Archive for May 2007

Moving Beyond Reactive IT Strategy With User Experience

May 9th, 2007 — 5:16pm

For those in the enter­prise IA / UX space, The next fron­tier in IT strat­egy: A McK­in­sey Sur­vey cen­tered on the idea that “…IT strat­egy is matur­ing from a reac­tive to a proac­tive stance“is worth a look.
This nicely par­al­lels a point made about the reac­tive mind­set com­mon to IT in many large orga­ni­za­tions, in dis­cus­sion on the IAI mail­ing list last month. Lou Rosenfeld’s post Infor­ma­tion archi­tects on com­mu­ni­cat­ing to IT man­agers, sum­ma­rizes the orig­i­nal dis­cus­sion in the IAI thread, and is worth read­ing as a com­pan­ion piece.
Lou’s sum­mary of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and user expe­ri­ence voices in the enter­prise arena is note­wor­thy for includ­ing many exam­ples of strong cor­re­spon­dence between McKinsey’s under­stand­ing of how IT strat­egy will mature (a tra­di­tional man­age­ment con­sult­ing view), and the col­lected IA / UX view­points on address­ing IT lead­er­ship — typ­i­cal buy­ers for enter­prise any­thing — and inno­va­tion.
Dialogs that show con­ver­gence of under­stand­ing like this serve as pos­i­tive signs for the future. At present, a large set of deeply rooted cul­tural assump­tions (at their best inac­cu­rate, usu­ally reduc­tive, some­times even dam­ag­ing) about the roles of IT, busi­ness, and design com­bine with the his­tor­i­cal lega­cies of cor­po­rate struc­tures to need­lessly limit what’s pos­si­ble for User Expe­ri­ence and IA in the enter­prise land­scape. In prac­ti­cal terms, I’m think­ing of those lim­i­ta­tions as bar­ri­ers to the strat­egy table; con­strain­ing who can talk to who, and about which impor­tant top­ics, such as how to spend money, and where the busi­ness should go.
Con­sid­er­ing the gulf that sep­a­rated UX and IT view­points ten — or even five — years ago, this kind of emerg­ing com­mon under­stand­ing is a good sign that the cul­tural obsta­cles to a holis­tic view of the mod­ern enter­prise are wan­ing. We know that a holis­tic view will rely on deep under­stand­ing of the user expe­ri­ence aspects of busi­ness at all lev­els to sup­port inno­va­tion in prod­ucts and ser­vices. I’m hop­ing the rest of the play­ers come to under­stand this soon.
Another good sign is that CIO’s have won a seat at the strat­egy table, after con­sis­tent effort:
Fur­ther evi­dence of IT’s col­lab­o­ra­tive role in shap­ing busi­ness strat­egy is the fact that so many CIOs now have a seat at the table with senior man­age­ment. They report to the CEO in 44 per­cent of all cases; an addi­tional 42 per­cent report to either the chief oper­at­ing offi­cer or the chief finan­cial offi­cer.
Look­ing ahead, infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and user expe­ri­ence view­points and prac­ti­tion­ers should work toward a sim­i­lar growth path. We fill a crit­i­cal and miss­ing strate­gic role that other tra­di­tional view­points are not as well posi­tioned to sup­ply.
Quot­ing McK­in­sey again:
IT strat­egy in most com­pa­nies has not yet reached its full poten­tial, which in our expe­ri­ence involves exploit­ing inno­va­tion to drive con­stant improve­ment in the oper­a­tions of a busi­ness and to give it a real advan­tage over com­peti­tors with new prod­ucts and capa­bil­i­ties. Fewer than two-thirds of the sur­vey respon­dents say that tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion shapes their strat­egy. Only 43 per­cent say they are either very or extremely effec­tive at iden­ti­fy­ing areas where IT can add the most value.
User Expe­ri­ence can and should have a lead­ing voice in set­ting the agenda for inno­va­tion, and shap­ing under­stand­ings of where IT and other groups can add the most value in the enter­prise. To this end, I’ll quote Peter Mer­holz (with apolo­gies for not ask­ing in advance)
”…we’ve reached a point where we’ve max­i­mized effi­ciency until we can’t max­i­mize no more, and that in order to real­ize new top-line value, we need to inno­vate… And right now, inno­va­tions are com­ing from engag­ing with the expe­ri­ences peo­ple want to have and sat­is­fy­ing *that*.“
McK­in­sey isn’t mak­ing the con­nec­tion between strate­gic user expe­ri­ence per­spec­tives and inno­va­tion — at least not yet. That’s most likely a con­se­quence of the fact that man­age­ment con­sult­ing firms base their own ways of think­ing, orga­ni­za­tional mod­els, and prod­uct offer­ings (ser­vices, intel­lec­tual prop­erty, etc.) on address­ing buy­ers who are them­selves deeply entrenched in trad­tional cor­po­rate struc­tures and world­views. And in those worlds, every­thing is far from mis­cel­la­neous, as a glance at the cat­e­gory options avail­able demon­strates; your menu here includes Cor­po­rate Finance, Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, Mar­ket­ing, Oper­a­tions, Strat­egy…
BTW: if you weren’t con­vinced already, this should demon­strate the value of the $40 IAI annual mem­ber­ship fee, or of sim­ply read­ing Bloug, which is free, over pay­ing for sub­scrip­tions to man­age­ment jour­nals :)

