August 10, 2008

Man-Machine Interface and Enterprise Architecture

A critical component of User-centric Enterprise Architecture is designing technology solutions to meet end-user requirements, and this includes making the man-machine interface simple and user-friendly. Often, this is referred to as ergonomics, defined as “the applied science of equipment design intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue, safety and discomfort. “ (

According to Federal Computer Week, 4 August 2008, “Air Force researchers aim to help pilots and others operate increasingly complex aircraft and mission support systems.”

Unfortunately, all too often, the man-machine interface is not dealt with up front. “Traditionally, the machine and the technology are designed first and then the pilot has to deal with what’s left over, usually through training,” says Maris Vikmanis of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Not designing in ergonomics from the get-go is a failure to consider the human capital perspective of enterprise architecture and will result in technology solutions that are sub-optimal to the end users and to the performance of the mission.

Dan Goodard, chief of the directorate’s Warfighter Interface Division, states, “There’s now so much reconnaissance data flowing down into the AOC (Air Operations Center) that it’s information overload. You need a much better human-machine interface to be able to get actionable information out of this very quickly.

One example of enhancing man-machine interface is “deciding the best interface for people to use with onscreen data. A regular mouse turns out not to be so good for this; it would be better if someone could actually reach into the data to interact with it, which means devising more tangible interfaces.” (Remember the movie Minority Report…) I do not know if this type of 3-D data interface even has a name yet, but I would call it something like virtual data manipulation (VDM).

Another example goes beyond the senses of sight and touch to that of hearing. “Sound perception can play an equally important role in combat scenarios. On the battlefield, people often pick up aural cues about what’s happening before they see it. Developing technology that can take advantage of that is the goal of Battlespace Acoustics Branch of the Warfighter Interface Division.”

We’ve got to change from the “build it and they will come” mindset of the failed era to a more User-centric EA approach that demands that we design IT with the end-user in mind.

As Goodard summed up, “there’s been a lack of awareness about the importance of the man-machine interface in the early designs of weapons systems.” It’s certainly time to change that and not only for military and law enforcement systems, but for IT across the board.



Stephen Lahanas said...

The real question once you get inside someplace like an AOC is how much of the data fusion will be automated as opposed to driven real-time by analysts.

It's still very much a user-centric issue I suppose and one that ought to be thoroughly thought through up front in the architecture effort.

It is also roughly equivalent to the conceptual divide between COP vs. UDOP solutions. The key thing to keep in mind is that many of the patterns that can be discerned real-time can be identified up front and therefore either partially or fully automated.

Andy Blumenthal said...

Steve - Thanks for the post. I agree, we want to discern the requirements up front and then build to meet them, as opposed to just building some eloquent solution for an IT only perceived problem. -Andy