Showing posts with label Useful. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Useful. Show all posts

May 15, 2019

Success Anchored in Function AND Beauty

Just a saying from Dr. Ferry Porsche (as in Porsche cars) that I liked:

"It has always been a principal of our company that function and beauty are inseparable."

If you can make something useful and attractive--you have a real winner!

Companies like Porsche and Apple get it (many, many others are clueless).  

Product development is both art and science and therein lay the foundations of their success or failure. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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January 22, 2018

Worth The Squeeze

I like this saying that I heard.
"The juice has to be worth the squeeze."

It's a little like the corollary to "If something is worth doing, then it's worth doing right."

Spending time and effort has to show commensurate meaningful results or why the heck are you doing it?

Probably always good to reevaluate where you're getting the "most bang for the buck," so you're not "just spinning your wheels."

With all the sayings about what we do and whether it's really worth it, there is probably some good reason to be concerned about whether or not you spending your time productively or just acting insane, because: 
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Results matter--so make sure your achieving them or go do something else you enjoy and that's ultimately worth the squeeze! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


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March 10, 2015

Teats or Not

So I heard a new phrase from one of my colleagues recently...

He goes on about somebody (or something) being like "2 teats on a bull!"

I've always wanted to spend some serious time on a farm...but never really have had the opportunity to learn about that whole rural world, and I'm like what????

But I got it, and didn't really like it. 

Sort of a harsh way to call someone out as a useless piece of [you know what]!

I've heard kids joke about "man boobs" and I sure you can guess what those unflattering things are on a male.

Too often, we write people off without giving them a real chance!

While perhaps, there can be useless appendages through genetics or illness, there are no fundamentally useless people (although maybe some can be troubled, dejected, in a bad fit, etc.).

More often, there are unflattering comments from others who don't appreciate differences or see clearly what each person can "bring to the table."

Let's just say, if G-d created someone, there is reason and purpose to their lives, and we need to understand and appreciate them for their value. 

It may take (some) exploration, but everyone has strengths (as well as weaknesses--we're all human) and we can find what each person is good at, cultivate it, and leverage it for the good. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Carol Von Canon)
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December 13, 2014

Smartphone Or Kitty Litter

Interesting...Bloomberg Businessweek ran a special anniversary issue with a countdown of the 85 most disruptive ideas (in the last 85 years), and guess where they think the smartphone fell in that?

#78!!! 


Right up there with the white board (#82) and good 'ol high frequency trading (#80).


But not as important as get this...the corporate campus (#77), the VCR (#74), Kitty Litter (#73), Singapore, literally--{Uh, and how about Israel?} (#71), bottled water (#56), High-fructose corn syrup (#48), Air Jordan sneakers (#45), Napster (#43), and junk bonds (#7).


They ranked the smartphone so low in disruption, even after giving it a two-page spread with no less than 32 "things the smartphone killed" and they probably missed a few hundred!


There is no need to list everything the smartphone does for you, because you use these functions every moment of every day


To most people now, the smartphone is one of their most prized possessions and they don't go anywhere without it and rarely do you see anyone not "on it." (Uh, I know more than a few people who even dropped them in the toilet!)


Honestly, Businessweek...I think you missed the significance of the smartphone big time. 


Yeah maybe Starbucks (#68) and the Pill (#9) are competitors, but not as important or disruptive as Kitty Litter...shame on you!  ;-)


(Source Photo: here with attribution to Lonely Bob)

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January 29, 2014

A Razor to Apple's Throat


I love Razer's Project Christine - a completely modular PC. 

There is a stand and you simply attach the components you want: Central Processing Units (CPU), Graphic Processing Unit (GPU), Power Supply Unit (PSU), Solid-State Drive (SSD) storage, and so on. 

By making the architecture open and plug and play--just jack in a new module-- and change out whatever you want, whenever you want. Obsolescence be gone. 

This is a challenge to pure standardization, and a way to make customization cost-effective.

The cooling is done with mineral oil that is pumped throughout from the bottom reservoir. 

