Narrative, Ontologies, Ontologies-of-the-Personal, Story Telling, Personal Narratives, Models & Language, Simulation, Enterprise Architecture

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Why Big Data Can Be Like A Jelly Fish: No Bones & You Might Get Stung

Jellyfish metaphor for big data without modelingWhat is it helpful to think of big data as "like a jelly fish"?

Both big data and jelly fish can be very beautiful. But if not treated with respect, you might get stung. And how you get stung, at least where data is concerned, relates to the other similarity between jellyfish and big data, which is a lack of bones, or structure.

To be in any way useful, big data needs to be used alongside an interpretive structure or model – the “bones” if you will, without which big data is as amorphous and useless as a jellyfish. The necessity of having this model is a critical challenge for any organization seeking to derive benefit from big data.

Let's prove the point about the necessity of interpretive structure with the simplest possible model.

Consider the results of a query on a joined accounts receivable table. You may have columns representing company names, owed amounts and due dates. And the meaning of the table is completely clear, but only because you know the column headers and table name, which comprise a simple "model" providing the meta-data meaning of the table. Without this "interpretive model" the table could just as easily imply accounts payables as account receivables! . . . read more

A Story Of Installed Base Upgrades, Lost Business, MDM, Analytics And Politics

Lost business. The phrase strikes a chill into any CEO or line-of-business ("LOB") executive.

Lost business is also a special data management challenge.

So, let's see how a story about the "business of lost business" plays out between LOB execs and IT.  There is a data management angle on this story, and e
ventually we might even find some leverage for master data management (MDM) and analytics, but first we need to understand the all-important business drivers behind the scenes.

In our example, based on real events, imagine a technology services business employing close to a 1,000 people, and with accelerating product life-cycles. In only a half decade, the field refresh period for installed systems has fallen from seven years to five. This change means system sales reps must be on their toes for the upgrade sale, and ensuring the upgrade is even harder when smaller systems are sold through channels where warranty registration isn't complete.

What kinds of lost business events are there? First you have to understand that "lost business" as defined by Field Service means a "lost service contract" -- not a "lost system sale", although of course the two are closely linked. And in the distinction between services sales and systems sales we see the collision between three huge organizations: engineering, systems sales and services sales, each with different metrics and P&Ls! And to make matters more interesting, the engineering bill-of-materials ("BOM") has never been shared with customer services!
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Two Challenges: The Promise Of Social BPM Depends On Better Governance & Better Technology

On his ebizQ blog, Peter Schooff asked an important question (June 2012): "Has social BPM fallen short of expectations so far?"  If you are exploring the promise of social BPM, the answers to Peter's questions are worth reading.  Your host believes there are two key challenges before we will realize the promise of social BPM: (1) a technology challenge and (2) a governance challenge.  Here are your host's comments, mirrored from ebizQ:

Some of the challenge around social BPM is associated with expectations and hype contrasted with the immaturity of social BPM software technology. There is a huge amount of research around "work", "narrative", "story" and "annotation", but that research has not truly been engineered yet into social BPM products.  The result is that most current social products are not built on a solid model of how narrative works in the human mind and as communication transactions between actors. And typically, a model of "work", i.e. what should be the subject of conversation, is also missing. But, over time we should see these challenges addressed, and surely the result will be very exciting.

However, I believe there's another challenge beyond technology, which may be more difficult to solve. This is the challenge of "social technology governance".

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Will 2012 Be "The Year Of Living BPM"? MDM, Governance & Validation Challenges

Your host started his IT career at IDC, in the previous millennium.  Working for IDC gives one a perspective on analyst relations with vendors and end-users.  Analysts are little bit like movie reviewers -- they like technology as much as movie reviewers like movies.  And the economics of the technology analysis business is such that it's difficult for analysts not to be cheerleaders for technology, in the same way that movie reviewers find it difficult not to be cheerleaders for movies, or, considering the subject of this website, cheerleading for BPM software. . . . read more

Zachman @ IRMAC – Charisma Versus Chaos

 Is it possible to more completely grasp the idea of “enterprise”? 

And thereby submit that enterprise to the will of executive leadership?

John Zachman, well-known evangelist for enterprise architecture and originator of the Zachman “Framework for Enterprise Architecture”, says “yes”.

Canada’s DAMA affiliate IRMAC scored a coup last week by hosting Mr. Zachman on his road show for an update of the famous Zachman Framework.   Mr. Zachman gave a comprehensive tour of the Framework, the reasoning behind it and the advantages that adopting organizations might enjoy.

