Essential Project–Open Source EA Metamodel

By |2010-12-31T10:54:00+00:00December 31st, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

One thing that often occurs when a team sets out to create an EA tool is that they create a metamodel that will be supported within the tool.  As I pointed out in my last post, I would like to openly challenge tool makers to allow multiple simultaneous metamodels to exist, so that organizations can answer questions from multiple focused perspectives.  In my opinion, this challenge will be quite difficult to realize.

I’ve been looking at some of the public documentation for various EA tools in order to see the metamodels that they support.  This provides some insight into the level of difficulty of this challenge.  Along the way, I’m also becoming reacquainted with some things that I’ve seen before (like a long discussion of the Troux metamodel that I got from an EA conference a few years ago, and the detailed understanding of the alfabet metamodel that I have first-hand experience with, as well as some exposure to the Aris metamodel from IDS SHEER).

I also ran across an open source metamodel that is part of the open source Essential project – a project to create an open source EA tool.  (Personally, I think that open source EA tools are a good idea, but I think the business model that will ultimately win out is a cloud-based model that allows rapid deployment of an instance of an EA tool.  Open source may not be the best way to deliver that business… but that’s a future post.)

The thing that I’d like to call attention to is the detailed open source metamodel that has been produced by the Essential team.  Why is it interesting?  Perhaps because the metamodel is open source but not community developed!  In other words, I’ve seen no public discussion of this model and I cannot see any relationship between this model and those that have been discussed in public.  Why would I adopt an EA tool that allows one model at a time, yet is based on a model that I’ve had no insight into how it was made or what problems it was designed to solve?  Seems fairly backwards to me.

That said, the team that developed this model has done some very good work, and I recommend it to others for understanding and engagement. 

My biggest concern, before I take the time to really jump in, is that the model seems to have been created in PowerPoint.  That makes for some very difficult model analysis, which may mean that there are hidden defects in the model that are difficult to detect.  That doesn’t mean that defects exist… just that I’ve not found that PPT is a good environment for generating metamodels due to the difficulty of debugging the model.    [Correction: the model is produced in an OWL tool.  The metamodel visualizations on their web site are probably just that: visualizations for the sake of consumption — NM, corrected 1-4-2011]

Note that clicking on each of the images below will take you to the actual page on the Essential web site where the model originates.  No point in duplicating that data on my blog.

Essential Bus MM   Essential App MM
Essential – Business Metamodel Elements   Essential – Application Metamodel Elements
Essential Info MM   Essential Tech MM
Essential – Information Metamodel Elements   Essential – Technology Metamodel Elements

Can EA Data be independent of the Metamodel?

By |2010-12-30T09:46:06+00:00December 30th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

One thing that I’ve come to appreciate is both the importance, and impermanence, of the Enterprise Architecture metamodel. 

If that last sentence didn’t piss you off, you weren’t listening.

I’ve found two common groups of Enterprise Architects:

  1. Folks who do not understand, or care, about EA metamodels.  Starting with Zachman aficionados, and working up to some practitioners of Balanced Scorecards, Business Process Management, and Business Strategy development (all fields that benefit from, and are necessary to, metamodels, but which were developed entirely without that concept).  To the credit of many folks who have come up from these fields, they have seen the value of metamodels along the way and moved to the second group.  Others, unfortunately, have not been able to see the holistic value of understanding knowledge using a connected model of well-defined concepts, and remain in the camp of “metamodel doubters.”
  2. Folks who believe that there should be a solid, unchanging, metamodel, and that all business and technical metadata should fit within it.  The ranks of this group are growing rapidly, as TOGAF has adopted the concept of metamodels and as groups focused on Business Architecture have brought out research materials and books dedicated to specific metamodels.  Readers of this blog will note that I produced a metamodel of sorts with the EBMM (Enterprise Business Motivation Model) nearly two years ago now, with an update to come soon.


Unfortunately, there are flaws with the thinking of both groups, and I’d like to propose a third way…

I’d like to propose that metamodels should be created as part of the “view", and not part of the “model” itself: That data will exist independently of the metamodel, in a manner that can be formed into a metamodel that is custom-suited to meet a particular need, at the time of that need. 