At the top, you see a module for a command center for adding operating systems, adjusting configurations and settings, or monitoring performance. 

A subscription model is planned where for a annual fee, you can get the latest and greatest upgrades.


Project Christine PC is the epitome of simple, useful, scalable and beautiful.

Watch out Apple, you have a Razor at your throat--it's time to seriously up the innovation game. ;-)
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November 1, 2013

Why Memorize?

G-d, I remember as a kid in school having to memorize everything for every class--that was the humdrum life for a schoolchild.

Vocabulary words, grammar rules, multiplication tables, algebraic and geometric equations, scientific formulas, historical events, famous quotes, states and capitals, presidents, QWERTY keys, and more. 

It was stuff it in, spit it out, and basically forget it.

This seemed the only way to make room for ever more things to memorize and test out. 

In a way, you really had to memorize everything, because going to a reference library and having  to look up on the stacks of endless shelves or microfiche machines was a pain in the you know what. 

Alternatively, the home dictionary, theasarus, and encyclopeda were indispensible, but limited, slow, dated, and annoying. 

But as the universe of knowledge exploded, became ever more specialized, and the Internet was born, looking something up was a cinch and often necessary. 

All of a sudden, memorization was out and critical thinking was in. 

That's a good thing, especially if you don't want people who are simple repositories of stale information, but rather those who can question, analyze, and solve problems. 

Albert Einstein said, "Never memorize something that you can look up."

But an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal by an old school teacher questions that logic. 

David Bonagura Jr. proposes that critical thinking and analysis "is impossible without first acquiring rock-solid knowledge of the foundational elements upon which the pyramid of cognition rests."

He says, "Memorization is the most effective means to build that foundation."

As a kid, I hated memorization and thought it was a waste of time, but looking back I find that more things stayed in that little head of mine than I had thought. 

I find myself relying on those foundations everyday...in writing, speaking, calculating, and even remembering a important story, principle, saying or even song lyrics.

These come out in my work--things that I thought were long lost and forgotten, but are part of my thinking, skills, and truly create a foundation for me to analyze situations and solve problems. 

In fact, I wish I knew more and retained it all, but short-term memory be damned. 

We can't depend on the Internet for all the answers--in fact, someday, it may not be there working for us all, when we need it. 

We must have core knowledge that is vital for life and survival and these are slowly being lost and eroded as we depend on the Internet to be our alternate brains. 

No, memorizing for memorization's sake is a waste of time, but building a foundation of critical skills has merits. 

Who decides what is critical and worthwhile is a whole other matter to address.

And are we building human automatons full of worthless information that is no longer relevant to today's lifestyles and problems or are we teaching what's really important and useful to the human psche, soul, and evolution. 

Creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression are vital skills to our ability to solve problems, but these can't exist in a vacuum of valuable brain matter and content.

It's great  to have a readily available reference of world information at the tips of our fingertips online, but unless you want to sound (and act) like an idiot, you better actually know something too. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Chapendra)
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August 28, 2013

Wheelchair Complexity

So my approach to enterprise architecture, product design, and customer service, as many of you know, is plan and simple, User-centric!

Innovating, building things, servicing customers, and communicating needs to be done in a way that is useful and usable--not overly complex and ridiculous. 

The other day, I saw a good example of a product that was not very user-centric. 

It was a type of wheelchair, pictured here in blue. 

And as you can see it is taking 2 men and a lady quite a bit of effort to manipulate this chair. 

This little girl standing off to the side is sort of watching amusingly and in amazement.

What is ironic is that the wheelchair is supposed to be made for helping disabled people. 

Yet, here the wheelchair can't even be simply opened/closed without a handful of healthy people pulling and pushing on the various bars, levers, and other pieces. 

If only Apple could build a wheelchair--it would be simple and intuitive and only take one finger to do everything, including play iTunes in the background. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


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June 3, 2011

Describing Meal Time

The USDA released their new dietary guidelines yesterday (2 June).