Mr. Zachman’s key message was that the application of normalization and ontological modeling to low-order, high-entropy organizations – i.e. organizations which are failing due to high cost structures and sclerotic inflexibility -- would reverse that state.  The sciences of organizational normalization and ontological modeling, defined by the Zachman Framework, unlock enormous benefits for organizational stakeholders

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Magical Thinking A Stumbling Block For Business Process Champions

The promise of BPM technology is only realized within the context of traditional management skills and discipline.  Ironically, it is an erroneous common pattern of “magical thinking” that impedes success in both traditional- and new "BPM technology"-enabled management environments.

Intervention Warning Against Overselling BPM Technology

On a discussion hosted by the BP Group on LinkedIn, member Mr. Ajit Kapoor has made an excellent intervention in this discussion.  Our root discussion concerns an “experimental BPM technology sales pitch” which posited that “for the first time in history, we have a technology that is explicitly about taking your vision about how your business operates, and building tools that directly make it possible to run your business, according to that vision."

Specifically Mr. Kapoor has articulated a powerful position that new technologies such as BPM software should not be pitched as "nirvana".  And his riposte comes with powerful credibility based on his achievements and career.

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Celebrate BPM As Business Technology

On the LinkedIn BP Group, in response to your host's item Selling BPM Reveals Essence Of BPM, one of the participants contributed an excellent response questioning the emphasis on the idea of technology when selling BPM.  This dialogue is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of seeing BPM as a business technology. . . . read more

When Worlds Collide -- Or Don't -- BPM & Business Simulation

BPM prospects often ask a question about "simulation".  Our standard answer is "simulation is best done by a best-of-breed business simulation product, outside of BPM".  This answer is usually delivered after some qualification to discover what the prospect means by "simulation".  Some of the time the prospect is concerned about technical simulations and the regular process of software QA.  But the majority of the time the prospect wants to be able to do business what-if simulations to answer questions such as "how many warehouse staff should we have" or "should we add a new warehouse in the Midwest".

Why is the BPM business simulation question so frequently asked?  The reason is that the question is directly related the two main business cases for BPM.  BPM is justified either on efficiency terms or on business model terms.  The BPM efficiency business case is the same IT efficiency business case that has driven most IT investments for two generations.  Efficiency in the best of situations is about dramatically reducing costs for a given business process; in the worst of situations, it's about "paving the cow path"!

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Why Work-Shy? BPM Is All About Work. That's How To Define It And How To Sell It.

You'd expect the BPM-savvy practitioners and evangelists such as found on LinkedIn's "BP Group" to be able to easily come up with a good definition of BPM   .  A specific and actionable definition.  You'd be wrong.

In a BP Group forum discussion entitled "Can Anyone Make One Sentence Describing BPM", most of the answers were generic and non-actionable and often sounded like mission statements -- the kind of feel-good mission statements that are ridiculed by cynical business writers -- or worse the statements were self-referential ("BPM is about improving your processes").  In fairness. participants shared many worthwhile insights.  It's just that the there was a general and disappointing failure to answer the question in a useful way.

Let's look at what would be a good top-level definition of business process management -- and then why a good definition is important.

On the forum, Kenneth Beard came the closest to a good description of BPM with his "scientific management of work activity to enable informed decision-making", although I would make the case that final phrase in this definition is outside the scope of a definition of BPM.

Your host proposed the that BPM can be simply defined as "the modelling and management of repetitive work", which is certainly not original, but this concise definition emphasizes a fundamental concept, specifically the centrality of the question of work to the definition of BPM.

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Software, Ontologies & "The Semantic Ceiling"

Is it possible that even with today's excitement and real achievement in software and technology, especially around mobile, M2M ("machine-to-machine"), the IOT ("Internet of Things"), analytics, so-called "big data" and machine learning, just to name a few hot topics du jour, that there is a major roadblock to further easy progress in technology?

After decades of achievement in the development of software technologies and software engineering, the software industry is rightly acknowledged as having contributed enormously to every aspect of business, social and personal life.  It is a general belief, fostered by both science and culture that a "long revolution" based on IT will continue on, bringing ever more amazing, delightful and useful innovations.

This expectation of progress can probably be depicted as a linear function with a nice upward slope.  While "Whiggish" expectations of continual progress are nice, the reality of software engineering is less rosy.  The realization of future progress based on software technology may not be so easily achieved and the immediate future of software development may be disappointing.

Why is there a potential for disappointment?

The current state of software engineering and data management is characterized by what could be called a "semantic ceiling".  On the software engineering side, the newest software products and software development are, while often quite wonderful, still rather limited in what they accomplish:  mashups, social applications, situational applications, modeling tools, more SOA, point business applications etcThe scope of these new applications is typically either siloed or trivial in some sense

Especially on the data management side, the growth of data resources has exacerbated the data chaos that confronts both business and individual trying to make use of technology.  For this reason, it is not surprising that master data management (MDM) is a hot area in the software business.

The idea of a semantic ceiling is the idea that further progress in software engineering will only be possible with the development and deployment of a new layer of semantic technology.

