>Paper Catalogs Have Seen Their Day

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Every day in the mail comes oodles of consumer catalogs: printed on quality stock paper, glossy, and many almost as thick as the community phone book.

Often, right in the mailroom, there is a huge recycle bin and there just about everybody drops the catalogues from their mailbox straight into the “trash.”

Who needs these expensive and wasteful printed catalogues that typically go from mailbox to recycle bin or garbage can without anyone even breaking the binding on them? With the Internet, the same information—and more—is available online. Moreover, online, you can comparison shop between stores for the best prices, shipping, and return policies, and you can typically get product and vendor ratings too to make sure that you are not buying a dud from a dud!

Despite this, according to the Wall Street Journal, 16 October 2009, “more than 17 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S. last year–about 56 for every American.”

Read again—56 for every American! This is obscene.

Here are some basic statistics on the wastefulness of these catalogs:

“Catalogs account for 3% of the roughly 80 million tons of paper products.”

“Making paper accounted for 2.4% of U.S. energy use in 2006.”

“The paper typically used in catalogs contains about 10% recycled content…far less than paper in general, which typically contains about 30%…[and] for newspapers, the amount of recycled content is roughly 40%.”

“The average U.S catalog retailer reported mailing about 21 million catalogs in 2007.”

“The National Directory of Catalogs…lists 12,524 catalogs.”

YET…

“Only 1.3% of those catalogs generated a sale.”

So why do printed paper catalogs persist?

Apparently, “because glossy catalog pages still entice buyers in a way that computer images don’t.” Moreover, marketers say that catalogs at an average cost of slightly over a $1.20 each “drive sales at web sites.”

And of course, the U.S. Postal Service “depends on catalogs as an important source of revenue.”

However, in the digital era, it is time for us to see these paper catalogs get converted en-mass into e-catalogs. Perhaps, a paper copy can still be made available to consumers upon request, so those who really want them and will use them, can still get them, but on a significantly more limited basis.

Sure, catalogs are nice to leaf through, especially around the holiday time. But overall, they are a profligate waste of money and a drain on our natural resources. They fill our mailboxes with mostly “junk” and typically are completely unsolicited. With the advent of the Internet, paper catalogs are “overcome by events” (OBE), now that we have vast information rich, e-commerce resources available online, all the time.

Normally, I believe in taking a balanced approach to issues, and moderating strong opinions. However, in this case, we are talking about pure waste and harm to our planet, just because we don’t have the capacity to change.

We need to stop persisting in the old ways of doing business when they are no longer useful. This is just one example of those, and business that don’t transition to digital modernity in a timely fashion risk becoming obsolete along with their catalogs that go from the mailbox right into the trash.

>Gobbledygook and Enterprise Architecture

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The premise of User-centric Enterprise Architecture is to transform traditional EA, which is often user-blind, and which develops “artifacts” that are difficult for the end user to understand and apply, and to instead produce truly useful and usable information products and governance services.

User-centric EA is about taking the gobbledygook out of architecture and making it clear and simple for the end user to understand.

The User-centric EA approach has a lot in common and is consistent with the drive to make federal communications, in general, more straightforward and understandable.

Government Executive magazine, July 2008 reports that “Congress is on a crusade to clean up the language in federal documents.”

The Plain language in Government Communications Act covers benefit and tax forms, letters, publications, notices and instructions sent to the public. Under best practices mandated by the bill, federal document drafters would have to tailor communications to targeted readers, employ personal pronouns, offer examples, and use the active voice.

Spread government wide, such fixes would save agencies, citizens, and businesses billions of dollars in time and effort, backers say. The prospect of simplified interaction with the government has won the proposed legislation backing from influential organizations such as AARP and the National Small Business Association.”

The goal of the “plain language” legislation is to kill off the “clause-ridden federal guidance that former vice President Al Gore used to deride as ‘gobbledygook’ [in exchange for]…lean prose and declarative sentences.”

Oh, music to my ears and eyes!

Unfortunately, there are still quite a few naysayers out there when it comes to making things easy.

So, “by design the plain language legislation is modest. The bill exempts internal communications. And to avoid opposition from agency lawyers, it does not cover federal regulations.”

Why would anyone want to make things more difficult or NOT User-centric?