And while there is no surprise in the recommendations that we eat more fruits and vegetables; what was refreshing was the new imagery for conveying the information.

Gone is the Food Pyramid and in is the Food Plate.
This new visualization overall makes a lot more sense since:

1) As the Wall Street Journal stated today (3 June 2011), "People don't eat off a pyramid, they eat off a plate." In other words, this is something we can relate to at meal times.

2) The plate here is used like a pie chart to easily show what portion of our meals should come from each food category. For example, you can clearly see that fruits and veggies makes up a full half of the plate. (Boy, I'm sure there are a lot of smiling moms and dads out there today, saying I told you so!) Also the role of protein in a healthy diet is reaffirmed with almost a full quadrant itself.
I am not sure why this initiative, according to the WSJ, cost about $2.9 million and three years to accomplish, since the representation seems fairly straight forward (unless some of that went to modifying the nutritional guidelines themselves).

In any case, I think we can all be glad they got rid of the 2005 version of the food pyramid that "left many baffled" as to what they were trying to say.

Still even in this new visualization, there are confusing aspects, for example:

1) Greater than a Pie--The Dairy piece is separate and off to the right of the plate. I would imagine that this is supposed to represent something like a glass of milk, but it is odd in this picture, since it takes away from the pie chart presentation of the plate where theoretically all the food groups on the "pie plate" would add up to 100%. Here, however, the Dairy plate (or glass) is off to the side, so we have something like 120% total--confusing!

2) Missing Percentages--The actual recommended percentages are not noted in the diagram. This type of information had previously been provided in the 1992 Food Pyramid through the recommended servings. Where did they go? I would suggest they annotate the pie slices for each food group with the actual recommended percentages, so that we have the imagery of the slices, but also have a target number to go with. Helpful, if you are counting your calories (and food types) on a diet.

In short, information visualization can be as important as the information itself--with information, having quality data is critical or else you have "garbage in, garbage out." Similarly, with information visualization, you can take perfectly good information and portray it poorly and confuse the heck out of folks--in essence making the resulting information into potential garbage again.

This is why efforts such as the Choose MyPlate are important to help us communicate important information effectively to people, in this case so they can eat and live healthier lives.
I think the new Food Plate is generally effective at presenting the information and I support this effort wholly, but I'm still looking forward to version 3.1.

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April 23, 2011

Information-Free Is Invaluable

At first I admit it, I didn't really get Google; I mean what is this G-o-o-g-l-e and the shtick about "doing search"?

But the writing was on the wall all along with their incredible mission statement of: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

So search is the just the beginning of a long list of now amazingly valuable Google properties and services (now valued with a market capitalization of almost $169 Billion):

- Search (Google Search, Google Search Appliance, Google Desktop)
- Cloud Computing (Google Apps Engine, Google Storage for Developers, Chrome Notebooks)
- Advertising Technology (Adwords, AdSense, DoubleClick)
- Website Analytics (Google Analytics)
- Operating Systems (Chrome OS, Android, Honeycomb)
- Web Browser (Google Chrome)
- Productivity Software (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Apps Suite)
- Social Computing (Google Wave, Google Talk, Orkut, Buzz)
- News Aggregator (Google News, Google Reader)
- Translation (Google Translate)
- Telecommunication (Google Voice)
- Clean Energy (Google Energy)
- Geospatial (Google Maps, Google Earth)
- Video (YouTube)
- Photos (Picassa)
- Electronic Books (Google Books)
- Blogs (Blogger)

What Google seems to intuitively get is that their free powerful web services creates invaluable consumer market share and mind share--like a honey pot. Once the consumer comes on board--like good little bees, they are ripe for companies to reach out to via advertising for all and every sort of product and service under the sun. And according to 1998 revenue breakdown, as much as 99% of Google's revenue is associated with advertising!
Google is brilliant and successful for a number of reasons:

1) Google is consumer-oriented and knows how to attract the crowd with free services, and they let others (the advertisers) concern themselves with monetizing them.

