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Winston Churchill's Decision-Making Environment, Part 6: Storey's Gate and Decision-Making

  Article published in DM Direct Special Report
February 13, 2007 Issue
  By Mark Kozak-Holland

The first lesson-from-history article looked at how in May 1940, within Winston Churchill's administration, a real-time decision-making environment was created.

The second lesson-from-history article examined the Bentley Prior decision-making environment, at the center of an integrated air defense system, and part of an overall sense-and-respond system used by Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command under Air Marshall Hugh Dowding.

The third lesson-from-history article examined the supply chain run by Whitehall and how Lord Beaverbrook introduced the concepts of agility to improve the efficiency of the supply chain.

The fourth lesson-from-history article examined in more detail the third area, Bletchley Park, the role of intelligence and ultimately knowledge management.

The fifth lesson-from-history article examined in more detail the fourth area, Storey's Gate, the Map Room and the executive dashboard for Churchill.

In May 1940, Churchill, faced with an imminent invasion, ran a project that integrated four areas into a solution. These were all at different levels of development and maturity, and included Bentley Prior, the Whitehall supply chain for fighter production, Bletchley Park and Storey's Gate (see Figure 1). This sixth lesson-from-history article examines in more detail the last area, Storey's Gate, Churchill's Bunker and the Cabinet War Rooms, a collaborative environment for decision-making, and its relationship to the Map Room.

Figure 1: Churchill's Solution Consisted of Four Integrated Areas

The Center of Collaboration

When Churchill first became prime minister (PM) he was concerned about the lax practices in his administration and the way the government was run. He remembered from the First World War when, on too many occasions, decisions on policies were challenged in meetings because there was no written record. He didn't want to the repeat the same mistakes in his administration - no muddles or uncertainties. He was determined to raise the bar so that meetings were run professionally with agendas and minutes.

Churchill had to set the example, and the Cabinet War Room was the center of collaboration at the most senior levels and the inner sanctum of British government, as shown in Figure 2. It was the largest room in the complex, the heart of Storey's Gate and provided functions for collaboration, conferencing, and decision-making. An elaborate level of security was developed for it. The room was used for meetings of the PM, the War Cabinet and its advisers, the chiefs of staff for the armed forces and coalitions of ministers from Parliament. They met daily, even twice daily, to deal with all issues from military planning to food rationing.

Figure 2: The Cabinet War Room The Center of Collaboration

The design of the Cabinet War Room included a U-shaped table for the ministers and a rectangular table for the chiefs of staff. As Minister of Defense responsible for directing the war, Churchill occupied the large seat at the center of the room, with a world map behind him, as shown in Figure 3. Churchill embedded into the War Cabinet the military arms or chiefs of staff, the military leaders or subject matter experts, to take part in all cabinet meetings. In this way, he could build a close relationship between senior military and political figures through daily contact, which is important in a total war.

Figure 3: The Cabinet War Room Layout

Real-Time Decision-Making

The Cabinet War Room was also a real-time decision-making environment at the most senior levels. It had a close relationship to the Map Room, both for inputs and outputs. The basis for decision-making is good, reliable intelligence, and the Map Room acted as an executive dashboard in providing real-time synthesized information and key performance indicators (Part 5). The Map Room provided Churchill a snapshot of the war, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: The Map Room Walls were Pasted With Large-Scale Maps

Access to the Map Room was strictly controlled. The walls were pasted with large-scale maps of the world and all major theaters of war. The changing fronts were updated by officers in real time, closely following key events like enemy movements and battles, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: The Changing Fronts were Updated by Senior Officers

The Map Room provided an indicator model to the war, a wealth of information on the order of battle, troop movements, enemy positions (equivalent to competitive intelligence today), and industrial production capacity were all important inputs for decision-making. For example, not only was the brewing air battle over Britain tracked but also so were other theatres like the Battle of the Atlantic, or the war in the Middle East and Africa. Using nothing more sophisticated than drawing pins and bits of colored wool fronts were tracked, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Large-Scale Maps Depicting all Major Theaters of War

Take Actions

Once decisions were made in the Cabinet War Room, these had to be turned into actions through orders passed to the Map Room. The Map Room was a collaborative environment run by intelligence officers from the three military arms, or the "arms and legs" of the chief of staff. It was also a communication hub with links to their various command headquarters through the colored telephones in the center of the room, the "dawn chorus," as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: "Dawn Chorus" (Colored Telephones) Provided Links to the Various Commands

Traditionally, the armed forces of the UK had evolved independently, without much need to interface with each other, jockeying for resources, and even had their own lexicons. The Royal Navy considered itself unique and was reluctant to closely cooperate or share resources with the British Army or its junior partner the Royal Air Force. Churchill forced the issue, and the Map Room housed senior officers from all three arms to closely collaborate in joint operations. The Map Room cascaded actions to a vast network of linked hierarchical military commands. Decisions made in the Cabinet War Room could be turned into actions in a matter of minutes, hence, the ability to respond to incoming events, a first in rapid military response at such a strategic level. Figure 8 shows officers collaborating and reacting to orders passed to them.

Figure 8: Taking Actions Initiated by the Cabinet War Room

In taking an elevated view information flowed bi-laterally between the Cabinet War Room and Map Room, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Map Room Information Flows

Storey's Gate was a unique military information centre at the heart of the British war machine. The three most important rooms, or functions, in the complex were the Cabinet War Room, the Map Room, and Winston Churchill's room. Churchill slept, dined, consulted his advisers and maps, wrote his speeches and spoke from a transatlantic telephone room, disguised as a private loo, to President Roosevelt.

Protected from the bombs by a layer of concrete five feet thick, Storey's Gate grew to some 2,000 people, from Cabinet ministers to typists, and served them as a central shelter for the next six years. Around the clock, they worked and lived in this cramped, subterranean environment.

Churchill was empowered by this facility. It gave him the confidence to continue the war, and this was reflected in his most rousing and memorable speeches in the nation's darkest hour, as he refused to surrender.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI), Business Process Management (BPM), Data Management and Strategic Intelligence.

Mark Kozak-Holland is a senior business architect with HP Services and regularly writes and speaks on the subject of emerging technologies and lessons from history. Kozak-Holland's latest book in the lessons-from-history series is titled Churchill's Adaptive Enterprise: Lessons for Business Today  (http://www.mmpubs.com/churchill/). It draws parallels between events in World War II and today's business challenges. Mark can be contacted via his site www.lessons-from-history.com or mark.kozak-holl@sympatico.ca.

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