Kind of hard to imagine, isn’t it?  After all, as Information Scientists, we think in terms of the data structures… how data will be created, stored, manipulated, and consumed.  And ALL databases have a data model.  (the relationship between tables, fields, keys, indices, triggers, and constraints, as concepts, is an underlying RDBMS model).  How, exactly, can we store data in a database without first creating a single model that describes the type of data that we intend to store, how it will be stored, and how it will be related?

Yet, we’ve seen the field of “unstructured data” blossom in the past decade with the emergence of search engines like Google and Bing.  These engines have brought ever-increasing sophistication to the notion of “answering human questions” from data that is not, fundamentally, structured into an information model.  That said, the most useful data in unstructured systems is still classifiable into complex types, and that classification allows the usefulness of that data to come through. 

For example, if I go to Google and search on a local department store, I could type “Kohls in Covington WA”.  I will get the results below.  Note that if I go onto Bing and issue the same search, I will get nearly identical results.  In both cases, model is applied.  The word “Kohl’s” is taken to mean “a department store” and from that, we can add attributes.  After all, department stores have phone numbers, addresses, can appear on a map, can have items on sale, and, almost as an afterthought, can link to a web site.  

The search results illustrate far more than just links to web sites.  The search engines are applying a classification to the otherwise unstructured information.  To add value, the question is understood, and results are produced, based on classification.  This “result” is not just a web site.  It is not just “random unstructured data.”  And the results are more useful as a result of this understanding.

Bing-metamodel Google-metamodel

Imagine that we have a search engine that works for business and information systems structural data instead of web sites.  We can “know” a great deal of information about business motivation, strategy, competition, business goals, initiatives, projects, business processes, IT systems, information stores, software instances, etc, all the way down to servers, network infrastructure, and telephone handsets.   But can we “apply the appropriate metamodel” to the data at the time when it is needed?

In other words, can we answer questions like these?

  • What systems need to be modified in order to improve competitiveness as expressed through the business goals of the Retail unit? 
  • What is the accumulated Return on Investment of the projects that have completed in IT in the past two years?
  • What gaps exist in the initiatives chartered to create a strategic response to the competitive threat posed by the Fabrikam corporation’s new product line?

Can we do it without pre-specifying a metamodel?

Folks in the second camp above will ask an obvious question here: why not catalog data according to a single super-dee-duper, one-size-fits-all metamodel?  After all, once you have the right metamodel, every one of these questions can be understood and answered.

Let’s parse that idea a little… What makes a metamodel “right?”  I would venture that a metamodel is not ??
?right” or “wrong.”  It is simply “useful” for the purpose that it is being used for… or not.  For example, sometimes I care about the distinction between a business process and a business capability.  Other times, I do not.  If my metamodel is static, I must always collect business data according to a single unified taxonomy, or I must always have two different taxonomies.  But the world is not so simple.  Sometimes, I need one.  Sometimes, I need two.  The metamodel is dependent upon the question I’m asking and the problem I need to solve.

In other words, the metamodel itself is a dependent variable.  Only the raw data, the business stakeholders, and the business concerns themselves, are independent.  All the rest is self-organizing and, here’s the problem, changes depending on the situation.  The structure, relationships, and important attributes of any one set of elements is particular to the problem that the stakeholder is solving.

So, I will re-ask my question: can we collect information in a manner, and understand it in a mechanism, that allows us to apply different metamodels to the data depending on the need of the stakeholders?

I think we can.  I think we must. 

Kudos to Cambridge for refusing to cover up security holes in “Chip and PIN”

By |2010-12-26T01:51:09+00:00December 26th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

One challenge with long-running news stories is that it is often difficult to keep track of the “current” bits.  Even important news can seem like “old” news because the problem is taking so long to be resolved, or even addressed.  What worries me is that many folks, especially here in the USA, are completely unaware of this story. 

I’m talking about the flaws in the Chip-and-PIN system for credit card validation and in the “Verified by Visa” ecommerce validation systems.  It turns out that both systems, heavily invested attempts by the credit card industry to reduce fraud, have not had the intended effect.  Fraud has increased, despite both changes.  Security researchers at Cambridge University have pointed out these flaws for years, in paper after paper, in the open.