2) Google is incredibly innovative and provides the breath and depth of technology services (from cloud to productivity to search to video) that consumers need and that are easy for them to use.

3) Google is information rich, but they share this broadly and freely with everyone. While some have complained about the privacy implications of this information bounty; so far, Google seems to have managed to maintain a healthy balance of information privacy and publicity.

4) Google values their people, as their "owners manual" reads: "our employees...are everything. We will reward them and treat them well." And to help retain their talent, Google just gave their employees a 10% raise in January.

5) Google wants to be a force for good--their creed is "Don't be evil." They state in their manual: "We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served- as shareholders and in all other ways--by a company that does good things for the world, even if we forgo some short-term gains."

Do not underestimate Google--as the Wall Street Journal, 23-24 April, 2011 summarizes today, they are not a conventional company.

At the end of the day, if Google is successful in their business of making information universally accessible and useful, then we are talking about making an invaluable difference in the lives of humanity--where information builds on itself, and knowledge--like the Tree of Knowledge in the Book of Genesis--is alive and constantly growing for all to benefit from in our Garden of Eden, we call Earth.

(Source Picture: Honeybird)

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October 16, 2009

Paper Catalogs Have Seen Their Day

Every day in the mail comes oodles of consumer catalogs: printed on quality stock paper, glossy, and many almost as thick as the community phone book.

Often, right in the mailroom, there is a huge recycle bin and there just about everybody drops the catalogues from their mailbox straight into the “trash.”

Who needs these expensive and wasteful printed catalogues that typically go from mailbox to recycle bin or garbage can without anyone even breaking the binding on them? With the Internet, the same information—and more—is available online. Moreover, online, you can comparison shop between stores for the best prices, shipping, and return policies, and you can typically get product and vendor ratings too to make sure that you are not buying a dud from a dud!

Despite this, according to the Wall Street Journal, 16 October 2009, “more than 17 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S. last year--about 56 for every American.”

Read again—56 for every American! This is obscene.

Here are some basic statistics on the wastefulness of these catalogs:

“Catalogs account for 3% of the roughly 80 million tons of paper products.”

“Making paper accounted for 2.4% of U.S. energy use in 2006.”

“The paper typically used in catalogs contains about 10% recycled content…far less than paper in general, which typically contains about 30%...[and] for newspapers, the amount of recycled content is roughly 40%.”

“The average U.S catalog retailer reported mailing about 21 million catalogs in 2007.”

“The National Directory of Catalogs…lists 12,524 catalogs.”

YET…

“Only 1.3% of those catalogs generated a sale.”

So why do printed paper catalogs persist?

Apparently, “because glossy catalog pages still entice buyers in a way that computer images don’t.” Moreover, marketers say that catalogs at an average cost of slightly over a $1.20 each “drive sales at web sites.”

And of course, the U.S. Postal Service “depends on catalogs as an important source of revenue.”

However, in the digital era, it is time for us to see these paper catalogs get converted en-mass into e-catalogs. Perhaps, a paper copy can still be made available to consumers upon request, so those who really want them and will use them, can still get them, but on a significantly more limited basis.

Sure, catalogs are nice to leaf through, especially around the holiday time. But overall, they are a profligate waste of money and a drain on our natural resources. They fill our mailboxes with mostly “junk” and typically are completely unsolicited. With the advent of the Internet, paper catalogs are “overcome by events” (OBE), now that we have vast information rich, e-commerce resources available online, all the time.

Normally, I believe in taking a balanced approach to issues, and moderating strong opinions. However, in this case, we are talking about pure waste and harm to our planet, just because we don’t have the capacity to change.

We need to stop persisting in the old ways of doing business when they are no longer useful. This is just one example of those, and business that don’t transition to digital modernity in a timely fashion risk becoming obsolete along with their catalogs that go from the mailbox right into the trash.