Frankly and with all due respect, the explanations I read—about plain language causing existing policy to become muddled or about having a one-size-fits-all policy not working—sounded like more gobbledygook.

Some people argue that by “oversimplifying” documents, you are leaving out important information or missing shades of meaning. However, it’s the job of professionals to communicate effectively regardless of the complexity. Put simply, how can taxpayers comply with laws and regulations if they don’t understand them?

Plain language and user-centric is the way to go in serving our citizens and our organizations.

P.S. Hats off to Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language.

>Cognitive Styles and Enterprise Architecture

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We are all familiar with personalizing websites like Yahoo.com to make them more appealing, functional, and easy to navigate.

Now, according to MIT Technology Review, 9 June 2008, websites are being personalized not by the person, but rather by systems “that detect a user’s cognitive style” and changes the website accordingly

What is cognitive style?

Cognitive style is how a person thinks. Some people are more simplistic, others more detail-oriented, some like charts and graphs, and some like to be able to see and get to peer advice.

Why is cognitive style important?

Well, if we can figure out a person’s way of thinking and what appeals to them, then we can tailor websites to them and make them more useful, useable, and more effective at selling to them.

“Initial studies show that morphing a website to suit different types of visitors could increase the site’s sales by about 20 percent.”

So what’s new about this, haven’t sites like Amazon been tailoring their offering to users for quite some time?

Amazon and other sites “offer personalized features…drawing from user profiles, stored cookies, or long questionnaires.” The new method is based instead on system adaptation “within the first few clicks on the website by analyzing each user’s patterns of clicks.”

With cognitive style adaptation, “suddenly, you’re finding the website is easy to navigate, more comfortable, and it gives you the information you need.” Yet, the user may not even realize the website has been personalized to him.

“In addition to guessing each user’s cognitive style by analyzing that person’s pattern of clicks, the system would track data over time to see which versions of the website work most effectively for which cognitive style.” So there is learning going on by the system and the system gets better at matching sites to user types over time!

If we overlay the psychological dimension such as personality types and cognitive styles to web design and web adaptation, then we can individuate and improve websites for the end-user and for the site owner who is trying to get information or services out there.

Using cognitive styles to enhance website effectiveness is right in line with User-centric Enterprise Architecture that seeks to provide useful and usable EA products and services. Moreover, EA must learn to appreciate and recognize different cognitive styles of its users, and adapt its information presentation accordingly. This is done, for example, in providing three levels of EA detail for different types of end-users, such as profiles for executives, models for mid-level managers, and inventories for analysts. This concept could be further developed to actually modify EA products for the specific end-user cognitive styles. While this could be considerable work and must be balanced against the expected return, it really comes down to tailoring your product to your audience and that is nothing new.

>Ask the User and Enterprise Architecture

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The best way to find out what the end-user wants is to ask them.

The Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2008 reports on Ask.com that “Ask Searches for Answer to Luring New Users.”

Since 2006, Ask.com spent $140 million to Google’s $34 million on advertising between Jan. 2006 and September 2007, yet Google’s market share of the internet search business stands at 58.4% to Ask’s 4.3%, and “Ask’s market share hasn’t grown in the past couple of years, while Google’s…has seen its dominance increase.

Google is beating Ask based on “superior technology and word of mouth,” so the advertising is a moot point.

Jim Safka, the new head of Ask says that to understand the discrepancy, “the first step is figuring out who uses Ask today and what they use it for. We are not going to take wild swings.”

Apparently, Ask took some wild swings in the past without asking their users and ended up getting rid of the “Jeeves” from their original name Ask Jeeves.Com and getting rid of the “friendly butler designed to answer any question user posed him.”

Ask also goofed on a number of marketing campaigns which didn’t resonate with end-users, like “one campaign named ‘Use Tools, Feel Human’ [that] featured a primate [who] evolves into a human by using Ask.com.”

While “Ask’s market share continues to weaken,” Mr. Safka says that “Consumes are smart. If you look at the data and listen to them, the answer ends up being obvious.”