Here’s the kicker.  On December 1, 2010, the UK credit card industry sent a letter to Cambridge to ask them to take a research paper off of their website.  Effectively, they asked the University of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin to censor the valid (yet embarrassing) research of one of their own scholars because he pointed out serious flaws in the Chip-and-PIN system.  I am not surprised by their request, nor by the response of the University… they refused

On the other hand, at the first sign of censorship, I encourage all of us to Read Dangerous Works, Think Dangerous Thoughts, and Embrace Dangerous Ideas.  Only through the consumption of dangerous ideas can they survive.  And survive they must, because all truly innovative ideas were, at one time or another, dangerous. 

What makes an idea dangerous?  When a powerful person seeks to censor it, it is dangerous.  This goes for burned books, blasphemous websites, and, yes, for dry technical white papers that point out that the banks are pushing for a massive shift in liability, hoping to move liability for fraud from the banks to the banking customers, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, by “selling” us on a security system that is not secure.

The researchers at Cambridge have been getting the media to notice.  I encourage folks to watch this YouTube video, part of a BBC news broadcast:


Now, my regular readers may be surprised to see me take a stand against censorship.  After all, just a few weeks ago, I expressed strong concern over the publication, by Wikileaks, of a list of potentially valuable targets for terrorists.  Was I not asking for censorship then?  What changed?

I walk a fine line here.  After all, what is the principle that I am following that says “Cambridge is right to publish instructions for thieves while Wikileaks is bad for publishing instructions for terrorists.”  The principle is simple: value for human life.  If information, widely shared, has the opportunity to lead directly to the loss of human life, it should not be widely shared.  If, on the other hand, information widely shared can drive good behavior on the part of powerful people without endangering human life, it should be shared. 

Falsely yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater is not “protected free speech” because people can be injured or killed.  On the other hand, publishing a list of theatres that have inadequate fire safety protections is protected free speech, because the theatre owners now have a reason to improve their safety records or face the loss of business to competing (safer) theatres.  (If this example seems a bit antiquated, especially to those folks from outside the USA, I’m referring to a case in the US Supreme Court in 1919). 

The publication of imperfections in the security scheme of credit cards is similar to my example of publishing a list of theatres with poor fire-safety protections.  Customers who frequent merchants using the Chip-and-PIN system, and the Verified by Visa system, are not safer as a result and may, in fact, be LESS secure.  As consumers, and free citizens, we have the right to not only vote with our wallets, but also demand regulations that will drive good behavior on the part of credit card companies.  Now that the USA has a branch of the government specifically chartered with Consumer Protection, perhaps this is an issue that they can take up.

Enterprise Architecture and the Lessons of History

By |2010-12-24T17:24:05+00:00December 24th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

I am an Enterprise Architect.  It is my job to look at things the way they are, and envision the things that should be.  It is my role to describe specific actions that specific people can take to change things (systems, processes, corporate structures, etc.) to lead an enterprise towards a better place.  The role is fascinating.

Yet I am troubled.  The role of Enterprise Architect is troublesome to a student of history and society.  Because in the history of humankind, there have been many people who have performed a similar role, and many of their actions led to terrible consequences.  How can I follow in their footsteps?  How can I not?

At this point, perhaps you are asking: what on Earth is Nick talking about?  What terrible consequences have Enterprise Architects wrought? 

The answer is elusive and yet painfully obvious: our role includes great promise but also great potential for harm.  We can focus innovation, or we can stifle it.  In the stifling of innovation, we can cause great harm in a single bad decision.  A single innovation may be the difference between a competitive idea and a market-creating idea.  In even starker terms, a single innovation may illustrate the line between success and failure, and between profit and loss. 

Here is the pattern that is so troublesome to me:

  1. Understand a great deal about the system
  2. Envision a future in which the system behaves “better” than it does today
  3. Create rules to guide the behavior of specific actors within the system
  4. Review the behavior of specific actors to find those who are not following the rules
  5. Recommend to a “higher authority” that a law-breaker should be prevented from proceeding on the basis of their “law breaking.”

