be spread between an infinite number of parties. The existence of shares grants a company perpetual existence, encourages investors because of their high liquidity, and enables ownership in the company to be expanded, or change hands, very quickly.

A limited company is legally required to produce financial statements and make this available to the public. These financial statements - the balance sheet and the income statement - follow the same format to those produced by non - incorporated companies but do have some subtle differences. The income statement will show more extensive profit details - operating profit (profit before financial expenses), profit before tax, profit after tax, and retained profit that has not been used to pay a dividend to shareholders or transferred to a reserve. The income statement will also show an audit fee, a dividend, and the amount transferred to the reserve. The balance sheet will differ in that it shows corporation tax (only paid in the UK by limited companies) and a figure for equity in the company.

As soon as a limited company grows beyond a certain size it is a requirement for the shareholders to appoint a qualified team of auditors to report on the accuracy of the financial statements of the company. The auditors will investigate the details of the financial statements and the evidence on which they are based. In my personal experience the field of auditing has become much more profile in recent years, and large auditing companies such as PriceWaterhouseCooper are better known than the companies that they are hired to audit.

In the UK, accounting is legislated by the Accounting Standards Board. This organisation issues accounting standards and protocols autonomously (but in consultation with the companies that its decisions will affect). The ASB expresses the need to harmonise international accounting standards, "in most cases, compliance with an FRS (Financial Reporting Standard) automatically ensures compliance with the relevant IAS" (Financial Reporting Council, 2008). This has to be the approach taken; every year sees increased European harmonisation in terms of legislation. "The European Commission adopted a regulation requiring Stock Exchange listed companies of EU member states to prepare their financial statements according to International Accounting Standards Board standards" (Atrill & McLaney, 2006). Much of the big business in the UK is now just part of an international conglomerate and this approach to international accounting will help that greatly.


Financial Reporting Council (2008) Foreword to Accounting Standards [Online] London: Financial Reporting Council
Available from (Accessed 19th Jan 2008)

Atrill, P. & McLaney, E. (2006) Accounting and Finance for Non - Specialists (5th Ed.) Pearson Education Ltd., Essex, England

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Profit and Loss Account

What information does a profit and loss account (income statement) provide? How does the selection of accounting methods for depreciation and stock costing affect measuring and reporting financial performance?

"The purpose of the profit and loss account is to measure and report how much profit the business has generated over a period" (Atrill & McLaney, 2006). Where the balance sheet recorded the relationship between assets and claims, the profit and loss account shows the relationship between revenue - which is a measure of economic benefit to a business that comes from activities such as sales, services and interest - and expense - which is a
measure of economic loss that is caused by activities such as the purchasing of stock, paying salaries or renting plant. The profit and loss account shows the result of the equation:

Profit (loss) for period = total revenue for period - total expenses incurred creating the revenue

Depreciation models the fact that the majority of non - current assets do not have an infinite amount of use - in the act of generating revenue they will be used up. An example of this is a piece of manufacturing equipment - as it performs its duties in working towards producing whatever the business needs it will, over time, begin to wear out, malfunction, and maybe even cease working altogether. Depreciation is almost like double entry accounting for assets - its benefit to the business is recorded on one side of the equation while the cost of providing this benefit in terms of maintenance and value is recorded on the other side.

Depreciation is made up of four concepts. Fair Value is the cost of purchase, delivery, installation as well as future alterations or upgrades. Useful Life differentiates between physical life - how long an asset will work for - and economic life - how long the benefits of using an asset remain higher than the costs involved. Computer equipment may work for ten years, but the rapid improvements in speed and performance make its economic life much shorter. Residual Value is a disposal value - basically a payment made to the business by someone buying the asset. Depreciation method is how the depreciable amount of the assets life is allocated amongst accounting periods.

Choosing this method is based on the pattern of benefits consumed by the asset - an even spread of benefits over time would lead to a business choosing to adopt the straight line method, but an increasing decline in benefit over time - this is the return you would expect from computer equipment - would lead a business to choose a reducing balance method.

The measuring of the cost of stock in a business is important because of the effect that it has on both the calculation of profit and financial position. A business will calculate the cost of stock at the start and end of a reporting period, and can make common assumptions about how stock is handled - stating that the oldest inventories are the first to be sold (known as FIFO or first in last out) or that the newest inventories are the first to be sold (known as LIFO or last in first out). A business could also use an average cost of inventories held - useful, I suppose, if the business holds a lot of stock that is older and has less value because it will hide this fact on the profit and loss account.


Atrill, P. and McLaney, E. (2006) Accounting and Finance for Non - Specialists 5th Ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.

The Balance Sheet

What information does a balance sheet provide? How do accounting conventions and asset valuation affect measuring and reporting financial position?

"The purpose of the balance sheet is simply to set out the financial position of a business at a particular moment in time" (Atrill & McLaney, 2006). This broad definition can be made more specific by stating that the balance sheet shows the assets of a business on one side and the claims made against a business on the other side, and ensures that the two sides always balance. The assets that it shows are the resources of the business and these must always have some future monetary value, be exclusively owned by the business, exist as a result of a past transaction and be measured in monetary terms. Cash, plant, trademarks and investments are all examples of business assets. Claims do not have the same requirements as assets in terms of their definition, but can be divided into Capital claims - which are the claims of the owner against the business - and Liability claims - which are the claims of everyone else against the business.

