Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Value of Models

I've had a theory for years which I always intended to research and proove during the course of post-graduate work. My belief is by understanding the core elements of computing (logic gates, transistors, magnetic storage, assembler, ethernet, etc.) makes all of their applications (databases, business intelligence, web architecture, cloud computing, etc.) easy to understand. Each computing technology core is composed of a set of models and I've found many models repeat themselves. We handle multiple simultaneous requests on processors, networks, and storage using the same time-slicing model which is the same way Client Service Representatives handle multiple chat requests. My theory is a person who learns and understands the models has the fastest route to gaining advanced knowledge in any one area and will have the broadest view.

Over the past 30yrs I've become a model driven person. I have taken the models I learned in college and continuously added new models or made existing models more robust to provide my core understanding. I've applied the same rules to business using my consumer side interactions (retail purchases, my bank account, etc.) as the foundation for models in each industry. What this model driven approach gives me is a head start whenever I encounter something new. I have found I can hit the ground in a new business vertical and be considered a technology and process expert within 90 days. My first goal is to understand, second to align one or more of my existing models, third to perform a gap analysis, and four to fill in the gaps. The result tends to be a very robust understanding.

I am often asked by my leadership where we can find more of me. It's not me, it's my way of learning and applying knowledge they want to replicate. But it all starts with an open mind. What I find in my competition, regardless of level or job type, is a very myopic view. I worked with a software engineer early in my career at Eaton/Cutler-Hammer who told me he didn't care about the hardware; he only wanted to know where the on/off switch was located. He felt understanding the hardware would take too much time and too much capacity. If only he realized the models between hardware and software are largely similar.

I work day-in, day-out with ERP and supply chain guru's, CRM experts, and people focused on Enterprise Transformation. What I find interesting is how many are one or two trick ponies. They are considered experts yet they cannot explain how things really work within their own domain, and certainly not to someone new to the domain. Perhaps they know the processes, which is paramount, but they don't understand the model. Every problem is different and I agree one can repeatedly apply the same approach to solving the problem, but too often consultants are trying to apply the same solution. When I dive in it becomes readily apparent the reason for pushing the same solution is that nobody really understands it but it's been proven to work. It's a best practice. The truth leaked out in mid-2002 while I was at PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting when we were told to use the term "leading practice" in place of "best practice". Now that's some logic I can agree with because there is never one best practice.

As an Enterprise Architect I'm a modeller in a modeller's world. I find it interesting how businesses are now starting to unlock the power of modelling. In a recent internal discussion one of the 2010 technology trends discussed was the evolution of modelling in business to a primary focus. Perhaps not in 2010, but the fact that it was even a topic of discussion surprised me. I guess I'm lucky in that the way I naturally think is evolving as a better mousetrap. Hopefully it has long legs or my thinking continues to evolve.

Perhaps I should develop a course on modelling...

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