Most Enterprise Architects will see, in this pattern, the notions of Future State Architecture, Architectural Principles, and Architectural Review.  These concepts are widely shared within our community and many good white-papers have been written to provide guidance, from one EA team to another, on how to “force” a wayward IT project to “follow the architectural principles that the enterprise agrees will lead to a better future.”

Take care, fellow EA, to learn from the lessons of history.  Consider these examples, and bear them with humility. 

Example 1: The Crucifixion of Christ

Consider the system: human society.  The challenge: how do we “encourage” individual people to behave in a manner that, taken as a whole, produces the greatest individual liberty?  What does the “better” society look like, and what rules should we follow to get there?  Moses took up that challenge and those that followed created a body of Law that not only led the Jewish people, but even today forms the basis for three great world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in order of emergence).  With the body of law, we have achieved steps 1, 2, and 3 above. 

With the administration of the law, we introduce a legal concept that prevailed during the time of Christ: the Sanhedrin.  This council of scholars were charged with understanding the complex rules written in the Law, and reviewing the behavior of individual people to see if they had violated “the rules.”  They made their recommendations to the Roman governor of Judea.  In their review of Jesus, they found his behavior to be in violation of the rules.  His vision did not match their own.  The results are both tragic and rather well known, so I don’t need to go into the details of the crucifixion here.

This example is particularly poignant to me because I am Jewish.  If I had lived at the time of Jesus, would I have recognized him as an innovator?  Or would I have seen him as the Sanhedrin saw him, as a heretic?  Would I have seen him as a person attempting to create a new religion that today leads a billion people towards moral behavior, or a provocateur that threatened to lead people AWAY from the “future state architecture” that the trusted council had envisioned?

Example 2: The Trial of Galileo

Flash forward to 1633.  Perhaps after a millennium and a half, humanity would have learned… right?  Au contraire. 

The religion founded on the prior example, Christianity, is fully in charge in Europe.  However, the Renaissance is in full swing, and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is under attack.  In this age, the power of Catholic Church reached into the daily lives of kings and peasants alike.  But here comes Galileo to suggest that Copernicus was right: that the Earth was not the center of the universe.  Someone, quick, tell the Pope: Galileo is not following the standards!  Galileo must be told to “Stop what you are doing… you are jeopardizing our vision of the future.”  After all, how will people get to heaven if they doubt the church that is supposed to get them there?

Galileo is brought up on charges, convicted, and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  His crime: innovation.  The men who “reviewed” his work and made “recommendations” to the Pope were looking to see if he was “breaking the rules.”  If I had been part of the Pope’s inner circle, would I have been ready to make an exception in my sacred rules for the innovative ideas of this great man?  Would you? 

Counter-Example: The Publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”

Jump with me one more time, to 1838.  Charles Darwin, upon visiting the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, discovers unique species that don’t exist anywhere else.  This voyage and his now-famous observations form the seeds of his theory of Natural Selection.  Darwin was a fairly devout man, having studied to be a pastor himself.  His wife, Emma, is even more Devout, and is very worried about his theories.  She states in one of her letters that she fears the possibility of having eternal life in heaven if Charles is not there to share it with her.  What kind of future can you aspire to when the love of your life questions the people who promote it. 

It took 20 years for Darwin to publish his book, partly because he needed to come to terms with the innovation he had stumbled upon, and partly, some historians suggest, because he needed to come to terms with his concern for Emma and her beliefs.  Yet, publish he did.  He performed the same act that Galileo did: to innovate.  In many ways, it was the same act that the Illiterate Jesus performed nearly two-thousand years earlier: to challenge the status quo and create a vision of the future that made sense, yet did not follow (or even compelled one to break) the rules of behavior that prevailed at that time. 

But did the British police come to arrest Darwin?  No.  To the immense credit of his time, and the overall understanding of the Age of Enlightenment, Darwin lived out his life as a free, and freely thinking, man.  Why?  Because there was a process, and a self-governing body of thought leaders, who cared about encouraging innovative thoughts and ideas.  In Darwin’s case, this was The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.  His innovations were so widely celebrated that, by the time of his death, he was honored with a State funeral, one of only five non-royals to be so honored in entire eighteenth century.  He is entombed in Westminster Abbey near the remains of Sir Isaac Newton. 

