>Information Stats to Scare

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We all know that we are generating and receiving more information then ever. Good thing? I like to think so, but sometimes, you can have too much of even a good thing.

Certainly, information is a strategic asset—its vital to making sound decisions, essential for effective communications, and critical for expanding our thinking, breaking paradigms, predictive analysis, and helping us to innovate.

But when information is too much, too unorganized, too often, or too disruptive, it’s value is diminished and organizations and individuals suffer negative effects.

Here are some information stats to scare from Harvard Business Review (September 2009):

  • 60%–Those who checked email in the bathroom (and 15% even admitted to checking it while in church)
  • 20—Average hours per week spent by knowledge workers on email
  • 85%–Computer users who would take a laptop on vacation
  • 1/3–Emails considered unnecessary
  • 300—Number of emails executive get a day
  • 24—Minutes for worker to recover from being interrupted by an email notification
  • 40—Number of websites employees visit on an average day
  • 26%People who want to delete all emails (declare “e-mail bankruptcy”) and start over
  • 3—Number of minutes before knowledge workers switch tasks
  • ~$1 trillion—Cost to economy of information overload
  • 85%Emails opened within 2 minutes
  • 27%Amount of workday eaten up by interruptions
  • 2.8 trillion gigabytes—Size of digital information by 2011
  • 31%Workers whose quality of life is worsened by email

Some interesting antidotes offered by HBR:

  • Balance—weigh cost-benefits before sending another email
  • Reply to all—disable the reply all button
  • Five sentences—keep email to 5 sentences or less
  • Allots—affix virtual currency from a fixed daily amount to email based on its importance
  • IM Savvy—program by IBM that senses when you are busy by detecting your typing patterns and tells would be interrupters that you are busy
  • BlackBerry Orphans—to regain the attention of their parents, children are flushing their parent’s BlackBerries down the toilet

While the issues and proposed assists for information overload are thought provoking (and somewhat humorous), what is fascinating to me is how technology and the speed of its advancement and adoption are positively, but also—less spoken about—negatively affecting people and organizations.

It seems like life keeps accelerating—faster and faster—but the quality is deteriorating in terms of fuzzy boundaries between work-life, weakening of our closest relationships, burn-out of our best and hardest working people, and unrealistic expectations of people to be always on—just like the email account that keeps spitting out new messages.

Somewhere along the line, we need to hit the proverbial “reset button” and recognize that information and communication are truly strategic assets and as such need to be used intelligently and with good measure or else we risk cheapening their use and limiting their effectiveness.

>A Productivity Boost and Enterprise Architecture

>For years, the IT industry has been putting out more and more devices to help us communicate, access and analyze information, conduct eCommence, be entertained, and generally increase productivity. To do these things, we have desktops, landlines, laptops, tablets, handhelds, cellphones, pagers, and all the application systems, social media, and internet to run on them. And for the organization, the CIO has been central to evaluating, planning, implementing, and maintaining these technologies.

You would think with all these tools for managing information, our lives would be simpler, more straightforward, and ever more carefree. Isn’t that what “tools” are supposed to do for people?

Well, think about your own life. Is your life less hectic with all the IT tools? Do you have more time to focus on what you’re working on? How’s your work-life balance?

If you are like most people these days, the answer is likely that you are more frantic and are trying to more things at the same time than ever before—almost driving yourself crazy, at times, to keep up.

The Wall Street Journal, 15 December 2008 had a book review by Christopher Chabris on “The Overflowing Brain.”

Here’s an excerpt of the review that I believes tells the story well:

“Take a look at your computer screen and the surface of your desk. A lot is going on. Right now, I count 10 running programs with 13 windows on my iMac, plus seven notes or documents on my computer desk and innumerable paper piles, folders, and books on my ‘main’ desk, which serves primarily as overflow space. My 13 computer windows include four for my internet browsers, itself showing tabs for 15 separate Web pages. The task in progress, in addition to writing this review…include monitoring three email accounts, keeping up with my Facebook friends, figuring out how to wire money into one of my bank accounts, digging into several scientific articles about genes, checking the weather in the city I will be visiting next week and reading various blogs, some which are actually work-related. And this is at home. At the office, my efforts to juggle these tasks would be further burdened by meetings to attend, conference calls to join, classes to teach, and co-workers to see. And there is still the telephone call or two—one of my three phone lines (home, office, mobile).”