From a User-centric EA perspective, it is critical to ask the user what they want and understand their needs. One of the principles of User-centric EA is that we are focused on developing useful and usable products and services for the end-user; we do not build any information products that do not have a clear end-user and use. In contrast, traditional EA is often user blind and as a result develops “artifacts” that are difficult to understand and apply. Like Ask.com is learning, if you don’t understand your user’s needs, you end up with a lot of shelfware—whether it’s EA or search engines.

>Google and Enterprise Architecture

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User-centric Enterprise architecture is about capturing, processing, organizing, and effectively presenting business and technology information to make it valuable and actionable by the organization for planning and governance.

Google is a company that epitomizes this mission.

After reading a recent article in Harvard Business Review, April 2008, I came to really appreciate their amazing business practices and found many connections with User-centric EA.

  1. Organizing information–Google’s mission [is] ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’” Similarly in User-centric EA, we seek to organize the enterprise’s information and make it useful, usable, easy to understand, and readily accessible to aid decision making.
  2. Business and technology go hand-in-hand—“Technology and strategy, at Google, are inseparable and mutually permeable—making it hard to say whether technology is the DNA of its strategy or the other way around.” Similarly, EA is the synthesis of business and technology in the organization, where business drives technology, rather than doing technology for technology’s sake.
  3. Long-term approach—“CEO Eric Schmidt has estimated that it will take 300 years to achieve the mission of organizing the world’s information…it illustrates Google’s long-term approach to building value and capability.” Similarly, EA is a planning and governance function. EA plans span many years, usually at least 5 years, but depending on the mission, as long as 20 years for business/IT projects with long research and development cycles like in military and space domains.
  4. Architectural control—“Architectural control resides in Google’s ability to track the significance of any new service, its ability to choose to provide or not provide the service, and its role as a key contributor to the service’s functional value.” This is achieved by network infrastructure consisting of approximately one million computers and a target audience of 132 million customers globally on which they can test and launch applications. In EA, control is exercised through a sound governance process that ensures sound IT investments are selected or not.
  5. Useful and usable—“The emphasis in this process is not on identifying the perfect offering, but rather on creating multiple potential useful offerings and letting the market decide which is best…among the company’s design principles are…usefulness first, usability later.” In User-centric EA, we also focus on the useful and usable products (although not in sequence). The point being that the EA must have clear value to the organization and its decision makers; we shun developing organizational shelfware or conducting ivory tower efforts.
  6. Data underscores decision making—“A key ingredient of innovation at the company is the extensive, aggressive use of data and testing to support ideas.” EA also relies on data (business and technical) for planning and governance. This is the nature of developing, maintaining, and leveraging use of EA through information products that establish the baseline, target, and transition plan of the organization. A viable plan is not one that is pulled from a hat, but one that is data-driven and vetted with executives, subject matter experts, and other stakeholders. Further, EA provides business intelligence for governance and decision making.
  7. Human capital—“If a company actually embraced—rather than merely paid lip service to—the idea that its people are its most important asset, it would treat employees much the way Google does.” This concept is embedded User-centric EA, where the architecture is driven by the needs and requirements of the users. Further, Human Capital is a distinct perspective in User-centric EA, where people are viewed as the hub for all business and IT success.

In short, Google is a highly User-centric EA-driven organization and is a model for many of its core tenets.

>User-Centric EA Framework

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User-centric EA guides all facets of the enterprise architecture. It starts from the capture of the information, which is based on a strict value proposition of improving IT planning and governance, and moves forward to a process that is collaborative and structured, to one that provides users with information views that are facilitated by principles of communication and design. The User-centric EA further affects how we manage the architecture, using metrics, configuration management, and a single information repository. It also affects how we enforce the architecture through policy and governance.

>Readability and Enterprise Architecture

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User-centric EA is a strong proponent for developing information products that are useful and usable to the end-user. This is in contrast to traditional EA that often develops “artifacts” that are often difficult for the end-user to understand and apply.

There are a number of ways to make EA easier to use for the organization. One is to provide information in various levels of detail (profiles, models, and inventories), so user can drill-down to get more detailed information or roll-up to executive level summary views. Another method is to use information visualization to express information. As the adage states: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And yet a third method is to explain the architecture in simple- to-understand language, so that it will be meaningful to both business and technology stakeholders, executives, mid-level managers, and analysts alike.

Others have expressed the need to make information more usable and readable.