There is an interesting distinction to make about Mr. Darwin here:  He saw that the evidence in nature didn’t fit some of the underlying assumptions of the Church of England (a
nd most other branches of Christianity), but he did not directly challenge the religion itself.  He did not describe alternate rules for people to follow, or create a new religion.  Darwin observed, drew conclusions based on evidence, and published what he believed were valid theories. 

He has since been proven to be right in more ways than he could have ever predicted.  The entire field of modern Biology rests on the ample observation of evolution.  His ideas “went viral” long before those words were coined.  The concept of “survival of the fittest” has been used (or misused) in nearly every other field of human endeavor. 

What lesson can EA learn?

This small sample of events cannot create a useful of theory of human behavior.  One would need thousands of examples, not just three, to create a theory of leadership, incentive and innovation that applies.  However, there are lessons that can be drawn empirically. 

A) If you create “rules,” expect that three kinds of people will break them: Fools, Scofflaws, and Innovators.  For the first, apply education.  For the second, apply incentives.  For the third… be willing to change the rules. 

B) Innovation may challenge your idea of both the goal, and the method to get there.  In the execution of the EA program, be careful not to execute the innovator.  To avoid this possibility, create a process for encouraging innovation, not just providing an exception for it.  Have a body of people who are motivated to innovate and take their council seriously.  Exceptions are unnecessary if innovation is recognized.

C) No matter how hard you work to create a vision for the future, and to create “beautiful rules” to lead people there, perfection will elude you.  Do not strive for perfect vision or perfect rules.  Strive instead to create a system where the rules, and the vision, change with the times.  Your business will change.  You will change.  Technology will change.  Stakeholders will change.  Competition will change.  Opportunities will change.  A static vision will do more harm than good.

So where does your EA program sit?  Do you describe the future and then set up rules to help people to get there?  Do you have a program in place for recognizing innovation, rewarding it, and encouraging it, especially when that innovation may challenge your future state architecture? 

Which example will you embody?

How (not) to convince an architect

By |2010-12-09T11:12:10+00:00December 9th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

I’ve been watching, with a mixture of dismay and mirth, a LinkedIn discussion between Adrian Grigoriu and a group of Enterprise Architects as he attempts to promote his new business architecture approach.  Now, to be fair, Adrian has already written and published his book, so it is a little late to take constructive criticism from his peers.  Poorly timed discussions are a dangerous thing.

One thing that is clear: the architects on LinkedIn are not convinced that his diagram is actually an architectural model.  To be fair, Adrian has dug a hole for himself by (a) insisting that his diagram is actually an architectural model, and (b) stating that it compliant with emerging standards.  The folks on the forum have rather convincingly demonstrated that both these statements are untrue.  The odd thing is: those statements don’t need to be true.  The diagram doesn’t have to be an architectural model to be a useful diagram.

Not everything that an architect produces must be an architectural model.  I think it is good when we use models because we can defend the view with data, but the imperative of an EA is to be useful first and foremost.  It is entirely possible that, in some situations, Adrian’s diagram would be “useful” without being a model.  Unfortunately, he never describes those cases, so we are left to marvel at his diagram and say “good job” without being sure that we can use it.  Personally, I don’t find it useful.  Alas.

So, what does it take to get other architects to see value in the work you do?  What mistakes did Adrian make when he started the conversation?

