5 Questions to Ask About Your Information Supply Chain

Today’s organizations fundamentally revolve around people, processes and technologies. The underlying common thread across all of these areas is the ability to communicate and manage information. Information is used to make decisions that can be either good or bad. Based on the article Bad Decisions Arise from Faulty Information, Not Faulty Brain Circuits, we can decipher that sometimes in organizations there is so much information aka “noise” that decisions either get delayed or are made without understanding holistically how that information can affect the organization. Specifically, organizations need to understand the end-to-end flow of information through an Information Supply Chain lens and then leverage that information for competitive advantage. The concept of Information Supply Chain is derived from Supply Chain Management (SCM) that focuses on the coordinated and smooth flow of products. In the Information Supply Chain, we are interested in the coordinated and smooth flow of information within and across the organizations. In order to understand and take advantage of this Information Supply Chain, organizations need to ask the following 5 questions:

  1. Where does my information reside? (hint: it is not all documented)
  2. How is my information managed across people, processes, and technologies? (hint: look at your formal and informal information governance structures)
  3. How easily does information flow from when it is first created/consumed to how it is used to help me make decisions? (hint: think beyond information systems)
  4. What information you had in the past that resulted in good and bad decisions? (hint: hindsight is 20/20 only if you replicate the successes and reduce failures)
  5. What are you doing right now to avoid information duplication and increase information flow? (hint: capturing lessons learned is an exercise in futility if you cannot decipher intelligence from those lessons for your next endeavor)

Another thing to think about is…if we turn back the pages of time, we will realize that organizations are not that much different then what has existed in the past. The only thing that continuously changes is technology. Technology does not mean Information Technology(IT) only but also any methodologies and tools that make you manage information more effectively and scale-up quickly. A case in point is paper which changed the direction of mankind and was once considered a “technology”. Information Supply Chain considerations

What’s Wrong With My Enterprise Architecture? – a response

Recently, a fellow Enterprise Architect reached out and asked my opinion on his article.  Below is my response:

• Enterprise Architecture has many definitions. Here is one that I tried to create in 160 characters. “EA bridges business and IT via enterprise integration/standardization resulting in people becoming more efficient and effective in achieving their objectives.”

• While there are many reasons behind failures of EA within organizations but as I see it, they essentially boil down to only one thing (i.e., lack of communication in understanding the true value of what EA brings to the organization). It takes effort from everyone (EA, Business and IT) in the organization to use EA for business transformation. Before anything else organizations need to decide:

  • Why they need/want EA? Here is a good video that alludes to this.
  • What quantitative and qualitative values does EA bring to the table?

• Unfortunately, EA has turned into merely an information collection activity and moved away from why this information is being collected in the first place. What is the strategic intent? In my observation, most EA is not strategic (e.g., the Federal Government’s use of EA)

• My biggest issue with EA these days is where it resides within the organization. These days EA reports to or is a part of IT and suffers the same fate as IT (e.g., reduced budgets, no executive representation, etc.). Ideally, EA should report into Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) but not to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

• EA is a conceptual mindset. In my view, it is not about frameworks, modeling or programming languages. EA is about a business transformation that may or may not require IT to accomplish the transformation. Blasphemy! I know ☺

• True EA is difficult to do and it takes a long-term commitment from the organization to pursue it.

In today’s business world quickness and agility are often used as a pretext/excuse for a lot of things mostly because the people using these terms just want additional lines added to their resume before they move on. To put in an analogy, what kind of car would you like to drive? One that goes really fast but has bare minimum safety or one that has optimum safety but you might get it a month late? The short answer is, it depends. Mainly it depends on what is the end goal the organization or person is trying to achieve. The same is true for EA. Without measurable end-goals, EA just becomes a complacent black hole.

Top 5 Articles of 2013

Thank you to the readers in 72 countries that read my articles in 2013. Following are the top 5 articles that you have been interested in:

  1. 5 Observations on Being Innovative (at an individual level)
  2. 5 Observations on Being Innovation (at an organizational level)
  3. Future Considerations for Kodak
  4. 5 Factors for Business Transformation
  5. Where is My Big Data Coming From and Who Can Handle It

Following are the top 20 countries where most readers have come from:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. United Kingdom
  4. India
  5. Australia
  6. France
  7. Pakistan
  8. Germany
  9. Netherlands
  10. Philippines
  11. Finland
  12. Colombia
  13. New Zealand
  14. Brazil
  15. Switzerland
  16. Singapore
  17. Saudi Arabia
  18. Italy
  19. Ireland
  20. Greece