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Good Software For Human Beings -- The Secret Is Narrative

What is the secret to great software for human beings?  Not just any secret, but the secret?

The qualifier "for human beings" is an important caveat to this dramatic question -- because there is lots of great software which performs work not strictly for human beings.  For example, powerful mainframe software manages the insurance contracts for millions of insured people.  While the ultimate beneficiaries of such marvellous technology are human beings, the sorting and update and retrieval of these records could better be described as "for the organization".  Software "for human beings" implies software that is directly and specifically intended to augment the brain power of an individual human.  Examples of software "for human beings" include email clients, contact managers (CRM), personal information managers (PIMS), word processing etc., graphics editors.

The secret to great software for human beings is support for narrative. 

Narrative, which is a more formal way of saying "story telling", is about the meaningful progression of events organized starting from a single point of view.  Stories can utlimately weave together many individual stories, but the building block of narrative has to be the story from one person's point of view. . . . read more

The Future Is Personalized -- But Will You Be Subject Or Predicate? (Part I)

Amit Kapur, former COO of MySpace, has a fascinating short item today entitled "The Future Will Be Personalized"  (http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/16/the-future-will-be-personalized/ Nov 16th, 2010).  He has a terrific graph about signal-to-noise ratios and information production and overload. And he identifies various new technologies coming out of academia as a remedy for the near-impending collapse of our human ability to sift through the deluge of data.  Identifed solutions include, in particular, natural language processing and semantic technologies. . . . read more

FOIS '10 -- Dr. Rector's Talk, Note Taking, Blogging & An Ontology Use Case

For the final Invited Talk, this afternoon Dr. Alan Rector, of the University of Manchester, gave a very nice overview of ontology, contained within a talk covering ontologies and clinical systems.  The talk was widely appreciated by the audience, and from your host's perspective, Dr. Rector's overview of the state of the art was terrific. As a bonus Dr. Rector included at least a dozen or so pithy insights about what you might call "the ontology business".  . . . read more

The Big Red Box On Wheels -- "Ontologies-Of-The-Personal" Since FOIS '01

Almost 10 years ago, your host attended FOIS '01, in Ogunquit, Maine.  Having been introduced to the world of software ontologies in conversation with Prof. Graeme Hirst of the University of Toronto, your host developed a serious interest in the world of ontologies, on both a personal and a business level. 

His specific interest in ontologies is modelling of the work activities of the "autonomous human actor".  A short essay on this interest can be found here:  www.personalontologies.com. Your host's overall interest in ontological engineering is mainly from business and journalistic perspectives, a natural inclination given his IT career which started in IT market research, then progressing to enterprise software sales.

Over the course of 10 years it is possible to observe that as a subject of serious ontological engineering research, the autonomous human actor has gone from "invisible" in the years 2000 and 2001 to "slightly more visible" now, in 2010.  It's an interesting phenomenon how "the human" is, in most software schemes, what can only be described as "the least privileged subject".  It is true that If one removes "autonomous" from the formula "autonomous human actor", the "human actor" at least is privileged, but in your host's view, generally only as a captive agent of the organization. . . . read more

FOIS '10 -- Ontological Diversity, Not A Tower Of Babel

A celebration of diversity is not what one would expect from what a colleague characterized as the "dry world of ontology".  Yet this was the topic of several presenters at today's morning sessions at FOIS 2010.  Especially, at this morning's "Invited Talk", by John Bateman, Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Bremen, the topic of ontological diversity was presented as both requirement and artifact for successful ontological engineering. . . . read more

FOIS '10 -- Workshop On Ontology Education -- Demand & Supply

Yesterday's FOIS 2010 Workshop participants enjoyed scheduled morning presentations by Antony Galton, Fabian Neuhaus, Barry Smith and Michael Grüninger. This blog item is a report of those proceedings, along with a few editorial comments. A companion blog item will offer some analysis of the intersection of ontological engineering and practical opportunity, from the perspective of sociology and business.

Ontological engineering may be reaching a tipping point in capability and acceptance, and if that tipping point is reached, the construction of dramatically more powerful and effective software would be expected in the foreseeable future (although how steep the post-inflection-point curve is, remains to be seen.) But this ideal vision will only be reached if the market for ontology sciences, services and products takes off. . . . read more

FOIS '10 -- First Day Of 6th Int'l Conference On Formal Ontologies In Information Systems

Almost 10 years ago, the idea of ontologies as applied to information systems was still in its infancy.  Your host attended FOIS 2001, only the second-ever FOIS conference, and was nevertheless intrigued by the possibilities -- not only from a research and engineering perspective, but also from that of business and evangelization.  

Now in 2010, your host's role as sales manager for an open source BPM platform provider gives him opportunities to see how the application of productized ontological science can make an impact in addressing some of the vexing challenges of today's organizations.  . . . read more

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