The Wall Street Journal, 14 March 2008, reports on the usage of readability formulas “to quantify the ease of a work writing” to be read and understood.

For example, Microsoft Word follows a reading formula and provides a “result [that] is the supposed minimum grade level of readers who can handle the text in question.”

“Similar formulas are used by textbook publishers and in dozens of states’ guidelines for insurance policies.”

The way the formulas work is to look at readability items such as the average number of words in a sentence, the average number of syllables per word, and so on to come up with a grade reading level for the text.

Some argue that these readability formulas are flawed in that there are “more than 200 variables that affect readability. Most formulas incorporate just two, and not because they are most important, but because they are the easiest to measure.” Others argue, the different readability measures are inconsistent and can come up with scores that differ by as much as three grade levels.

The Flesch-Kincaid formula, used by Microsoft, is the most convenient and criticized. The formula was developed in 1948, revised in 1975, and again tweaked by Microsoft when it “incorporated it into Word in 1993”. The current formula provides readability scores up to grade level 14.

The idea behind all these readability formulas is to provide information that is clear, concise, and comprehensible to a wide audience. There are even templates online to help people communicate effectively in writing at the recommended reading levels.

Going back to enterprise architecture, what is often thought of and developed in terms of architectures is not simple to understand or useful to our stakeholders. Developing architecture using the ivory-tower approach and developing reams of shelfware and wall charts that are eyesores is not a wise architecture strategy. Rather, working collaboratively with users and developing information products that they can understand and readily use to aid decision making is where it’s at.

>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.

>Feng Shui and Enterprise Architecture

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Feng Shui, which literally means earth and water, is typically a way of “arranging living quarters with optimal comfort for mind and body.” It is the adaptation of “homes to harmonize with the currents of ch’i” (life force or energy).

However, feng shui does not only apply to home arrangement. More broadly, “the aim of feng shui is to change and harmonize the environment—cosmic, currents known as ch’i—to improve fortunes.” “The Chinese saw a magical link between man and the landscape: Nature reacts to any change and that reaction rebounds in man. They saw the world and themselves as part of a sacred metabolic system.”

Feng shui has a basis in Taoism. “The Taoists glorified nature. Love of nature permeated their view of life. Things would not be correct until man could mirror within, the harmony of nature without.” “Tao united everything, exemplifying the need of nature and man to bring all opposing forces [yin and yang] into a fluctuating harmony.”

“Ch’i is the most important component of feng shui.” “Ch’i must flow smoothly and near a person to improve his ch’i. It must be balanced. If the current is too strong or too weak, it can have negative effects.” “Feng shui practitioners try to direct a smooth, good current of ch’i to a person and divert of convert harmful ch’i.” (Adapted from Feng Shui by Sarah Rossbach)

In User-centric EA, we seek to create information products that are useful (relevant—current, accurate, and complete) and useable (easy to understand and readily accessible) to the end users to enhance decision-making. One way to make EA products more usable is by applying the teachings of feng shui in terms of harmony, flow, and balance.

User-centric EA seeks to harmonize information products to make them balanced, flowing, and positive or harmonious to a person’s ch’i. In other words, if EA information products focus not only on content, but also on the format, then the information products can be easier to understand, more potent in reaching end users, and more influential to decision-making.

“Feng shui brings good fortune to the home.” I believe it can also bring good fortune to the enterprise that effectively uses it to communicate vital information to end users for business and technology decision-making.

>What is User-Centric EA?

>Well, this is exciting…my first blog, dedicated to a subject that I am passionate about – user-centric enterprise architecture.

Let’s start with some basic terms:

  • Enterprise architecture (EA) is the discipline that synthesizes key business and technical information across the organization to support better decision-making. EA includes the development, maintenance and use of an as-is, to-be, and transition plan. Together, these serve as the blueprints for modernizing and transforming an organization to meet future mission capabilities and requirements. The goal of EA is to improve information technology planning and governance.
  • User-centric EA focuses on providing useful and usable products and services to the end user. In user-centric EA, information is relevant, easy to understand and accessible. In contrast, traditional EA is user-blind because the focus is on developing “artifacts” that are often unintelligible. Therefore, in traditional EA, users often have difficulty understanding the as-is, to-be, and transition plan.