Painting the Forth Bridge
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I’m originally from Edinburgh, despite the distinctly foreign-sounding surname. Running across the Firth of Forth from South Queensferry are road and rail bridges. The rail bridge is the older of the two and is a distinctive rust-brown colour, which settles it into its context both by blending in with the surrounding hills and countryside on sunny days, and by contrasting with the grey mist and clouds on overcast days.
There is a popular myth that in order to protect its metalwork from the salty ravages of the nearby North Sea, the Forth Bridge needed to be painted to keep it proofed against corrosion. The task took so long that, by the time the painters finished one job, it was immediately time to begin over.
It occurred to me recently that I’ve spent the best part of the last nine months getting to grips with our financial reporting so that we’d be able to define realistic targets for each of our thirty-odd software products and data sets. Now that I’ve just finished, I have seemingly a short lull before I have to begin over again.
I’m not too concerned, though. Like the worthwhile perpetual activity to keep the Forth Bridge proofed, the activity of truly understanding the forces at work behind the financial performance of all our products is similarly beneficial.
What was once complex and intertwined is now simple and transparent. This is a good thing.
For instance, I now have made improvements to the way we report on our products’ performance, to separate out the strands of different trends, so that what was once complex and intertwined is now simple and transparent. This is a good thing.
I’ve also challenged some of the assumption we had made about our software and reference data. Where we had once assumed that a particular product and data combination was doing well because it was in gentle growth, what we know now is that the software part was both in decline and being heavily discounted, but the corresponding reference data was very buoyant and more than compensating for the software’s performance.
So while I only have a brief lull before resuming my painting of the Forth Bridge, I am looking forward to the next round because of the insights and understanding the process will bring me.
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