5 Questions to Ask About Your Information

Information collection, understanding and sharing has been a worthwhile pursuit since the dawn of humanity. In the beginning, now and in the foreseeable future, this pursuit will continue, even if the “tools” change. We will continue to use the information to make short-term and long-term decisions for our groups and ourselves. But depending upon the sources of the information, we might make good decisions or we might not. It is only until the results of the decisions are evident that we will know if where we ended is where we wanted to be. Sometimes we will make quick decisions and sometimes we will take our own time to make a decision. But in all of these circumstances, we will always hope that the information sources that we used to make our decisions are credible.

In order to understand the information, we need to understand the various “flavors” of information that we receive. Let’s explore them below:

  1. Redundant Information: Think about how many times you have received the same information from two different secondary sources. In your mind, you might be thinking that since two different secondary sources are providing the same information then it must be true. But what if the primary source of the information is the same? What if nothing new has been added to the information that you received? This is the concept of Redundant Information where the primary source of the information is the same and nothing new has been added to it.
  2. Corroborated Information: Think about how many times you have received the same information from two different secondary sources and are sure that the primary sources of the information are different. In your mind, you might be thinking that since the two primary sources are different then it must be true. This is the concept of Corroborated Information where the primary sources of the information are not dependent on each other.
  3. Contradicting Information: Think about how many times you have received the same information from two different secondary sources and found out that they were saying the opposite things. This is the concept of Contradicting Information where the information that we receive does not agree with each other.
  4. Perspective-Dependent Information: Think about how many times you have received the same information from two different secondary sources and determine that there are various versions of the truth. One version might be at a high level while another version might be at a lower level. This is the concept of Perspective-Dependent Information where information that you receive has been looked at from top-down, bottom-up and horizontal perspectives.
  5. Biased Information: Let’s face it, everyone has biases at some level based on their history, culture, societal norms, politics, religion, age, experiences, interactions with others and various other factors. These biases can creep into the information that we receive from others but also influence us when we make our own decisions. This is the concept of Biased Information where even in front of mounting evidence that challenges your views, you are still holding on to your conscious and unconscious thought processes to make decisions.

Now that you understand the various flavors of the information that you receive, it is time to ask the following:

 

Today

Tomorrow

Who receives the information? Who should receive information?
What happens to the information? What would happen to the information?
Where does information come from? Where would information come from?
When is information being shared? When would information be shared?
Why information is collected? Why should the information be collected?

When you ask the above questions, keep in mind that the information flavors and contexts are closely related. Even if you understand the information flavors being used but do not understand the context around them then your decisions will be skewed. On the other hand, be mindful of only looking at information that confirms your views (aka cherry-picking) since you will miss something that might have helped you better understand the world around you.

Information Flavors Information Flavors

5 Questions to Ask About Your Business Processes

The term business process is used to describe the connectivity of the various “steps” performed to achieve a certain goal. These steps are performed by information systems (e.g., calculate products sold per region), individuals (e.g., print/read reports) or a combination of both. The basis for these steps comes from policies (e.g., thou shall not eat at the computer), procedures (e.g., after you have created a report make a list of people who actually read it), governance (e.g., when information comes in or created by the organization then who and how it should be distributed), etc. These steps can be for a particular division (e.g., finance) and/or cross-functional (e.g., financial reports used by HR to make offers to potential hires). On the other hand, these steps can be wasteful (e.g., a division is creating reports for an individual who is not with the organization any more).

In order to understand the complexities of the business processes that are ingrained into the organization, the following questions need to be asked about your current and future business processes:

 

Today

Tomorrow

Who follows business processes? Who should follow business processes?
What happens in business processes? What should happen in business processes?
Where do business processes take place? Where should business processes take place?
When do business processes happen? When should business processes happen?
Why business processes happen? Why business processes should happen?

When you are asking the above questions across all levels of the organization, keep in mind that there is an interconnectedness among the information that you are collecting even if it is not evident at first glance. During or after the collection of this information, it is useful to create business process maps to show what happens and what would happen in the future. These maps should not be created just to be created but should be created to make intelligent decisions. These maps should be kept at a central place where people can easily have access to them and should be able to understand them without the need for an expert.

Another thing to be cognizant of who you talk to in the organization since depending upon who you talk to their definition of “a business process” might be different than what you are trying to understand. Yet one more term that is interchangeably used for the business process is workflow. For technical folks, this can also mean the business process that happens within an information system.

In conclusion, too often it is seen that organizations are struggling because of the ineffective communication and management mechanisms in place. By mapping the business processes, determining their qualitative and quantitative values, you will be able to see these gaps and make decisions that can prove to be beneficial to you as an individual and the organization as a whole.

Process

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
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