  • First and foremost, we all have a certain amount of self confidence in the “goodness of our stuff.”  That can lead to a little bit of self delusion, and every author is susceptible to it.  The key, in a semi-scientific community like EA, is to counterbalance that natural tendency with opinions from peers in a private and trusted conversation, before you go live to the marketplace with your final product.  Scientists discovered a long time ago: peer review matters.  Get your peers to review your work before you publish it, so that you can make statements that are credible, accurate, and compelling without getting involved in pedantic discussions.
  • Secondly, Use some of that business savvy that makes a business architect successful and consider your “idea” to be a product.  How would you market that product?  What name would you call it that would be appealing to the people who need to “buy” it?  What would they find credible, surprising, useful, compelling, and easy to share?  Perhaps if Adrian had taken a “marketing” approach to his ideas, he would not have named his framework “GODS,” presented it only from the business process perspective, or ignored the fact that he has represented two (out of dozens) of high level business models as though it were an archetype for all commercial businesses.
  • Third, when you want others to believe you, tell a compelling story about how the product came to be, what inputs you used, what experts you relied on, how it has already proven useful in three or more places, how others can use it, and why it is important for your readers to adopt it NOW.  If you cannot weave together all of the elements of a good story, your customers won’t care and you will spend all your time talking to critics who really have no motivation to support you, but plenty of reasons to oppose you.  Not a good place to be.
  • Lastly, know when you are selling and when you are collaborating.  His question to LinkedIn was phrased to invite collaboration, but that is not what he wanted to occur.  As a result, his purpose (advertising the book) is defeated, but more importantly, he is unable to collaborate with people who would love to help him, but cannot because he did not ask for help at the time when it would have been useful: before the book was out the door.

I wish Adrian good luck with his efforts, but more importantly, I hope to learn from his mistakes.

Will Wikileaks be responsible for the next attack on the United States?

By |2010-12-06T16:03:51+00:00December 6th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

I rarely do a personal rant on my blog… preferring to stick mostly to Architecture, but this time, I am incensed by the behavior of WikiLeaks, and I’ll share my opinion.  If you are not interested, feel free to skip this entry.

Today, WikiLeaks decided to publish a list of potential targets for terrorism that the US Government considers to be critical to our safety and security.  Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m happy with the fact that an irresponsible person gave this information to them.  Assuming the case is proven in court, the soldier who uploaded the data is very much guilty of treason. 

On the other hand, we have a long history, in the United States, of relying on trustworthy behavior on the part of the press.

In the US, we take press freedom seriously.  Much more so than many other democratic countries.  For example, in Germany, printing inflammatory literature about Jews can get you arrested.  In Britain, if you publish a remark about a government leader, you could be sued for defamation.  In the US, we don’t often use the legal system to regulate the press.  In exchange for that freedom, the press has a responsibility to publish things that help create an informed and educated public without causing actual harm.

The Wikileaks site wants to be protected like a newspaper.  But they have violated their responsibility to prevent harm. This act, publishing a list of vulnerable sites, is far from responsible.  It is reasonable to assume that our ability to analyze our own weaknesses is BETTER than the ability of a terrorist organization from another country.  The list, exposed today, is likely to be materially different, and probably more extensive, than anything a terrorist would create.  In fact, this list includes sites outside the US that we consider to be highly valuable.  Ergo, citizens of countries around the world are endangered by the publication of this list.  Even our allies had not received copies.

The press does have a responsibility to present information that is useful or provides value.  It is OK to say that a list exists, or even to report on a selected subset of sites where the government is having problems with providing security.  It is OK to talk about the categories of sites (ports, factories, trains, airports, yada, yada, yada), so that folks can understand what kinds of targets need to be secured. 

That said, it is wildly irresponsible, and in my opinion, criminal, to provide material and highly valuable information to our enemies and expect that you won’t be part of a chain of events that ends with the loss of life.  Julian Assange (founder of Wikileaks) has gone too far. 

While I cannot call for the hacking of his site, nor do I agree with the attacks that have taken place against his site, I have a hard time finding fault with the perpetrators of those crimes.  By providing material support to terrorist organizations, Mr. Assange is a terrorist.  I call upon our NATO allies to uphold the NATO treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all), and arrest Mr. Assange, shut down his site, and hand over all copies of as-yet-undisclosed information to their rightful owners.  Assange has proven that he cannot be trusted to behave in a responsible manner.

Creating a compelling visual story

By |2010-12-03T17:14:00+00:00December 3rd, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|

One thing that I’ve become fascinated with over the past few years is the difference between people who have good ideas, and people who use good ideas to bring about change.

I’m not alone to notice that the folks who originate a concept are usually NOT the ones who get the credit for it… it is the person most associated with sharing that idea with the widest number of people in the most consumable manner.  We see this in all fields: technology, industry, science, math, politics, etc.  No matter what field you are in, the ability to create an original idea is not the most important thing: the ability to make that idea understandable, compelling, and consumable is.  In fact, the idea does not have to be new to be made new through a compelling and interesting presentation.

