>The Ostrich Effect and Enterprise Architecture

>From the financial and credit crisis, to soaring energy prices, job losses, foreclosures, and run-away inflation, people’s investment portfolios are looking pretty darn gloomy these days.

The Wall Street Journal, 13-14 September 2008 reports “Should you Fear the Ostrich Effect?”

What’s the ostrich effect?

“Behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University coined the term, ‘the ostrich effect’ to describe the way investors stick their heads in the sand during lousy markets.

Forget the letter opener when your financial statement arrives and stop looking up the value of your investment portfolio online, because “if you don’t know for sure how your portfolio did, you can always retain the hope that it somehow did better.”

This is a way for people to hide from the reality of their losses. “Turning yourself into an ostrich doesn’t make your losses go away, but it does enable you to pretend they aren’t there.” What a wonderful defense mechanism for our psyches!

Reading and thinking about this ostrich effect, I realized that it applies not only to the way people deal with financial losses, but all sorts of bad news they don’t want to hear or deal with.

I believe in Freudian terms, they call this DENIAL!

Just put your head in the sand and whatever it is you don’t want to deal with isn’t there, right?

We all know that hiding from problems doesn’t make them go away. Yet, this same phenomenon in people’s personal lives is ever present in our enterprises!

How many of the executives in your organizations follow this prescription of sticking their head in the sand when they don’t want to hear about or acknowledge problems in the workplace—competitive, technical, regulatory and so on?

Unfortunately, many of our leaders close their eyes and ears to the problems that afflict our organizations in spite of all the reports, briefings, metrics, dashboards, and subject matter experts they consult.

Why do our leaders ignore bad or challenging news?

I suppose similar to the investor who doesn’t want to face the negative returns and shrinking balances on their account statements, executives often don’t want to or are unable to deal with the harsh reality in their organizations and in the competitive environment. It’s so much easier to pretend problems and challenges don’t exist and continue to report stellar results and returns to their boards, stockholders, stakeholders, regulators, and oversight authorities.

In this election season, there has been a lot of banter of “putting lipstick on a pig.” Sounds a little like how ineffective leaders pretend to lead, by putting rosy colored lipstick on a pretty awful looking pig.

The best leaders will use all the information available to face reality and raise the performance of the organization and its people to meet the challenges head on and truly grow and excel.

The average and worst leader ignore what’s going on around them and see only what they want to see and report up and out what they believe others want to hear.

Where does enterprise architecture come into play with this?

Enterprise architecture is a vital source of information for our CIOs and other leaders. The wise ones see the strategic value of enterprise architecture, commit to it, champion it, and invest in it, using it to identify gaps, redundancies, roadblocks, and opportunities to innovate and improve the business and technology of the organization. I urge all CIOs to avoid being like the ostrich, and take this approach.

>Executive Dashboards and Enterprise Architecture

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Enterprise architecture makes information visible to enable better decision making in the organization. One tool to help do this is the executive dashboard.

In management information systems, a dashboard is a executive information system user interface that (similar to an automobile’s dashboard) is designed to be easy to read. For example, a product might obtain information from the local operating system in a computer, from one or more applications that may be running, and from one or more remote sites on the Web and present it as though it all came from the same source. (Wikipedia)

Dashboards help manage information overload:

  • “After three decades of aggressive computerization, companies are drowning in data and information. People produced about five exabytes of new information in 2002, twice the amount created just two years earlier” (Trend: The New Rules of Information Management by Jeffrey Rothfeder)
  • Dashboard are a way to take the fire hose flood of information that we get every day and make it more actionable by structuring it, focusing it, and making it more understandable often through visual displays. Note, this is similar to User-centric Enterprise Architecture’s use of principles of communications and design, such as information visualization to effectively communicate the baseline, target, and transition plan in the organization.

Dashboards provide business intelligence:

  • Dashboards, like enterprise architecture itself, contribute to translating data into business intelligence. EA does this by capturing, analyzing, cataloging, and serving up information in useful and usable ways to enhance decision making by the end-users. Dashboards do this by capturing and aggregating performance metrics, and displaying them in easy-to-read and often, customizable formats.

Dashboards generally focus on performance:

  • Dashboards generally are used for displaying, monitoring, and managing an organization’s performance metrics. Note, “performance” is one of the perspectives of the enterprise architecture, so dashboards are a nifty way to make that EA perspective really come alive!
  • According to DM Review, 15 April 2008, “Dashboards Help Drive and Improve Performance Metrics…Presented in highly visual charts and graphs, this data can provide each level of the organization with the information it needs to best perform…Dashboards also can be a key driver of performance improvement initiatives, offering a simple and graphical way to make key performance indicators (KPIs) visible throughout the enterprise.”

Dashboards typically provide activity monitoring and drilldown capability:

  • “The most effective dashboards allow users to drill down into the KPIs to find root cause or areas likely to cause problems. Some can even be configured to alert maintenance or support personnel when performance drops” or dangerous thresholds are crossed. Dashboard also help “make comparisons of multiple data sources” over time. These functions are called business activity monitoring, and when applied to the organization’s network, for example, is referred to a network monitoring.
  • The ability to monitor and manage performance using the dashboard is similar to ability to monitor and manage the organization’s track along it roadmap using EA!
  • The most effective dashboards, like the most effective enterprise architectures, are those that provide information in multiple layers of detail, so that the executives can get the high-level summary, the mid-level managers can understand the relationships between the information, and the analysts can drill down and get the detail.

Dashboards—an effective human-machine interface:

  • Dashboards done right, are an effective EA tool, and serve as a window into the organization’s performance; they provides real-time, summary and granular information for making quick and specific decisions to positively affect performance.