The balance sheet essentially shows the result of the 'balance sheet equation' which is defined as Assets = Capital + Liabilities. For example, if a business purchases £5,000 worth of stock on any given day then £5,000 will be added to the assets section of the balance sheet, but this purchase is also now a claim against the business by an external party (the supplier) so £5,000 must also be added to the Liability claims section of the balance sheet. A business will normally use the balance sheet in three ways; "for reporting purposes as part of annual accounts, to help all parties interested in a business to assess the worth of a business and as a tool to help improve the management of a business" (Business Link, 2008).

A number of accounting conventions affect the reporting of financial position. Business Entity convention ensures that the business and its owners will always be treated as seperate bodies regardless of the type of ownership. This means that the two types of claim will always be applied. Money Measurement convention keeps assets and liabilities that cannot be assigned a monetary value off the balance sheet. Historic Cost convention values assets at their acquisition cost, not an adjusted cost for factors such as depreciation. Going Concern convention assumes that the business will continue to operate in the future and has no need to sell non - current assets, and that the financial reports should be prepared on this basis. Dual Aspect convention keeps the balance sheet 'balanced' by recording transactions with two aspects, as explained in the second paragraph of this essay. Prudence convention (now Gordon Brown's nickname as Chancellor of the Exchequer makes more sense) makes financial reports lean towards caution - making any expected bad news clear straight away. Stable Monetary Unit convention assumes that money will not change in value over time, and finally Objectivity convention means that financial reports will be prepared based on objective facts rather than subjective opinion.

Asset valuation is important to the balance sheet because Historic Cost convention isn't really practical in the real world, some allowance has to be made for the fact that assets can appreciate or depreciate in value over time, and this must be recorded to accurately show the true value of a business. In terms of tangible non - current assets such as delivery vans either the net value of the asset after depreciation can be shown on the balance sheet, or a 'fair value' which is usually the market value of the asset. Implementing this latter method of valuation can have a drastic change on how the business looks on paper - especially if the business owns assets that have considerably increased in value.


Atrill, P. and McLaney, E. (2006) Accounting and Finance for Non - Specialists 5th Ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.

Business Link (2008) Balance sheets: the basics [Online]
Available from: (Accessed 13th Jan 2008)

Similarities & Differences of Financial & Management Accounting and Finance

What are financial accounting, management accounting, and finance? How are they similar and different?

Financial accounting, management accounting and finance are all three concerned with making financial decisions in a business. Atrill and McLaney draw a distinction between financial and management accounting through this statement: "the differences between the two types of accounting reflect the different user groups that they address" (2006). Management accounting reports are targeted at fulfilling the information needs of managers within a business and are likely to be much more detailed, to contain information about other areas of he business too,
to be both backward and forward looking, and to be much more specific than generalised financial accounting reports. "Financial accounting is something performed to agreed standards designed to accurately report the true worth of a accounting, on the other hand, is a mechanism for using a financial metric for making a decision about different choices" (Anderson, 2004). Perhaps the biggest difference between the two strands of accounting is that reports produced in financial accounting must meet the guidelines laid down by international bodies such as the International Accounting Standards Board, whereas management accounting reports can be produced in any format the management see fit - they are for internal consumption only.

Finance "is concerned with the ways in which funds for a business are raised andinvested" (Atrill & McLaney, 2006). It is similar to financial and management accounting in the sense that it is another source of information about the business. Finding concrete reasons on why the two disciplines are different is harder because no two authors seem to agree. Broadly speaking, the difference lies in the type of information that accounting and finance will seek to interpret. Management accounting could potentially gather information on any decision that had to be made within a business - for example, the merging of two staff departments, or the decision to upgrade all the desktop computers owned by the business. The information produced by financial reporting would be much narrower in its scope - looking at issues such as the type of investments that should be undertaken. A slightly different differentiation between finance and accounting is provided by Bonnie Coleman; "take stock of where you've been (accounting) and plan where you want to be (finance)" (2005). I disagree with her analogy though; the accountants working in my organisation play a key role in deciding where the organisation is heading and their influence is not restricted to money.


Atrill, P. and McLaney, E. (2006) Accounting and Finance for Non - Specialists 5th Ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.

Anderson, D. J. (2004) Management vs Financial Accounting [Online]
Available from (Accessed 13th Jan 2008)

Coleman, B. (2005) The Difference Between Accounting and Finance: A Plan New Mexico Business Journal, March, 2005 [Online]
Available from (Accessed 13th Jan 2008)

Sunday, 6 January 2008

If the Brain is a computer...

If the brain is a computer and the mind its workings, is this a fitting analogy of the computer and its software? What would happen if we had dedicated computers with a huge numbers of neuron circuits? Would intelligence develop? Would we be able to understand it?

"If the brain is a computer and a mind its workings" is not a particularly fitting analogy of a computer and its
software. Certainly you could see how the latter is representative of the former but the computer just does as it
is told, rather than being able to figure things out for itself.

