Thinking about my tech ecosystem again

This past week was the WWDC conference, held every year by Apple to tout its newest features that will be making their way into their operating systems. This year, for the first time in a while, it felt like Apple had its ‘mojo’ back.

A couple of the announcements have me thinking about my ecosystem again. A few years ago I started moving all of my things into the Google ecosystem. Google Docs and Gmail were taking the world by storm and jumping on board seemed like the place to be. I was able to access my documents from any web browser, and I didn’t think twice about what it meant to participate in this new world that Google was creating.

I also jumped on board with a Chromebook, and for a reasonable price had a portable computing device that could easily access this new world. I eventually retired my Chromebook, due to age, and went back to a MacBook. Before I had gotten my Chomebook I had made my first attempt to make my iPad a fully fledged computing device. I tried to weave together a bunch of different apps to create a desktop-like experience, but it just wasn’t there yet.

Over time a lot of different apps have come to the iPad, including dedicated apps for Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and Apple’s iWork suite. These have helped to fill a huge gap in the productivity arena, and this past week Apple showed off their newest creation, a dedicated iPadOS. This operating system takes iOS and expands it to create a more robust, laptop like experience on the iPad. It was a bold move by Apple, if for no other reason than they had been resisting it in the past. This recent keynote showed that they’re finally acknowledging that people need a bit more power that allows them to go beyond the Apple paradigm of how to get work done.

With the inclusion of real file access, better text manipulation, and a much needed boost to Safari, I feel like I could actually use an iPad as my main mobile working device. Especially since there are now iPads in the $329 range that I could pop a ruggedized bluetooth keyboard and case on, and feel comfortable biking and camping with.

The next thing that’s got me thinking more and more about getting out of the Google ecosystem is the continued drumbeat of the past couple of years around the technology society that we’re living in. For so many products on the market, the actual “thing” for sale is not the device, but the user of that device. From Google’s “free” services, to Roku streaming services, everyone seems interested in knowing everything about me so that they can convince me to buy whatever they want. Apple drove this point home with its announcement of their new login service, “Sign in with Apple” that allows you to sign in to websites using your Apple ID instead of Google or Facebook. Apple has stepped up to promise that they won’t sell your data, and are even taking steps to help you obfuscate your email address from apps.

People sometimes complain that Apple devices are just too dang expensive, especially compared to other devices. There is certainly some truth to this, and they opt to go for the premium side of the market, but at the same time, Apple has chosen to make their business more about the hardware that you buy up front (along with the services direct cost), and less about selling the data around who is using the device. That means that they can’t subsidize their hardware through advertising revenue, and hopefully it stays that way. My wife and I had a conversation just the other day about this, and she commented that perhaps Apple should lean more into this in their messaging to consumers. It might draw in more people who are simply done with the way that companies have been using their users.

All of this is to say that I’m thinking of going back more deeply into the Apple ecosystem, and moving more away from Google. It might spur the purchase of a new device or two, and most certainly would influence the choices I make around the services that I use. I’m not decided on anything yet, but its quite a bit of food for thought.

Fired up about Firefox

Something that’s been bugging me a lot recently is the trend in technology to adopt a “surveillance capitalism” model of doing business. In Shoshana Zuboff’s recent tome on the topic, she dives into the nature of this new reality that we find ourselves in, and the pitfalls that we’re facing because of it. Quickly put, surveillance capitalism is about how our personal data, behaviors, and desires, become commoditized and sold on a marketplace for the purpose of targeting us with specific advertisements. Or far worse, for the purpose of altering our behavior to match a certain worldview or philosophy.

I’m not going to get too deep into all of this in this post, but suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking a lot more about who has data about me, and how am I letting them use it. Months ago I started turning off various tracking tools that I knew were helpful to me, but resulted in my behavioral profile being made available to an unknown marketplace for unknown purposes. I love some of the convenience of technology, but because we’ve gotten so used to getting everything for free, we often forget that nothing is actually free. Instead of paying for services as we consume them, we allow our behavior to be sold as a form of currency, in exchange for the tools we like to use.

That all got me thinking about some of the tools I use in everyday life. In particular my web browser. I’ve been a Google Chrome user for many, many years. It is by far one of the most feature rich browsers out there, and it has become the de-facto standard for delivering internet content. It’s also owned by Google, which is the largest consumer of behavioral data on the planet. That means that many parts of it are inexorably linked with Google’s tracking enterprises, both to make our technology more helpful to us, but to also pay for it all through the marketing of our data.

To combat this, a few days ago I decided to download Firefox again, and give it another go. I’ve installed it on all my devices, and after a few addons that I’ve come to rely on, I’m all set up again to browse the internet the same way I was doing with Chrome.

One of the first things I noticed was how much slimmer and quicker Firefox was. Especially on a Mac, Chrome is a bloated memory hog. Firefox seems to be a much trimmer and efficient tool, and I’ve noticed a lot fewer processes running in the background. Granted nothing is ever going to be a fast or quick as Safari is on a Mac, but the added benefit of better addon and web application support is a palatable trade off.

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Additionally, I’ve found a few useful features with Firefox that are missing from Chrome. One in particular that I like is a little blue notification dot that appears in pinned tabs, when there is a new event in the tab that I need to check. This means that I can visually see a cue when I get new emails or other notifications, in a simple manner. This might seem like a small thing, but it’s something that I’ve missed for a long time since it was removed from Chrome.

I’ve only come across one issue with an app called Telegram that would not load correctly in it’s web interface. However, there was an addon in the Firefox marketplace that fixed the issue. Not sure if Firefox is just being too restrictive in it’s security, or if there’s an actual incompatibility.

