Describing Meal Time

Dietary_guidelinesjpg

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.

>Information, So What?

>

It’s the information age and for most of us that means we are living and working with various forms of information technology every day giving us access to information through—voice, data, and video—thatshows up on our computer screens, smart phones, tablets, and more.

We are rich in information.

Many would say that we are overloaded with information, because there is so much and we can’t seem to possibly process it all no matter how hard we try–there is always more email to reply to, more YouTube videos to watch, more news and research to read up on, and more people to communicate and collaborate with via social networks, wikis, blogs,
tweets, and so on.

So what’s the point of all the information and collaboration? Is it just for fun and entertainment—like one big game of Trivial Pursuit? Or is it for getting a professional edge—i.e. the more you know and the more people you know, the better you are to advance and succeed?

Ultimately, information serves many purposes—it is the lifeblood of our humanity…it nourishes our curiosity, it feeds our learning and growth, and it enables us to make intelligent decisions in our lives.

Without information, we are just “flying blind” as they say, and couldn’t expect much in terms of personal or professional results for our organizations or ourselves.

So information is critical to improving our decision-making. Information and information technology is how we overcome poor decision-making based on gut, intuition, politics, and subjective management whim—all sure ways to get in a “why did you do that”
pickle!

An interesting article in Defense Systems Magazine (May 2010) called “Getting Inside the Enemy’s Decision Cycle” talks about how the military seeks to disrupt the enemy’s information and decision-making to degrade their war-fighting capability.

“Success in battle is increasingly about making decisions more quickly than your adversary can.”

In the military, the decision cycle is frequently referred to as “OODA Loop”—observe, orient, decide, and attack.

If we can disrupt the enemy’s decision cycle or OODA Loop, we can “decide and act faster than they can.” The result is “I’m going to outmaneuver you” and win!

In short, information translates to decision-making and to action.

– Disrupt that cycle and we are sitting ducks.

– Enhance that cycle and we are stronger for it.

Ultimately, there are lots of important lessons about the criticality of IT to decision-making that comes out of the battlefield:

First, we all need information to survive and thrive.

Second, if we improve information quality and speed of delivery, then the better the decision-making and the impact on and off the battlefield.

This is why information and information technology is truly our competitive advantage and at the heart of our national security.

I believe that this necessitates that we treat IT as not just another budget line item, but rather as a strategic investment.

The vision for IT has always been to bring greater effectiveness and efficiency to the rest of the business and to the mission. Unfortunately, IT has not always lived up to that vision.

Despite some disappointments, we cannot afford to be second-rate in IT, because there will be a negative cascading effect throughout all of our industries and government agencies that rely on information and information technology.

The key for us is to continue investing in technology (wisely), investing in our people (profusely—they are the brains behind the machines), and keep focusing on using IT as an enabler to improve the business and mission of everything else we do.

>Information Management Framework

>The Information Management Framework (IMF) provides a holistic view of the categories and components of effective information architecture.

These categories include the following:

Information-sharing–Enable information sharing by ensuring that information is visible, accessible, understandable, and interoperable throughout the enterprise and with external partners.

Efficiency–Improve mission efficiency by ensuring that information is requirements-based, non-duplicative, timely, and trusted.

Quality–Promote information quality, making certain that information provided to users is valid, consistent, and comprehensive.

Compliance–Achieve compliance with legislation and policy providing for privacy, freedom of information, and records management.

Security— Protect information assets and ensure their confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

All areas of the framework must be managed as part of effective information architecture.

>Life Expectancy and Enterprise Architecture

>

We all hope and pray for a long and healthy life with our loved ones. Unfortunately, when serious illness strikes, the question is how long does a person have to live?

The Wall Street Journal, 6 June 2007, reports that despite all the diagnostic medical tools today, predicting life expectancy is still “a very inexact science.”

While it does not seem odd to me that “doctors often fumble predicting life expectancy” since this is truly only something G-d can know for sure—what is odd is the magnitude of the discrepancy with doctors predictions. “Doctors overestimated dying patients’ survival by a factor of 5.3”!

Why the gross inaccuracy? And can this provide any lessons for enterprise architecture planning?

  • Forecasting is not a science—“Even some of the best scientific studies of some of the more common medical cases points to one conclusion: we don’t really know.” Similarly, with planning business and technology, we can’t really see into the future or around corners. The best we can do is to extrapolate from events and trends. This is more an art than a science.
  • Old/bad data is a poor basis for planning—“Life expectancy data for such patients are dated. ‘True life expectancy with best treatment is constantly changing.’” Similarly, with business and IT planning, events on the ground are constantly changing, so for planning to be even somewhat accurate, you need real time and quality data.
  • Optimism is an exaggeration—Doctors tend to be overoptimistic with their life expectancy predictions, “in part because they tend to be confident in their abilities and hopeful for their patients.” While we can’t give up hope—ever—we should not be overconfident in our abilities. When architecting the organizing, we must try to be as realistic as we can and not look at the enterprise with rose colored lenses.
  • Overlooking the obvious—“Doctors simply overlook the signs of nearing death.” As architects, we cannot overlook anything. We need to be on the lookout for the latest business and technology trends and plan accordingly for the enterprise.
  • Difficulty communicating bad news—“The pain and difficulty of communicating the prediction exacerbates the error…when estimating life expectancy for patients who, it turned out, had about a month to live, doctors tacked on 15 days onto their private predictions.” Enterprise architects need to be good—no expert—communicators. This is important in translating business-technology speak and in charting a course. If the current roadmap is not right for the organization, architects need to articulate the problems, why and how to fix them.
  • Treatment can cause more problems—“Patients and doctors expecting a longer survival time may agree on more invasive treatment, adding the burden of side effects and complications to patients in their final days.” Similarly, as architects, we may see a business process or technology problem and in trying to fix it, end up doing the wrong thing and exasperate the problem. So like doctors, our first pledge needs to be to do no harm.
  • Feedback and quality control—these “could help hone survival estimates.” So to with planning and governance, doing the assessment/lessons learned and performance metrics can be very valuable for improving practices and processes going forward.

>Information Governance and Enterprise Architecture

>

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.