Zillow.com and the MLS CIO

Let’s suppose that you are Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a Multiple Listings Service (MLS) and a proposal has been put forth by Zillow.com to join Zillow’s Partnership Program (ZPP). For this scenario assume: (1) hiring, business processes, and technology infrastructure would remain unchanged and (2) a budget would only be provided to create data feeds used by Zillow.com. Here are some of the risks, disadvantages, and advantages of joining ZPP:

Risks to MLS:

  1. Brand recognition: The MLS brand recognition would be compromised if (1) current MLS users completely transition over and prefer to use Zillow and (2) future MLS users may not be aware of MLS’s existence.
  2. Zillow’s Zestimate: Zillow provides a property’s cost estimate to users based on a proprietary algorithm called the “Zestimate”. Research indicates that (1) in certain areas these estimates are wildly off and (2) Zillow has changed the algorithm in the past without prior notice. This would result in user confusion and the perception that it could be an MLS issue thus affecting the MLS’s credibility.
  3. Zillow’s acquisition strategy: Zillow has grown through acquisition and it is expected that this strategy would continue. Due to the complexity of management and systems integration during acquisitions, there is a possibility that not enough resources would be available from Zillow if there were issues with the MLS at the same time.
  4. Customer conversions: By joining ZPP, the MLS would exponentially increase the users who can view the MLS data through Zillow’s website and mobile applications. However, the increase in the number of views is not a guarantee that those users would become customers.

Risks to MLS Information Systems:

  1. Technology infrastructure: The MLS could encounter an exponential increase in the number of users who can view MLS data that could overwhelm the servers. This could be an issue if MLS is currently (1) running at full capacity and (2) does not have an updated technology infrastructure.
  2. Data security incidents: Due to sharing data with Zillow, the MLS could anticipate an increase in security incidents either from (1) data in transit from the MLS systems to Zillow and/or (2) data compromised at Zillow

Disadvantages by not joining ZPP:

  1. Users: 55.7 million mobile and web visitors access Zillow compared to the entire population of a major metropolitan area. The MLS would not have access to such a large user base if ZPP were not joined.
  2. Adoption: If MLS does not adopt in a timely manner then it would be perceived by the industry in general and the MLS community in particular as behind the times and could erode MLS’s ability to hire top talent for projects.
  3. Information relevance: Since (1) Zestimate pulls information from previous years’ tax assessments and (2) users have the ability to edit data, careful consideration should be made about the relevance of the information since the accurate reflection of the up-to-date fair market value could be an issue for the user.

Advantages by joining ZPP:

  1. Users: Access to 55.7 million mobile and web visitors that access Zillow monthly.
  2. Account Executive: A dedicated account executive would be assigned to the MLS. This could help in coordination and quickly resolving issues between Zillow and MLS.
  3. Metrics and traffic statistics: Zillow would be sharing user metrics and traffic statistics. This information (1) could be used by MLS to prepare for peak times and enhance maintenance schedules and (2) could be used by brokers and agents to improve their business through trends and predictive analytics.

Recommendations:

Based on the above, the disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP, the MLS would not be ready however joining would be significantly beneficial. Thus the CIO should recommend:

  1. Budget increase needed to develop data feeds and updates the technology infrastructure to make it robust, resilient, scalable and highly reliable that could handle exponential user growth.
  2. New policies, procedures, processes and governance models need to be developed to address optimal firewall settings, data integrity issues, security, escalation, prioritization, communication channels between the MLS and Zillow.
  3. Recruit an experienced account executive that has taken their MLS through the same ZPP process.
Risks, disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP
Risks, disadvantages and advantages of joining ZPP

What should NASDAQ OMX, SEC and Congress do?

Last week, NASDAQ was closed for ~3 hours due to a software/computer glitch. Within 24 hours of this incident, the NASDAQ OMX CEO came on the news explaining what happened. Various news outlets criticized the company for not coming out sooner and informing the general public. On the surface, this incident seems like just a technical glitch and a communication breakdown but there might be deeper issues. Here are some recommendations to address this:

  1. Role of NASDAQ OMX
    • Create backup hot-sites on a different electrical grid
    • Document and test offline scenarios so that markets and exchanges continue to function even if technology infrastructure is affected
    • Have communications SOPs to timely inform the public
    • Upgrade technology infrastructure
  2. Role of SEC
    • Create policies and fines if something like this happens again
    • Create systems that provide real-time monitoring of markets and exchanges
    • Regulate the existence and maintenance of backup hot-sites
    • Regulate the technology infrastructure to check for obsoleteness
  3. Role of Congress
    • Increase the budget of the SEC to create systems that monitor markets and exchanges
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