Rube Goldberg machine

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A reg tech solution yesterday. Each number represents a rent-seeker.

In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.
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They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders – signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firefighters.

Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Here is how modern management works.

1. Start with a process

Let’s say we want to negotiate the terms of credit support under an ISDA Master Agreement.

This ought to be a salutary, utilitarian process, but for reasons explored in horrendous detail elsewhere on this wiki, it isn’t. Nevertheless, along with a great deal of iatrogenic wordsmithing, to successfully conclude a 2016 VM CSA, a negotiator must agree a list of fairly structured data points: Base and Eligible Currencies, Independent Amounts, Thresholds, Minimum Transfer Amounts, Valuation and Notification Times, Interest Rates for each Eligible Currency — that kind of thing: important, but snoreseville. Note: at the point of consensus ad idem, the negotiator has all this information in a perfectly replicable, digital format — just how the giant steampunk machine of financial services likes it.

Ok note that point: as of now, without even trying, we have exactly what we want, where we want it: structured digital data, suitable for piping around the organisation, able to be ingested into any database, free of any meddling substrate. We are in the home strait, are we not?

Allow me a quick observation here, readers. “Establishing an automated process to transmit data from one point to another across a network” is not a challenging proposition. It is not innovative. It is not difficult to do. It is the basic operating premise of network computing.

But this story would not be worth the telling if we were going to do anything as sensible as that, would it? We have the makings of a good process; let us now break it.

2. Break it

For our loyal negotiator inputs this data not into MySQL, as you would expect, but into a Microsoft Word document. She then prints it out, onto paper, spends a couple of days wandering in around the organisation trying to find someone to sign that piece of paper — you know, with a biro — and then she scans the whole thing into .tiff format and converts it to email. Thus, we have taken a perfectly processable ASCII-encoded digital artefact, rendered it as an unprocessable analogue on an expensive, perishable and eminently losable substrate (paper), re-digitised that as a flipping picture, and then sent it off to a team of school-leavers in Bucharest whose job it is to receive it, print it out, read it, and transcribe the contents into the collateral engine.

Hence the The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quote at the top.

3. Introduce reg tech to “fix” it

This would be sad if it were not true. Enter the digital prophets, with the mandate to fix this. They have been set on it by middle management, and therefore they see the problem through the prism of removing cost and, if possible, innovating.

You can hardly get rid of the negotiator — it’s not like they haven't tried that millions of times already — so pity those poor Romanians: it’s back to wiping tables at Starbucks for them. But good news! we can deploy innovative reg tech to replace them!

Here is what they will suggest: get a next-generation neural network to extract the data from the document and populate it into the collateral engine.[1]

4. Setback

At this point, our hero (the middle manager, that is: always the intrepid hero of any adventure in institutional governance) will suffer a setback: Some curmudgeonly contrarian will ask a difficult question. “hang on: why don’t we change the front end, building a SQL database that our negotiator can enter the data into, rather than a word document? She can then generate the word document from the SQL database, and preserve the digital data in the infrastructure.”

Our hero will shake his head. Sadly that is too difficult.

Difficult? How is that difficult?

It will involve IT spend. Hundreds of thousands of dollars., There is no budget. There is never any budget.

See also


  1. It will need optical character recognition to convert the image back to a digital format of course.