User-centric Enterprise Architecture provides information to decision-makers using design thinking, so as to make the information easy to understand and apply to planning and investment decisions.
Some examples of how we do this:
- Simplifying complex information by speaking the language of the business (and not all techie).
- Unifying disparate information to give a holistic view that breaks the traditional vertical (or functional) views and instead looks horizontally across the organization to foster enterprise solutions where we build once and reuse multiple times.
- Visualizing information to condense lots of information and tell a story—as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
- Segmenting end-users and tailoring EA information products to the different user groups which we do with profiles geared to executive decision makers, models for mid-level managers, and inventories for the analysts.
Interestingly enough, in the summer issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, there is an article called “How to Become a Better Manager…By thinking Like a Designer.”
Here are some design pointers from the experts that you can use to aid your enterprise architectures (they are written to parallel the principles from User-centric EA, as I have previously described above):
- Embrace simplicity—“people often confuse simplicity…with simplistic….it takes courage to be simple…and the simplest solution is often the best.”
- Look for patterns in the data—“good problem solvers become proficient at identifying patterns.” Further, designers seek “harmony to bring together hierarchy, balance, contrast, and clear space in a meaningful way.”
- Apply visual thinking—often managers…rely heavily on data and information to tell the story and miss the opportunity to create context and meaning,” instead managers need to “think of themselves as designers, visual thinkers or storytellers.”
- Presenting clearly to specific end-users—“good design is about seeing and communicating clearly.” Moreover, it’s about “seeing things from the clients point of view…designers learn pretty quickly that is not about Me, it’s about You.”
MIT Sloan states “we have come to realize over the past few years that design-focused organizations do better financially than their less design-conscious competitors…design is crafting communications to answer audience needs in the most effective way.”
This is a fundamental lesson: organizations that apply the User-centric Enterprise Architecture design approach will see superior results than legacy EA development efforts that built “artifacts” made up primarily of esoteric eye charts that users could not readily understand and apply.
User-centric Enterprise Architecture employs principles of communications and design, such as maximizing information visualization in making information products useful and usable to the end-user.
In ComputerWorld , 24 September 2007, Michael Hugos, a principal at the Center for Systems Innovation, presents “Five Diagrams Beat A Victorian Novel.”
The article states: “Consider two methods of collecting and presenting computer system specification [or apply this to presenting enterprise architecture] to users. One is far more likely to result in disastrous development projects plagued by miscommunication and users who are unhappy with the systems that are developed to them.” This disastrous method for presenting IT, Mr Hugos calls the ‘Victorian Novel’ is based on “text specifications for systems development [and] it simply mire readers in a swamp of boring words.”
This method uses Unified Modeling Language (UML)…”they rely on use cases that seem very rigorous yet manage to reduce everything-from trivial details to important processing logic—into a monotonous blur of text that few people can read for more than a minute or two. The only diversions from this text are some abstract charts. UML documents seem to purposely designed to confuse and disengage the typical business user.”
I do believe Mr. Hugos could be equally describing traditional EA “artifacts” that mire the users in eye sore diagrams that cover entire walls or fill boxes and are they typical architecture shelfware that defies general readability, usability, and do not meet end-user requirements for information that adds value!
Mr. Hugos goes on to describe his method for presenting IT information, which aligns beautifully with the User-centric EA approach.
He states as follows: “Instead, I use a method based on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I use schematics and diagrams that give both business users and developers an easy way to understand the system under development [applies as well to EA].
Here are the five diagrams proposed:
- Process flow diagram—excellent, get the processes ironed out before automating, and enable business process improvement and reengineering.
- Logical data model—yes, capture the data requirements as the driver for the system solutions to serve up the information.
- Screen Map—right on, provide the end-user a storyboard of screens that show how they will interact with the system; that is User-centric.
- Systems architecture diagrams—nice, what is the technical infrastructure that underlies the system.
- Software object model—not one that I am familiar with, but sounds like it supports systems interoperability. It “defines the processing logic for the custom code and the data interfaces between custom software objects and packaged software.”
The five diagrams that Mr. Hugos proposes “enable effective communication between business and technical people so the system that gets delivered meets user expectations”.
It is truly wonderful to hear about architecture diagrams that are not typical shelf-ware, that help meet user requirements, that add value, and that are based on sound principles of communication. All too often these areas of architecture development are overlooked and at great expense to the enterprise and the end-user!