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July 14, 2008

Gobbledygook and Enterprise Architecture

The premise of User-centric Enterprise Architecture is to transform traditional EA, which is often user-blind, and which develops “artifacts” that are difficult for the end user to understand and apply, and to instead produce truly useful and usable information products and governance services.

User-centric EA is about taking the gobbledygook out of architecture and making it clear and simple for the end user to understand.

The User-centric EA approach has a lot in common and is consistent with the drive to make federal communications, in general, more straightforward and understandable.

Government Executive magazine, July 2008 reports that “Congress is on a crusade to clean up the language in federal documents.”

The Plain language in Government Communications Act covers benefit and tax forms, letters, publications, notices and instructions sent to the public. Under best practices mandated by the bill, federal document drafters would have to tailor communications to targeted readers, employ personal pronouns, offer examples, and use the active voice.

Spread government wide, such fixes would save agencies, citizens, and businesses billions of dollars in time and effort, backers say. The prospect of simplified interaction with the government has won the proposed legislation backing from influential organizations such as AARP and the National Small Business Association.”

The goal of the “plain language” legislation is to kill off the “clause-ridden federal guidance that former vice President Al Gore used to deride as ‘gobbledygook’ [in exchange for]…lean prose and declarative sentences.”

Oh, music to my ears and eyes!

Unfortunately, there are still quite a few naysayers out there when it comes to making things easy.

So, “by design the plain language legislation is modest. The bill exempts internal communications. And to avoid opposition from agency lawyers, it does not cover federal regulations.”

Why would anyone want to make things more difficult or NOT User-centric?

Frankly and with all due respect, the explanations I read—about plain language causing existing policy to become muddled or about having a one-size-fits-all policy not working—sounded like more gobbledygook.

Some people argue that by “oversimplifying” documents, you are leaving out important information or missing shades of meaning. However, it’s the job of professionals to communicate effectively regardless of the complexity. Put simply, how can taxpayers comply with laws and regulations if they don’t understand them?

Plain language and user-centric is the way to go in serving our citizens and our organizations.

P.S. Hats off to Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language.


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June 8, 2008

Cognitive Styles and Enterprise Architecture

We are all familiar with personalizing websites like Yahoo.com to make them more appealing, functional, and easy to navigate.

Now, according to MIT Technology Review, 9 June 2008, websites are being personalized not by the person, but rather by systems “that detect a user’s cognitive style” and changes the website accordingly

What is cognitive style?

Cognitive style is how a person thinks. Some people are more simplistic, others more detail-oriented, some like charts and graphs, and some like to be able to see and get to peer advice.

Why is cognitive style important?

Well, if we can figure out a person’s way of thinking and what appeals to them, then we can tailor websites to them and make them more useful, useable, and more effective at selling to them.

“Initial studies show that morphing a website to suit different types of visitors could increase the site’s sales by about 20 percent.”

So what’s new about this, haven’t sites like Amazon been tailoring their offering to users for quite some time?

Amazon and other sites “offer personalized features…drawing from user profiles, stored cookies, or long questionnaires.” The new method is based instead on system adaptation “within the first few clicks on the website by analyzing each user’s patterns of clicks.”

With cognitive style adaptation, “suddenly, you’re finding the website is easy to navigate, more comfortable, and it gives you the information you need.” Yet, the user may not even realize the website has been personalized to him.

“In addition to guessing each user’s cognitive style by analyzing that person’s pattern of clicks, the system would track data over time to see which versions of the website work most effectively for which cognitive style.” So there is learning going on by the system and the system gets better at matching sites to user types over time!

If we overlay the psychological dimension such as personality types and cognitive styles to web design and web adaptation, then we can individuate and improve websites for the end-user and for the site owner who is trying to get information or services out there.

Using cognitive styles to enhance website effectiveness is right in line with User-centric Enterprise Architecture that seeks to provide useful and usable EA products and services. Moreover, EA must learn to appreciate and recognize different cognitive styles of its users, and adapt its information presentation accordingly. This is done, for example, in providing three levels of EA detail for different types of end-users, such as profiles for executives, models for mid-level managers, and inventories for analysts. This concept could be further developed to actually modify EA products for the specific end-user cognitive styles. While this could be considerable work and must be balanced against the expected return, it really comes down to tailoring your product to your audience and that is nothing new.