The question "would intelligence develop" has two answers, I think. It has been proven in studies that
intelligence (and we must bear in mind that there is more than one definition of this) can develop inside closed
environments, inside 'worlds' that are subject only to a pre-defined set of stimuli. In his dissertation The
Evolutionary Emergence Route to Artificial Intelligence Alistair Channon sets out to "develop AIs that can grasp
profoundly new situations on their own". He concludes that "some of the observed behaviours could indeed be
considered intelligent if only at a very low level" (1996). Within the system boundaries (a computer program)
intelligence existed but it is unlikely that this intelligence would pose a threat to the modern world - it has no
way, for example, to keep itself alive if the power to the computer it is running on is cut.

The problem is that much of our experience of Artificial Intelligence is seen working within 'Expert Systems'
rather than within the world that we all live in. A neural network that decides if my mortgage application can be
approved or not is intelligence but only within the boundaries of learning how to process data related to a
mortgage application. If it was fed data about a blood test or the communication between two computers it would
still try decide whether to approve a mortgage or not.

"When we examine very simple level intelligence we find that explicit representations and models of the world
simply get in the way. It turns out to be better to use the world as its own model" (Brooks, 1991). Brooks argues
that we need to build intelligence in components - starting with a very simple autonomous system that is
intelligent in the real world, and then building on this. This approach gives agents basic survival skills -
knowing how to avoid danger, knowing to get the equivalent of food and water, and where to get this from. Then
higher levels of intelligence are built on these basic layers, the process mirroring human biological evolution
from single cells to beings comprised of billions of inter-operable neurons. I think this biological approach is
how machines will become intelligent, rather than simply stringing together thousands of processors into a neural


Channon, A (1996) The Evolutionary Emergence Route to Artificial Intelligence [Online] University of Sussex
Available from (Accessed 6th Jan 2008)

Brooks, R. A. (1991) Intelligence without representation [Online] Cambridge: MIT
Available from (Accessed 6th Jan

Benefits and Perils of AI

In our discussions we exalted AI. Do you think that there are also dangers involved? Please discuss the benefits and the perils of artificial intelligence.

In I, Robot, one of the characters finds himself in grave danger on the surface of Mercury. The robot that has carried him onto the surface "said stupidly, 'you are in danger, Master'" (Asimov, 1968). At the start of the twenty first century the human race is still a long way off creating artifical intelligence that is this... intelligent. We do benefit from some early advances in the field, but I must agree with much of what science fiction writers predict - AI holds more perils for us than benefits in the long term.

The neural network is the most commonly implemented form of AI, "constructed from many individual processors in a manner that models networks of neurons in living biological systems" (Brookshear, 2007). These have two major benefits - they allow for extremely sophisticated models to be built from data that has a non - linear relationship and they can be trained to learn how the data in the model is ordered.

Two fields where neural networks are becoming increasingly are medicine and finance. "Using artificial neural networks, it can be monitored a lot of health indices (respiration rate, blood pressure, glucose level) or can be predicted the patient response to a therapy. Artificial neural networks have a very important role in image analysis, too, being used together with processing of digital image in recognition and classification" (Albu & Ungureanu, 2005). It is often the case that a patient will have a range of symptoms and a range of lifestyle choices and a neural network can quickly identify illness and treatment based on this set of seemingly non - related data. It has been proved that AI is better than humans at working the stock market. In a review of the book Using Artificial Intelligence to Improve Real-World Performance Lou Mendelsohn states "the authors show that the neural network approach yielded better performance than MDA [a traditional statistical model]" (2008). It can't be too long - with the cost of computer hardware falling and its power increasing - before AI increasingly replaces people in making financial decisions. When I apply for a loan, a credit card or car insurance it's not an underwriter who decides if I'm a good risk any more - it's a neural network.

All this improves accuracy and removes human error. But therin lies the problem - as the requirement for intelligent machines increases, the need for the humans that they are replacing will decrease. Already the manufacturing industry has cut "as many as 10 million jobs involving physical labor and repetitive the coming years, a large number of first-level jobs in service industries related to customer service, help desk and directory assistance will be lost due to the advent of intelligent systems" (CNET, 2004). Artifical intelligence will mean a shrinking labour market, and while this was once restricted to jobs at the lower rungs of the employment ladder I am sure that so called 'skilled' jobs will eventually simply be a case of sitting and making sure that the machine works properly. This is a scary thought indeed.


Asimov, I. (1968) I, Robot London: Granada Publishing Ltd.

Brookshear, J. G. (2007) Computer Science, An Overview (9th Ed.) Boston: Pearson Education Ltd.

Albu, A. & Ungureanu, L. (2005) Artificial Neural Networks in Medicine [Online] Timisoara: Politehnica University of Timisoara
Available from (Accessed 6th Jan 2008)

Mendelsohn, L. (2008) Neural Networks in Finance and Investing [Online] Florida: Market Technologies
Available from (Accessed 6th Jan 2008)

CNET (2004) Smart systems will erase jobs, report warns [Online] CNET Networks Inc
Available from,-report-warns/2100-1022_3-5247644.html (Accessed 6th Jan 2008)