Comment » | Enterprise

Photoshop And Knowledge War in Iraq

May 7th, 2007 — 9:37pm

Direct con­nec­tions between the war in Iraq and the realm of user expe­ri­ence are rare, so I was sur­prised when one popped up today in an arti­cle by the New York Times, titled 2 Car Bomb­ings in Iraq Kill 25.
The arti­cle quotes an Iraqi, react­ing to the destruc­tion of a house con­tain­ing a cache of muni­tions by Amer­i­can sol­diers.
“The Amer­i­cans are lying,” said Ali Jab­bar, 28, one of sev­eral men dig­ging through the rub­ble, where bicy­cle han­dle­bars could be seen pok­ing out. “If there were weapons there, they should have taken pic­tures to prove it.” But in a sign of the chal­lenge Amer­i­cans face here, Mr. Jab­bar said that even if he saw such pic­tures, he would not be con­vinced that the destruc­tion was jus­ti­fied. “The Amer­i­cans can make it up with Pho­to­shop,” he said.
It’s simul­ta­ne­ously ter­ri­ble and fas­ci­nat­ing that a tool I use reg­u­larly would appear in this sort of con­text. And yet it’s not unrea­son­able, given the ways that many futur­ists envi­sion and describe war­fare cen­tered on infor­ma­tion.
Here’s Alvin Tof­fler, from How will future wars be fought?

Above all, the full impli­ca­tions of what we termed Third Wave “knowl­edge war­fare” have not yet been digested — even in the United States. The wars of the future will increas­ingly be pre­vented, won or lost based on infor­ma­tion supe­ri­or­ity and dom­i­nance. And that isn’t just a mat­ter of tak­ing out the other guy’s radar. It means wag­ing the kind of full-scale cyber-war we described in War and Anti-War. Cyber-war involves every­thing from strate­gic decep­tion and per­cep­tion man­age­ment down to tac­ti­cal dis­rup­tion of an adversary’s infor­ma­tion sys­tems. It also means under­stand­ing the role played by the global media in any con­flict today. It means enhanc­ing all your knowl­edge assets from intel­li­gence, to research and devel­op­ment, train­ing, and communication.

Comment » | User Experience (UX)

Watching Ideas Bloom: Text Clouds of the Republican Debate At

May 4th, 2007 — 8:07pm

A meme is emerg­ing for the use text clouds as visu­al­iza­tion for — and a source of insight into — polit­i­cal speeches and speak­ers.
Text clouds of the Repub­li­can Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ debate appear front and cen­ter on the DNC blog, in Tag Clouds Can Tell Us a Lot.… (sourced from media analy­sis firm Upstream Analy­sis via
As you can see in the quote from the writeup below, we’re quickly devel­op­ing sophis­ti­cated read­ings of the (com­par­a­tively) sim­ple visu­al­iza­tion meth­ods used to gen­er­ate text clouds.
But some­times a cloud also reflects con­cerns that vot­ers share about a can­di­date. This is because the can­di­date gets asked about the issue–a lot–and then has to talk about it.
Check out the large “Pro-Life” tag in flip-flopping Romney’s cloud, or the large “Think” tag in Giuliani’s cloud–the can­di­date noto­ri­ous for leap­ing first and think­ing later.

Polit­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions aside, this is a nuanced read­ing of the result­ing clouds: it rec­og­nizes the dynamic feed­back link between inten­tions and responses that becomes vis­i­ble in the ren­dered clouds. For a visu­al­iza­tion geek, these clouds show the dif­fer­ing agen­das of can­di­dates and audi­ence as they played out, a nice exam­ple of social mech­a­nisms in action.
Note to the tool builders of the world
How about putting together a visu­al­iza­tion toolset that shows evolv­ing text clouds as the debate pro­gresses? I’m imag­in­ing a time­line plus tran­script plus cloud view of the accu­mu­lat­ing text cloud for each can­di­date, with options for mov­ing for­ward or back in the stream of words.
What could be bet­ter than watch­ing words and ideas bloom over time, the same way we see flow­ers in a gar­den blos­som, open, and close in time lapse pho­tog­ra­phy. I’d like to think we can grow some­thing poetic and beau­ti­ful, as well as use­ful, from the (sadly debased) soil of politi­cized sound bites sur­round­ing us.

Or, with a nod to the bru­tal com­pe­ti­tion built into most nat­ural sys­tems, you may choose to watch the strug­gle of waterlil­lies for sun­light, in this clip from The Amaz­ing Life of Plants.

Comment » | Tag Clouds

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