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May 21, 2008

Ask the User and Enterprise Architecture

The best way to find out what the end-user wants is to ask them.

The Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2008 reports on Ask.com that “Ask Searches for Answer to Luring New Users.”

Since 2006, Ask.com spent $140 million to Google’s $34 million on advertising between Jan. 2006 and September 2007, yet Google’s market share of the internet search business stands at 58.4% to Ask’s 4.3%, and “Ask’s market share hasn’t grown in the past couple of years, while Google’s…has seen its dominance increase.

Google is beating Ask based on “superior technology and word of mouth,” so the advertising is a moot point.

Jim Safka, the new head of Ask says that to understand the discrepancy, “the first step is figuring out who uses Ask today and what they use it for. We are not going to take wild swings.”

Apparently, Ask took some wild swings in the past without asking their users and ended up getting rid of the “Jeeves” from their original name Ask Jeeves.Com and getting rid of the “friendly butler designed to answer any question user posed him.”

Ask also goofed on a number of marketing campaigns which didn’t resonate with end-users, like “one campaign named ‘Use Tools, Feel Human’ [that] featured a primate [who] evolves into a human by using Ask.com.”

While “Ask’s market share continues to weaken,” Mr. Safka says that “Consumes are smart. If you look at the data and listen to them, the answer ends up being obvious.”

From a User-centric EA perspective, it is critical to ask the user what they want and understand their needs. One of the principles of User-centric EA is that we are focused on developing useful and usable products and services for the end-user; we do not build any information products that do not have a clear end-user and use. In contrast, traditional EA is often user blind and as a result develops “artifacts” that are difficult to understand and apply. Like Ask.com is learning, if you don’t understand your user’s needs, you end up with a lot of shelfware—whether it’s EA or search engines.


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April 11, 2008

Google and Enterprise Architecture

User-centric Enterprise architecture is about capturing, processing, organizing, and effectively presenting business and technology information to make it valuable and actionable by the organization for planning and governance.

Google is a company that epitomizes this mission.

After reading a recent article in Harvard Business Review, April 2008, I came to really appreciate their amazing business practices and found many connections with User-centric EA.

  1. Organizing information--Google’s mission [is] ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’” Similarly in User-centric EA, we seek to organize the enterprise’s information and make it useful, usable, easy to understand, and readily accessible to aid decision making.
  2. Business and technology go hand-in-hand—“Technology and strategy, at Google, are inseparable and mutually permeable—making it hard to say whether technology is the DNA of its strategy or the other way around.” Similarly, EA is the synthesis of business and technology in the organization, where business drives technology, rather than doing technology for technology’s sake.
  3. Long-term approach—“CEO Eric Schmidt has estimated that it will take 300 years to achieve the mission of organizing the world’s information…it illustrates Google’s long-term approach to building value and capability.” Similarly, EA is a planning and governance function. EA plans span many years, usually at least 5 years, but depending on the mission, as long as 20 years for business/IT projects with long research and development cycles like in military and space domains.
  4. Architectural control—“Architectural control resides in Google’s ability to track the significance of any new service, its ability to choose to provide or not provide the service, and its role as a key contributor to the service’s functional value.” This is achieved by network infrastructure consisting of approximately one million computers and a target audience of 132 million customers globally on which they can test and launch applications. In EA, control is exercised through a sound governance process that ensures sound IT investments are selected or not.
  5. Useful and usable—“The emphasis in this process is not on identifying the perfect offering, but rather on creating multiple potential useful offerings and letting the market decide which is best…among the company’s design principles are…usefulness first, usability later.” In User-centric EA, we also focus on the useful and usable products (although not in sequence). The point being that the EA must have clear value to the organization and its decision makers; we shun developing organizational shelfware or conducting ivory tower efforts.
  6. Data underscores decision making—“A key ingredient of innovation at the company is the extensive, aggressive use of data and testing to support ideas.” EA also relies on data (business and technical) for planning and governance. This is the nature of developing, maintaining, and leveraging use of EA through information products that establish the baseline, target, and transition plan of the organization. A viable plan is not one that is pulled from a hat, but one that is data-driven and vetted with executives, subject matter experts, and other stakeholders. Further, EA provides business intelligence for governance and decision making.
  7. Human capital—“If a company actually embraced—rather than merely paid lip service to—the idea that its people are its most important asset, it would treat employees much the way Google does.” This concept is embedded User-centric EA, where the architecture is driven by the needs and requirements of the users. Further, Human Capital is a distinct perspective in User-centric EA, where people are viewed as the hub for all business and IT success.

