Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nobody Does It Better

My definition of "architecture" always begins with "bridging" the communication gap between technical and non-technical people. Frankly, I can't understand why more companies aren't beating a path to my company's door. Flashmap Systems' products enable architects to communicate with people -- both inside and outside of the IT organization.

Flashmap's products are not modeling tools. You can't use our offerings to sit down with a blank screen and just start generating pretty pictures. Likewise, Flashmap's products don't include crawlers that automatically discover what IT assets an organization already has deployed. But what Flashmap's products can do, better than anyone else's tools that I've seen, is enable IT organizations to communicate information about their architecture. Nobody does it better.

It's no surprise that my company's products embody some of my own longstanding beliefs. One, in particular, is the high value I place on communicating information visually. That's why in the ITscout Blog, for instance, I strive to be pithy, pertinent, and pictorial. There's almost always at least one picture in every posting.

I began my career as a cognitive psychologist. I wanted to understand how the human brain processes information. I was enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana University with a minor in artificial intelligence. One of the lessons I remember from back then is that over 70 percent of the neurons in the human brain are dedicated to our visual processing. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is probably a gross underestimate. I personally place great stock in a visual graphic's ability to simplify and synthesize -- two essential elements for effectively communicating complex subject matter.

Early in my professional career, I migrated out of cognitive psychology and into computer science. If I had to point to a single factor that nudged me from one discipline to the other, it was Donald Knuth's seminal work The Art of Computer Programming, especially his coverage of data structures -- stacks, queues, lists, arrays, and trees -- along with techniques for manipulating those structures. Knuth's clear writing, dry humor, and historical discussions made those books among the great classics of computer programming literature. Modeling data structures is what led me into the field of database management which got me interested in data architecture and that ultimately brought me to the study of IT architecture in general.

If you want to know what I understand about architecture today, all you have to do is check out the Architecture 'Resources' Repository web site. The graphic I used for simplifying and synthesizing the complex field of IT Architecture is the bookshelf metaphor shown to the right. If you click on the image of the bookshelf itself a new browser window will open up. If you then scroll down the displayed page you will see the category tree I've created for organizing and classifying architectural information.

On the displayed page, just below the bookcase graphic but above the category tree, there's a pair of radio buttons that look like the following:

Select one of the following options to see a treeview display of the model:
Categories only
Categories and Products

Click the Categories and Products radio button on the displayed page and then press the Display Model button. The resulting output will show all of the "leaves" along with all of the category tree "branches." (Note that all the "leaves" as well as all the "branches" are themselves hyperlinks that you can click.)

The Architecture 'Resources' Repository demonstrates how a large compendium of descriptive information about an enormously complex subject can be quickly and easily accessed by a diverse, yet totally untrained audience of casual, occasional visitors.

The ITscout web site, which earlier I also created, provides easy, simple access to an even broader, more complex topic -- the entire marketplace for all IT products.

While Flashmap Systems has sold products that communicate architecture information to a few dozen Fortune 1000 customers, I tend to believe we're still one of the best kept secrets in the entire IT industry. Most CIOs and IT professionals have never heard of us.

The message needs to get out. The Architecture 'Resources' Repository and the ITscout web site both project the look and feel for how our tools operate. However, neither of those sites actually demonstrate how Flashmap's products communicate architectural information across an enterprise. Neither the Architecture 'Resources' Repository, nor ITscout, show how different information can be targeted to different audiences. Neither demonstrates how visual cues such as icons and legends can be used to convey status information such as current state versus future state.

If you have a need to communicate your enterprise's architecture information (and who doesn't?), and the Architecture 'Resources' Repository, and ITscout have piqued your interest, then why aren't you "doing it?" Come, beat a path to our door. Nobody does it better. Like Rick (Humphrey Bogart) said to Captain Renault (Claude Rains) at the end of the movie Casablanca, "[That could be] the beginning of a beautiful friendship."


Anonymous Robert Pearson said...

I believe you are exactly right. "Nobody does it better". Why are you not rich and famous?
Maybe you are. I don't know.
When I first saw your IT Roadmap about 1995-96 I thought, "Do not disturb! Genius at work!".
I have been impressed with everything you have done. My customers were not.
The core detail and visual realization is stupendous, especially to someone like you or I.
I had a tough time selling that concept, process and product to customers. I had an even
tougher time getting the cooperation from your organization I needed. I didn't get it.
People like IBM are now selling SOA solutions to do things your product already does better.
The SOA solution is incredibly more expensive, does not provide the rich visual experience of
your product and is "overkill" just like EAI was.
I love Information Architecture and, in particular, Visual Information Architecture.
As you say, "The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is probably a gross underestimate".
I believe the nexus lies in your statement,
"I personally place great stock in a visual graphic's ability to simplify and synthesize --
two essential elements for effectively communicating complex subject matter".
People want more and different. Your comment, "My definition of "architecture" always begins
with "bridging" the communication gap between technical and non-technical people" is very astute.
I worked all my career trying to bridge that "communication gap". It is not a trivial task.
A good picture, dynamically derived and maintained with some innovative APIs, would be a big help.
How can I help?

2:09 AM  

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