>Speed versus Accuracy and Enterprise Architecture

>What’s more important speed or accuracy when it comes to developing and implementing a enterprise architecture?’

On one hand, if your target architecture and transition plans are inaccurate, then you are leading your organization down the wrong business and IT path. One the other hand, if your architecture is not timely, then you are serving up outdated plans and strategy to the organization to no avail.

The Wall Street Journal, 12 November 2008, has an interesting article on an innovative Google “Flu-Bug Tracker” that I think sheds some light on this issue.

Google has a free web service at www.google.org/flutrends that “uses computers to crunch millions of Internet searches people make for keywords that might be related to the flu—for instance ‘cough’ or ‘fever’. It displays the results on a map of the U.S. and shows a chart of changes in flu activity around the country.”

The Google Flu Trend data is meaningful because of strong correlation found between those searching flu related keywords and those actually coming down with the flu as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one to two weeks later.

“In any given year, between 5% and 20% of Americans catch the flu.”

By getting advance warning of flu trends out to CDC and the public, Google may help provide an early warning for outbreaks. “For epidemiologists, this is an exciting development, because early detection of a disease outbreak can reduce the number of people affected. If a new strain of influenza virus emerges under certain conditions, a pandemic could emerge and cause millions of deaths (as happened, for example, in 1918).” (http://www.google.org/about/flutrends/how.html)

So speed of information is crucial here to early warning—helping people and saving lives. However, the Google Flu Trend information, based on tracking keyword searches, is not as accurate as capturing actual cases of the flu confirmed by laboratory testing.

So like with enterprise architecture, you have a trade-off between speed and accuracy.

With the Flu Trends data, “what they lose in accuracy, the site may make up in speed…reducing that time is crucial for combating influenza, which can manifest itself one to three days after a person comes into contact with the virus.”

Ms. Finelli of the CDC stated: “If you get data that’s not very timely one or two weeks old, it’s possible that the outbreak has already peaked.”

So is there a lesson here for enterprise architects?

Speed and agility is crucial in the making valuable decisions for the organizations in the marketplace, as it is in helping people in their healthcare. Trying to get all or completely accurate information to do an enterprise architecture or strategic plan is like trying to get 100% confirmed cases of the flu—if you wait until you have complete and perfect information, it will be too late to respond effectively.

It’s sort of like the adage “analysis paralysis”—if you keep analyzing and mulling over the data never making a decision, you are essentially paralyzed into non-action.

So it is crucial to get good-enough data that allows you to extrapolate and make decisions that are timely and effective. Of course, you can always course correct as you get more and better information and you get a clearer picture. But don’t wait till everyone in the enterprise has a confirmed case of the proverbial flu to start taking reasonable action.

>Analysis Paralysis and Enterprise Architecture

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Enterprise architecture is a planning (and governance) function. Planning is a valuable endeavor when it is used to drive meaningful change (outputs and outcomes). One of the worst things that can happen to a well thought out plan is for it to sit unused, collecting dust, until it is simply obsolete. What a waste of time and money. And what of the lost opportunities for the organization to grow and mature and serve it stakeholders better, faster, and cheaper.

Often, one of the reasons a plan never goes anywhere is that an organization is stuck in “analysis paralysis,” an unfortunate mode where leaders are not able to conclude the analysis phase, make a final decision, and move on—implement/execute. Instead, leadership is paralyzed by fear and indecision.

The Wall Street Journal, 10 April 2008, reports that “No Italian Job Takes Longer Than This Bridge: Proposed 142 Years Ago, Plan for Link to Sicily Is Now Campaign Issue.”

Shortly after the birth of modern Italy in 1865, the government began preparing to build a two mile span linking the island of Sicily to the mainland. The bridge…was to be the physical symbol of the country’s unity. It has been in the planning ever since, and over the years. Experts have studied the bridge’s impact on everything from the Mediterranean trade to bird migration. But ground has yet to be broken, making the bridge an emblem of the chronic indecisiveness that links Italy to the past.”

Is the bridge the only example of analysis paralysis in Italy?

“With a price of nearly…$7.9 billion, the bridge is an example of profligate public spending. Many say Italy is littered with half-finished projects.”

Many argue that with its endless planning, the nonexistent Sicily bridge is little more than a costly ruse. ‘It’s a bottomless pit for funding.’…In more than 20 years of operation, the company created to build the bridge…has spent just $235 million…To be sure, nothing has been done with the money.”

So the Italian bridge that was supposed to unify a country, be a architectural marvel and an engineering feat (“because of the swift currents, earthquake-prone shores, and great distance) has been an endless series of plans, drawn up and thrown into the drawer.

Unfortunately, plans like this bridge—that never get finalized and go nowhere—are a defeat for organizational progress. They are a waste of resources and drain on people’s creativity, talent, and morale.

As an enterprise architect, it is an imperative to complete the plans that we start and to work with leadership to implement them. Of course, over time, we need to course correct and that is a natural part of the process. But if we never “get off the dime” and embark on the journey, then as an organization we may as well be doing something else—something worthwhile!