For Enterprise Architects, this is a huge concern.  Most EA folks rise through the ranks of technology or business, in fields that traditionally value accurate and specialized outputs.  For a technologist, this could be source code, a BPMN business process model, an excellent project plan, or a UML architectural diagram with very specific semantics.  For a business person, this could be a financial analysis, a process dashboard, or a quality control performance review.  Specific technical outputs like this are rewarded and people rise through the ranks, many landing in business management, planning, or enterprise architecture positions. 

But now, a new skill is required: the ability to influence your peers.  Business and Enterprise Architects frequently find that their transition into this role is a rocky one, because they go from a world of detailed, well-defined, well ordered artifacts that people use to perform their jobs, to a near-cacophony of variable deliverables that are useful because they motivate leaders and SMEs to change things.  Technical architecture roles are usually design roles.  EA and BA are change-agents.  Talented architects can stop their forward progress at this point, and many will.  Using your considerable technical skills to convince people is not appealing to everyone, and many folks prefer to stay in the world of specific, accurate, and measurable artifacts that well-motivated people are simply expected to use. 

We need to go from presenting data to telling stories.

For this post, and many to follow, I will attempt to highlight an example of a visual story that I found interesting, compelling, or thought provoking.  In each one, I will ask you, the reader, to consider the core elements of the story: What is the central theme?  What action are we hoping to compel?  What element of the story did a good job of catching your attention.  What questions does it raise?

First post is a video that has made it’s rounds on Twitter of late.  This is a visualization of information collected by noted statistician Hans Rosling, presented in a unique and fascinating manner.  First the video:


Now, for the questions to consider:

  • What was Roslings’ purpose in sharing this information with us today?  To inform, to inspire, to motivate, to delay, or to convince? 
  • What makes the presentation credible?  Do we believe him?  Do we trust him?  Why or why not?
  • What makes the presentation enjoyable?  Do we want to hear more about this topic?  Do we want to hear more from this presenter?
  • What makes this presentation memorable?  Is it unexpected?  Concrete?  Simple? 
  • Did the presenter use the information to tell a story?  Are there characters, plot, conflict, and resolution?  Do we identify with it?
  • Could this kind of presentation be used to inspire change?  What would need to be added?


Visual Story Review

Each time I present a visual story, I will also provide my opinion of it using questions like the ones above

I found the presentation very engaging.  The speaker has presented this material before, making references and manipulating the presentation in ways that illustrate a deep understanding of the information underneath it.  He slows down, for example, to illustrate the effects of specific world events.  He draws grand conclusions and illustrates trends.  That builds credibility.  I come away feeling that he is not only a good presenter, but that he is a thought leader that I could trust when I want to use that data.

The presenter makes moderately good use of the technology.  The graphs are interesting and accurate, but the cinematography is not particularly good.  Why film in a loft?  The choice of location (apparently an empty warehouse) detracted from the presentation and made it a little tougher to read.  Plus, with all the technology at his disposal, why use such flat chart graphics?  Three-dimensional objects, especially ones with images of specific country flags, would be been much more compelling than flat mono-color circles.

What he doesn’t do is motivate specific action.  I don’t identify with the data, nor do I use it to affect the choices I make in my daily life.  I don’t know if Roslings is hoping that I will change my behavior, spend more (or less) money, buy (or avoid) certain products, support specific causes, or vote for candidates that share specific ideas.  (It appears that his decision to take an impartial viewpoint was intentional on his part, and I laud him for it).  On the other hand, the presentation DOES inspire me.  His presentation gives me ideas that I can use when I want to tell a story: thoughts about how to visualize information, make it compelling, or boil down a mountain of data to create knowledge.  I can mimic his techniques in my own work, and for that reason, I find the presentation both informative and valuable.

If you have suggestions for specific visual stories that you’d like to share, please send me a link from the blog.  I’ll look into it and if I agree that the presentation is interesting for a discussion on “how to change things,” then I will post it.