Smoke & Mirrors: Predictable analytics

When the CEO goes on an IT refresher course, the comms chief predicts there will be trouble.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 28 Oct 2016


As part of Smokehouse's unswerving commitment to diversity we have a returners' programme for mums coming back into their IT jobs. This aims to bring women back up to speed with technology where so much can happen in nine months. So far we've had one person enjoying the course and that's Miriam in IT who, in the world's worst-kept secret, has just had the baby of our CIO Mike Lamb to add to the two he already has with his wife - to whom he maintains he's still happily married. That of course is the kind of thing that happens in IT every day of the week and no one bats an eyelid. My big worry is that our bewigged and antediluvian CEO Linton Spivey volunteered to go on the course last week to 'refresh' his working knowledge of IT.


Spivey's working knowledge of IT is that if it doesn't work you need to turn it off and on again. That technique applies to our servers, our cloud-based SAAS applications and to the internet itself. My worst fears were realised when Spivey burst through the door this morning and said that the whole company must be realigned to follow the guiding light of predictive analytics.

I asked him to explain but he just coughed and snapped one of his biscuits in half, which is a telltale sign of him coming up hard against the concrete block of his own stupidity. Shortly afterwards, I got a snitty email from him saying that we could basically predict the future of the company through multinomial logistic regression. It would have been so much more impressive had he changed the font of the Wikipedia cut-and-pasted bit to match the rest of his email.


The whole company is now being harnessed to predictive analytics which, according to respected IT gurus, is the golden egg laid by the goose of big data. Personally, I'm not so sure. My acid test of corporate foolishness is to ask Martha on reception what she thinks.

She said all predictive analytics means is that if I arrive late for work four days of the week, it's very likely that I'll be late on the fifth. If I turn up at all, she added unnecessarily. Meanwhile Spivey is locked away in his office with one of the course consultants analysing what the data predicts for Smokehouse. She was a short blonde woman with aggressive earrings. The blinds went down so I assumed the future was looking good for Spivey. Apparently she's booked in for regular ongoing consultations. Just in case, I made a note of her website address.


Board meeting. Spivey announced that predictive analytics has shown us precisely where our bright future lay.

As we know, Smokehouse currently makes medical appliances and prosthetics. We all held our breath. Everyone round the boardroom table was thinking of the most outlandish and preposterous suggestion simply to make Spivey's upcoming idea look relatively sensible. It never does but it's a useful psychological bracing mechanism.

Spivey's paradigm-shifting, box-exiting, black swan was that we should now make prosthetic legs for horses. I pointed out that the treatment for lame horses was normally to shoot them. He got a bit angry and said I should get up to speed with my multinational logistical repression. Or something very similar.


One thing I learned from the Cub Scouts is that you fight fire with fire. I called up the company that runs the IT courses and it turned out that its last course had been cancelled because only two people had turned up. Was the other person a very short blond woman with the eyes of a viper by any chance? Funnily enough she was. I checked out her website and there she was with her guide to prediction with tarot cards.

Before her next reading for Spivey, I paid her 10 times her normal rate to make sure it clearly showed that if he moved a muscle at work for the next six months his genitals would explode. You've got to know how to handle the data. Horse prosthetics (and Mike Lamb's marriage) will both be over by the end of next week.

All very predictable.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99.


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