If a capabiity grows in the forest does it solve a problem?

Don’t want to bust anyone’s balloon.  However, despite all the hoopla, Big Data and BI are still as Gartner has labeled it in the early stages of the Hype-Cycle.  While the technology is approaching critical mass, the market is still hasn’t crossed the chasm.  That is not to say vendors of such capabilities are full of puffery –actually not.  The problem become one of Strategic Execution and Exploitation.   Over the past ten+ years I have been actively engaged on and off on what arguably could be call BI and Big Data projects [Yup ten+ years!] What I’ve experienced from these projects is that for a first for IT, they’re ready before the line of business is to deploy the capability.  Example: one instance, I developed an approach to infer what markets are heating up and which are cooling off.  It took sales data, several other sources of information and some basic statistics -well may be a tiny bit more that basic statistics.  The result was a heat map for geographic and industry market segments.  The Marketing Executives were impress; not with what the data indicated, but with the fancy graphics.  Clearly the message was lost in the media.  A few years later I went back to check the forecasts, surprised by how close the predictions were.  The sad aspect to this adventure, the system I spent time building before I left was lost to missing competency, thus the application was discarded as no one new how to use or what to use it for.

Fast forward several years.  A colleague I was mentoring was asked to build BI capability for the company she just joined.  Not a cynic by nature, I asked some fairly cynical questions:

  1. Do they know what they are going to do with the capabilities?
  2. Do they know what problems / questions they’re going to apply the capability to?
  3. If you build it, is there anyone that will know how to operate it?
  4. Does anyone have the background in statistics and analytics to understand the results?

The scary answer I got back was actually no across the board.  The various departments had barely a remembrance of descriptive statistics.  Concepts like correlation, confidence level, linear regression were vague labels from a statistics class they had years ago.  It immediately drew me back to my engineering/manufacturing past and the comments attributed to Kelly Johnson (Lockheed Skunkworks): “I don’t need more computers, I just need more engineers that can read slide rules”.  The comment infers that Kelly was anti-computer and that’s not really so.  What I understood from his comment was you needed people that understood how the computer solved the problem and the range of where the solution should be, otherwise you’re at the mercy of the computer (i.e., The computer said…)  As another wise pundit said “Computers make great slaves, but terrible masters”).  Not understanding the underpinnings of how the capability works (not necessarily the computer logic) leaves you at the mercy of the computer.   This not to say leaving the grunt work to the computer is bad, but to continue the old adage-feast I’m on “A fool with a Tool is Still a Fool” or “When all you have is a Hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  Thus not all problems are suited to be solved by BI and/or Big Data, this is were Enterprise, Business Architects, and Solution Architects come into play.

Originally I was going to discuss BI and Big Data, however, in the end I’ve come to the conclusion the true value of Architects is not in the plans created to guide construction, but  in the questions asked to ensure what is built solves the enterprise’s problems and provides true value.  In ending If a capability is created and nobody uses it is it of value?

Content Vs. Style, Complexity Vs. Simplicity

Started pondering the various swings in popular culture last night and the unintended consequences lots of little decisions make upon our lives. The biggest of these that came to mind are the various oxymoron’s that pervade our culture and thinking processes. The first of these examples is what Joseph Pine of Experience Economy and Mass Customization notoriety called out. We are moving to a culture of experiences and small personalization to establish our identities. A simple look around one see lots of individually customized devices, yet they somehow all look the same. In the mélange of customizations that our devices enable as a whole the look and behave relatively the same. In the sixties young people would state that everyone one looked the same in a suite and they were going to be different. I would hazard to say those “radicals” once they all got together all looked the same also. In the end the hippy cloths were just another uniform to identify with a community which yields a portion of someone’s identity.

This sounds rather harsh, inferring that people are shallow and only concern with style over substance. I look at what magazines, articles and media information is most popular should confirm that. I believe porn, celebrity news and fashion categories are still on the top of the most view information on the net. And if we go the point closer to the technology world, Apple, once considered a one the ropes and a technology simpleton (not my label but others who had branded them such) has emerged to be at the top of the capital pyramid above Oracle and Microsoft, all based upon Steve Job’s attention to style. If one strips down the latest Apple technology it is very basic, little room for variability most of the decisions are made for you. Yet consumers loved it because you could add little applets to personalize your experience. Apple even created an exchange, closed market, where you could buy customizations. Purchasing these provided an additional revenue stream above and beyond the original device. Think of this as the Printer Cartage market dynamic model converted to software.

Now the interesting hypocrisy of our thinking. Many love the ability to purchase and piece together just the applets we want for the experience, but when it comes to the Air Travel we’re upset with the unbundling of the services (e.g., Seats selection, Meals, Baggage, etc.) An interesting change of perceptions depending upon the context.

Now many would infer I’m unfairly beating up on Apple, calling their products simplistic and almost inferring they are toys. I will admit I have friends that are: Any Buddy but [IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, …] you put the company title in. I however look at the intention behind the result; make it achieve the function easily from the user’s perspective (i.e., simplicity). Having been in the complexity business for years –hopefully fighting against it, not fostering it—I’ll state a maxim that was once told to me be a mentoring engineer: “Complexity is easy, Simplicity is hard” Watching the evolution of devices from Apple I am impressed with their focus to that implied mantra “make it easy for the end user”.

With that little bit of insight, I wonder how much are we trying to do the same in our roles as of late vs. complicate things for other to make it easy for ourselves?