Does this ring a bell for anybody? Dare I say that this is the reality for more of us these days.

So has IT (and the CIOs of our time) succeeded in giving us the technologies we need and want?

Well let’s look at what we said earlier were goals of IT—communication, information, commerce, entertainment, and productivity. Yep, we sure have all of these—big time!

Great, let’s just stop here at the outputs of technology and claim victory for our CIOs and the society we’ve created for ourselves.

But wait, what about the simpler, straightforward, and carefree parts—the anticipated outcomes, for many, of IT—shouldn’t we all be breathing a little easier with all the technology tools and new capabilities we have?

Ah, here’s the disconnect: somehow the desired outputs are NOT leading to the outcomes many people had hoped for.

One possible answer is that we really don’t want simple and carefree. Rather, in line with the ‘alpha male theory,’ we are high achievers, competitive, and some would even say greedy. And all the IT in the world just pours oil on our fire for doing and wanting more, more, more.

As many of us take some time off for the holidays and put our feet up for a week or two, we realize how much we look forward to some peace and quiet from all the helpful technology that surrounds us every day. But at the end of a few weeks, most of us are ready to go back to work and go crazy again with all our technology-driven productivity.

On a more serious note, from an enterprise architecture perspective, one has to ask if all this running around is leading to a strategic, desirable result in our personal and professional lives or is it just business for business sake, like technology for technology sake.

>Information Governance and Enterprise Architecture

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We all know that information is vital to making sound and timely decisions. How do we govern information (the term information to include data and information) so that it is truly valuable to the organization and not just another case of GIGI (Garbage In, Garbage Out)?

DM Review, May 2008, reports on some research by Accenture that confirms that “high-performing organizations make far better use of information than their peers.”

Information is a strategic enterprise asset. The key to getting better results from information is the effective use of information governance. Information governance includes decision making and management over the full information life cycle, including: information capture, processing, storage, retrieval, and reporting and disposition.

Without information governance, what can happen to corporate information assets and the end users that rely on it?

  1. Information Hoarding (or Silos)—the information exists in the organization, but people hoard it rather than share information. They treat information as power and currency and they do not readily provide information to others in their organization even if it helps the organization they work for.
  2. Information Quality NOT (“multiple versions of the truth”)—information quality will suffer if decisions are not made and enforced to ensure authoritative information sources, quality control processing, and adequate security to protect it.
  3. Information Overload—not managing the way information is rolled up, presented, and reported can result is too much information that cannot be readily processed or understood by those on the receiving end. It’s like the floodgates have been opened or as one of my bosses used to say, “trying to drink from a fire hose.”
  4. Information Gaps—without proper requirements gathering and planning and provision for systems to meet information needs, users may be left holding the bag, and it’s empty; they won’t have the information they need to support their functional processes and day-to-day decision making needs.

Not having effective information governance is costly for the organization. The target enterprise architecture state for information management is to have the right information to the right people at the right time. Anything less will mean sub-optimized processes, excessive management activity, and poor decision making and that will be costly for the organization—lost sales, dissatisfied customers, compliance lapses, safety and legal issues, publicity snafus, and other mistakes that can even put the enterprise out of business!

According to Accenture’s survey of more than 1000 large companies in the U.S. and UK, information is not being governed very well today:

  • “Managers spend more than one quarter of their work week searching for information.
  • More than half of what they obtain is of no value.
  • Managers accidently use the wrong data more than once a week.
  • It is challenging to get different parts of the company to share needed information.”

The good news is that “the majority of CIOs seem ready to act” by employing information governance.

Information, as one of the perspectives of the enterprise architecture, is already governed through the Enterprise Architecture Board (EAB). However, to give more focus to information governance, perhaps we need to establish a separate Information Governance Board (IGB). I see the IGB as a sub-committee of the EAB that provides findings and recommendation to the EAB; the EAB would be the decision authority for governing all the perspectives of the architecture, including: performance, business, information, services, technology, security, and human capital. To better focus and decompose on the various EA perspective areas, perhaps they will all have their own sub-committees (like a Performance Governance Board, Business Governance Board, and so forth) similar to the IGB in the future.

>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.

>In Love with Information and Enterprise Architecture

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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.