Friday, January 16, 2009

Back to Engineers

Why is it that we insist on listening to accountants? Not only do we listen to everything they say we go out of our way to get them to say something. We’ve done this since the late 1950s and it’s obviously cost us a great deal of money. Not only is it costing us financially but it’s creating inefficiency in our public programs.
I’m sure some of this is the result of an unfounded fear of engineers. “What’s the connection between engineers and accountants?”
I thought you’d never ask. Now that you have I can relate a little history.
During World War II the engineering fraternity more than any other single profession stepped forward to perform some absolute miracles. For instance they took several ideas that had been around for years and made them work even when they had been proven unworkable. They formed new ideas from whole cloth and made them work when many said they were impossible. Many of those ideas helped the Allies to win the war and most have been further developed and are still in use today.
As an example, for several years there was an idea that the way bats navigated could be used by humans. Several time this idea proved to be unworkable. However when the pressure was on, it became workable and known as radar and sonar.
That is only one example and there are literally hundreds of others.
The result of all this is that by the end of the war engineers were heroes and received some of the best jobs available. This faith in their ability was returned by the engineers in the form of increased productivity and reduced expenses.
Sounds great, right?
Well, it wasn’t.
By the end of the 1950s North America and most of Europe were close to bankruptcy. Why? Because production had far outdistanced consumption. We had lots of everything and were producing more but there was no one to buy it.
The problem might have been worse (and faster) if it hadn’t been for the consumption offered by Mid-East difficulties, the Korean War and war and medical emergencies in other parts of the worlds.
So, to recap, society asked a group to do a job and they did it. Not only did they do the job but performed far better than anyone anticipated.
When the trouble came, did society step forward to help? No. As we have done with our heroes through-out time we dumped them.
We called in the accountants.
The accountants didn’t make the same mistake. True to their training they concentrate on one particular item and ignore all others despite the fact that there may be many related parts to an item.
Put your focus in one place and promise to reduce costs by 10%, or 20 or 30 percent if you think your actual results will be greater than what you promised. Make a lot of noise when you do exceed the promised numbers so that no one notices that five or eight or ten related areas have increased by a far greater percentage than what you promised to decrease.
There is a long list of examples.
We have many busy highways that are far too narrow. The ministry (or whoever) that designs and builds the highway has an accountant. This accountant shows that by reducing the width of the shoulder area they can reduce construction cost by X dollars (pick a number). This is obviously true to anyone.
The accountant is a hero.
When people go off the highway and roll in the ditch, the ministry doesn’t pay for that. Some insurance company and ultimately the customer pay for that.
When transport takes longer and must be done with smaller vehicles, the ministry doesn’t pay for that. The shipper and receiver and ultimately the customer pay for that.
When a vehicle, large or small, breaks down (They do that; they’re man-made, you know) and sits on the narrow shoulder thus partially blocking the road everyone pays.
Medical services systems that require more lab-techs, nurses and doctors? Sorry, can’t hire them. The accounting department has explained we can’t afford them. Actually, the money we do have will be used to hire two more accountants so we can find out where the money is going.
There is an instance in Canada where much of the food being consumed by medical patients is produced in the centre of the country and shipped to all the hospitals and long term care facilities. This saves the medical services plans in several provinces a great deal of money.
No, it costs money.
The products used to make that food last for several days interferes with the medication those consuming it are often on. This will result in extra medical attention which would probably not otherwise be necessary.
What about the cooks and servers who would be otherwise employed and contributing to the economy? They deserve as much consideration (and probably more) than the new accountant that was hired with the money saved with the new food supply program.
Why was he hired? To figure out why the medical system as a whole is now costing more than before they saved so much money with the new food supplier.

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