In short, Google is a highly User-centric EA-driven organization and is a model for many of its core tenets.


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April 10, 2008

User-Centric EA Framework


 
User-centric EA guides all facets of the enterprise architecture. It starts from the capture of the information, which is based on a strict value proposition of improving IT planning and governance, and moves forward to a process that is collaborative and structured, to one that provides users with information views that are facilitated by principles of communication and design. The User-centric EA further affects how we manage the architecture, using metrics, configuration management, and a single information repository. It also affects how we enforce the architecture through policy and governance.
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April 8, 2008

Readability and Enterprise Architecture

User-centric EA is a strong proponent for developing information products that are useful and usable to the end-user. This is in contrast to traditional EA that often develops “artifacts” that are often difficult for the end-user to understand and apply.

There are a number of ways to make EA easier to use for the organization. One is to provide information in various levels of detail (profiles, models, and inventories), so user can drill-down to get more detailed information or roll-up to executive level summary views. Another method is to use information visualization to express information. As the adage states: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And yet a third method is to explain the architecture in simple- to-understand language, so that it will be meaningful to both business and technology stakeholders, executives, mid-level managers, and analysts alike.

Others have expressed the need to make information more usable and readable.

The Wall Street Journal, 14 March 2008, reports on the usage of readability formulas “to quantify the ease of a work writing” to be read and understood.

For example, Microsoft Word follows a reading formula and provides a “result [that] is the supposed minimum grade level of readers who can handle the text in question.”

“Similar formulas are used by textbook publishers and in dozens of states’ guidelines for insurance policies.”

The way the formulas work is to look at readability items such as the average number of words in a sentence, the average number of syllables per word, and so on to come up with a grade reading level for the text.

Some argue that these readability formulas are flawed in that there are “more than 200 variables that affect readability. Most formulas incorporate just two, and not because they are most important, but because they are the easiest to measure.” Others argue, the different readability measures are inconsistent and can come up with scores that differ by as much as three grade levels.

The Flesch-Kincaid formula, used by Microsoft, is the most convenient and criticized. The formula was developed in 1948, revised in 1975, and again tweaked by Microsoft when it “incorporated it into Word in 1993”. The current formula provides readability scores up to grade level 14.

The idea behind all these readability formulas is to provide information that is clear, concise, and comprehensible to a wide audience. There are even templates online to help people communicate effectively in writing at the recommended reading levels.

Going back to enterprise architecture, what is often thought of and developed in terms of architectures is not simple to understand or useful to our stakeholders. Developing architecture using the ivory-tower approach and developing reams of shelfware and wall charts that are eyesores is not a wise architecture strategy. Rather, working collaboratively with users and developing information products that they can understand and readily use to aid decision making is where it’s at.


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March 24, 2008

In Love with Information and Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architecture helps to ensure the decision-makers in the organization have the information they need to make improve business processes and make sound IT investments.

In general, people love information and the more the merrier, up until the point of information overload.

We need information to survive, to gain a semblance of control over our lives, and to satisfy our human curiosity.

The Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2008, reports “why we’re powerless to resist grazing on endless web data.”

Apparently, when the human mind is stimulated with information, there is an “increased production of the brain’s pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters called opioids.

