The Berlin Airlift and Different Approaches to Compliance Issues

by Thomas Fox

Berlin AirliftAs the USA played Germany in the World Cup, it is perhaps appropriate that we look back at another June 26th event that involved the US as we celebrate one of the great relief efforts in post-war Europe and the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift. On June 26, 1948, US and British pilots begin delivering food and supplies by airplane to Berlin after the city is isolated by a Soviet Union blockade. Though some in President Truman’s administration called for a direct military response to this aggressive Soviet move, the President was concerned that such a response would trigger another world war. As an alternative, he coordinated a massive airlift operation under the control of General Lucius D. Clay, the American-appointed military governor of Germany. The first planes took off from England and western Germany on June 26, loaded with food, clothing, water, medicine and fuel. By July 15, an average of 2,500 tons of supplies was being flown into the city every day. The massive scale of the airlift made it a huge logistical challenge and at times a great risk, with planes landing at Tempelhof Airport every four minutes, round the clock for the next 15 months. This broke the Soviet blockade.

I thought about this alternative approach that Truman employed, a supply line rather than a military response, when I read MIT Sloan Management Review article, entitled “What Businesses Can Learn From Sports Analytics”, by Thomas H. Davenport. In his article, Davenport explored how “the use of analytics in the sports world has much to teach managers about alignment, performance improvement and business ecosystems.”

For his article, Davenport “interviewed more than 30 representatives of teams, sports analytics vendors and consultants for a report on the state of the art in sports analytics,” in which he “focused on three different areas of activity, each of which is growing rapidly. In order of decreasing prevalence, they are: team and player performance analytics, sports business analytics, and health and injury prevention analytics.” From this research, he developed five key lessons that almost any business could adopt. However I thought about his points in the context of compliance ecosystems rather than business ecosystems so I will use his article as a starting point to consider what compliance can learn from sports analytics.

  1. Align leadership at multiple levels 

Davenport believes “In sports, key decisions — which players to acquire, how much to pay them, and which strategies to adopt for better athletic and business performance — must be made and overseen at multiple levels. As a result, alignment along different management levels is crucial.” Based on his research I believe the message for Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs), compliance practitioners and analytical practitioners is to work together closely and consult frequently.

  1. Focus on the human dimension 

Davenport’s key finding about sports teams is that they realize that their players are both their most important and expensive resources and that sports teams focus on the human dimension of performance in a variety of ways. “First, they address individual-level game performance by monitoring points scored, rebounds gathered, batting averages and other increasingly sophisticated measures of both offensive and defensive performance… Second, teams are beginning to assess not just individual performance, but performance in context.” They will also assess a team’s performance “with and without a combination of players.”

However, if companies say they focus on their employees as their most valuable resource, they typically only focus their analytics on “operational or marketing issues and not on the human dimension of performance.” The key insight here is for compliance to focus on more of a team aspect by investigating a group’s compliance performance “with or without a particular person’s presence could be a valuable insight.” This could be expanded to reviewing wider sales teams in a region, country or product/service line.

  1. Exploit video and locational data 

In Major League Soccer (MLS), players wear a GPS-based locational device that captures all movements around the field. In the NBA, six cameras in the ceiling of each arena capture all movements of the players and ball. All Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums have cameras that track every pitch, and many teams also track every hit and fielding play with video cameras. This allows a more complete view of the raw numbers that metrics generates.

While it may not seem readily apparent, this type of approach can also benefit the compliance function. The key is that it looks at raw numbers in a different way. So transaction monitoring could be pared with relationship monitoring or other indicia. Also travel and communications could be considered to show what might be happening in locations that are not readily apparent. The key takeaway is that there is more information available by obtaining more types of data.

  1. Work within a broader ecosystem

Davenport found that “Professional sports teams are relatively small businesses, with much of their revenue going toward player salaries, leaving just nominal funds for any data and analytics projects. As a result, teams often need to work within a broader ecosystem of data, software and services providers.” Based on this he believes that a “key in these partnerships is to draw as much as possible from the partner while maintaining key internal capabilities.”

For the compliance professional, you should try to develop relations with key vendors because there are just too many different techniques, types of data and other aspects of analytics to exploit, and even the largest corporation can’t excel on its own. The GRC Pundit, Michael Rasmussen has observed that in GRC there is more than one technology. The same holds true in the compliance space. Jon Rydberg, founder of the Orchid Advisors, has called this the “Compliance Ecosystem Transformation” which he defines as “The coordinated development of compliance activities that transcend your entire supply chain, from suppliers – to manufacturers – to distributors – to retailers.”

  1. Support “analytical amateurs”

Finally, Davenport found that “Some professional athletes have begun to analyze their own performance in depth using public or team data and reports. Specifically, a number of soccer and football players have become assiduous reviewers of their video and GPS data, although the most frequent users have been professional baseball players, particularly pitchers.”

For the compliance professional, this translates that they could also benefit from becoming such ‘analytical amateurs”. Moreover, they could work with business unit personnel to could keep track of their own scores on compliance measures and use that information to improve their performance. Analytics-minded salespeople and managers could, for example, use the extensive data from compliance management management systems to assess and improve their performance.

I found Davenport’s article to be quite thought provoking. For just as President Truman was able to come up with a different approach for a situation that could have led to World War III or at the very least a completely communist dominated unified Berlin, there are different ways to look at problems and find solutions. Using the analytical approach that has become so prevalent in the sports world may lead you to new and different thinking in the compliance arena.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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