“New and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it…it is something we seem hard-wired to do…when you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we’re junkies for those. You might call us ‘infovores.’”

So in essence, we eat up information. We are addicted to information. (Hence, all the time your teenagers and you spend on the web).

“The reverse is true as well: we want to avoid not getting those hits, for one, we are so averse to boredom.”

In fact, when people’s minds are idle or information deprived, they seem to get into more trouble. They are bored and they seek out experiences to liven things up a little.

Years ago, before the age of planes, trains, automobiles and the Internet, people lived much more shallow lives. Most were constrained to lives that wondered no further than maybe 10-20 miles from their villages. Information was scarce. Forgot about national headlines or international intrigue. More often than not, people were misinformed and often relied on neighborly gossip.

“Today, we can find in the course of a few hours online more information than our ancient ancestors could in their whole lives.”

“We are programmed for scarcity [of information, like scarcity of food] and can’t dial back when something is abundant.” Hence, we are addicted to the water hose flow of information and sometimes have the feeling that we are drowning in it.

One advantage of User-centric enterprise architecture is that it structures and regulates the flow of information, so that it is useful and usable to organization end-users. It is developed for specific users and users, and is not just more shelfware information.


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October 28, 2007

Feng Shui and Enterprise Architecture

Feng Shui, which literally means earth and water, is typically a way of “arranging living quarters with optimal comfort for mind and body.” It is the adaptation of “homes to harmonize with the currents of ch’i” (life force or energy).

However, feng shui does not only apply to home arrangement. More broadly, “the aim of feng shui is to change and harmonize the environment—cosmic, currents known as ch’i—to improve fortunes.” “The Chinese saw a magical link between man and the landscape: Nature reacts to any change and that reaction rebounds in man. They saw the world and themselves as part of a sacred metabolic system.”

Feng shui has a basis in Taoism. “The Taoists glorified nature. Love of nature permeated their view of life. Things would not be correct until man could mirror within, the harmony of nature without.” “Tao united everything, exemplifying the need of nature and man to bring all opposing forces [yin and yang] into a fluctuating harmony.”

“Ch’i is the most important component of feng shui.” “Ch’i must flow smoothly and near a person to improve his ch’i. It must be balanced. If the current is too strong or too weak, it can have negative effects.” “Feng shui practitioners try to direct a smooth, good current of ch’i to a person and divert of convert harmful ch’i.” (Adapted from Feng Shui by Sarah Rossbach)

In User-centric EA, we seek to create information products that are useful (relevant—current, accurate, and complete) and useable (easy to understand and readily accessible) to the end users to enhance decision-making. One way to make EA products more usable is by applying the teachings of feng shui in terms of harmony, flow, and balance.

User-centric EA seeks to harmonize information products to make them balanced, flowing, and positive or harmonious to a person’s ch’i. In other words, if EA information products focus not only on content, but also on the format, then the information products can be easier to understand, more potent in reaching end users, and more influential to decision-making.

“Feng shui brings good fortune to the home.” I believe it can also bring good fortune to the enterprise that effectively uses it to communicate vital information to end users for business and technology decision-making.


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July 20, 2007

What is User-Centric EA?

Well, this is exciting...my first blog, dedicated to a subject that I am passionate about - user-centric enterprise architecture.

Let's start with some basic terms:
  • Enterprise architecture (EA) is the discipline that synthesizes key business and technical information across the organization to support better decision-making. EA includes the development, maintenance and use of an as-is, to-be, and transition plan. Together, these serve as the blueprints for modernizing and transforming an organization to meet future mission capabilities and requirements. The goal of EA is to improve information technology planning and governance.
  • User-centric EA focuses on providing useful and usable products and services to the end user. In user-centric EA, information is relevant, easy to understand and accessible. In contrast, traditional EA is user-blind because the focus is on developing "artifacts" that are often unintelligible. Therefore, in traditional EA, users often have difficulty understanding the as-is, to-be, and transition plan.

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