So far my experience with Firefox has been overwhelmly positive. I’m going to give it a solid two weeks of exclusive use to see if I find any other issues or perks. However, based on the last couple of days, I think it’s really matured into a great browser, and a nice alternative for those of us who’d like to be a little less invested in the marketplace of human behavior.

 

Minimizing running tech

This past weekend I got to help some amazing people as they attempted the crazy Zumbro 100 in a blizzard. One of those people was Susan Donnelly, who is a beast in this sport, completing over one hundred, 100 mile races. She recently posted a blog about running and turning off your technology to listen to your body. This was actually very timely for me, as I had just recently made some changes to the way that I use some of my running technology.

I’ve been GPS tracking my runs since very early on in my running career. In the early days of 2010 I used a phone with a GPS app on it to keep track of my runs, as this was the easiest and cheapest way to do GPS tracking. As a quick aside, tech people will get a kick out of the fact that my first GPS tracking phone was a Palm Pre, completely with sliding physical keyboard. Eventually though, I decided to move up to something that had better tracking capabilities, and didn’t require physically handling a phone mid-run to see where I was at.

I purchased a Garmin GPS watch and from that point on started using it to keep track of every (outdoor) run that I went on. As the years have gone by I’ve upgraded a couple times, and each time has given me a more advanced device on my wrist. Every new watch has all kinds of fields, trackers, HR monitors, and calculated measurements by which to analyze my run, on the fly.

On more than one occasion I’ve found myself looking at my wrist, mid-run to see what my current pace is. Sometimes it pushes me to work harder, but many times it doesn’t do more than just annoy me. Therefore, I’ve decided to take advantage of all of the customization options on new watches that allow you to change what your seeing on every screen.

My current running setting is now set up with only one field on the main screen… total distance. I can press some buttons to go down to different screens and see other data, but by default, all I see is how far I’ve gone. That means that I’m less tempted to look down at my watch to tell me what to do, and instead simply listen to my body. There’s no current pace, or lap pace, to cloud my judgement. I just go with what my body feels like it’s capable of, and only worry about how far I’ve gone.

I could also create another screen that is just total elapsed time if I wanted to do more duration training, but for now the distance field is all I need. None of this means I’m less of a data geek. When I return home I upload my runs and dive in to the data as quickly as I can. I still like to see everything, but I find that I run better when I’m not distracted.

The beauty of modern watches is that I can very easily switch over to some screens that give me more data if I’m doing a very specific training routine that requires it. Overall though, I’ve found that running by feel is the best for me to keep me running strong and injury free.

The power of a connected world

Last weekend the wife and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Decorah, IA. We had a podcast from Ten Junk Miles to listen to and it was 5 hours long. I’ll tell the story of the trip in the next few posts on the blog, but what I wanted to share today is a quick story about how connected our world has become.

As we’re listening to this particular podcast, the host, Scott Kummer, talked about a product that he uses on his feet during long ultras. He’s not sponsored by them, but really believes in the product. It’s called Trail Toes, and he explained that it was a silicone based and waterproof product that helps protect your feet when out on the trails. My wife Lisa has always struggled with her feet and blisters, and so things like Injinji socks are her best friends.

When she heard about this product on the podcast she pulled out her phone and did a quick Amazon search. Sure enough they sold it, and it was available for delivery 2 days later. A few clicks later and it was on its way.

This was in the middle of rural Minnesota…

…on a cell phone,…

…while listening to a podcast on another cell phone,…

…about a product in Texas, that on Monday would be delivered to our door in Minnesota.

When you pause a moment and realize just how insane that really is, it’s mind blowing. It’s not just technology, it’s connectedness, and the ability to interact with people and places thousands of miles away from us with a flick of a finger on a glass screen.

I work in technology, and I have my whole career. I’ve been a tech geek for almost my entire life, even back to the old BBS days. Sometimes though, it smacks you in the face how incredibly connected our world has become. Thanks to this connected world, my wife will (hopefully) have another advantage as she heads towards a very wet and rainy first Zumbro 50 mile race this upcoming weekend.

Enterprise Architecture beyond technology

This blog post is a draft of something I’ve been working on. It’s not my typical “running, beer, and geeky things” type of post. However, it might give you a bit of insight as to what I do as a career right now, and how I think about things that I do at work. The picture associated with this post is of the new MN United FC stadium in the process of being built. It seemed appropriate for a post about architecture and strategy.

In the world of Enterprise Architecture (EA) there are many frameworks and paradigms that people look at to follow. Some of the most common ones break EA in to four component domains. These four domains are often referred to as:

  • Business Architecture
  • Data Architecture
  • Technology Architecture
  • Application Architecture

At first glance, one thing becomes apparent; namely that these domains seem to be focused on the world of Information Technology. In fact, Enterprise Architecture is often found under the IT department of many companies, reporting to the CIO. This leads to the misconception that EA is only applicable when talking about business objectives as they relate to Information Technology. I would posit that this could not be further from the truth.

At the core of Enterprise Architecture are three concepts; Vision, Strategy, and Knowledge. These three ideas encapsulate where you want to go (Vision), how you get there (Strategy), and what you have at your disposal to make it possible (Knowledge). These concepts are not exclusive to technology problems. Every business or organization wrestles with how to grow into the future.

The four domains of EA are simply a way to organize how we talk about problems that we’re trying to solve, and the strategy of new things that we’re trying to accomplish. Because of the growth of technology in all facets of almost every business, EA has been called upon to be the tool to manage how technology functions and grows. When we look at technology problems it’s easy to see how these traditional domains relate.

  • Business architecture – This is how a business chooses which IT projects to embark upon, and how they match up to business goals. It’s a way to look at business capabilities and then map those capabilities to technology that achieves results.
  • Data Architecture – Data management is a huge deal for many organizations. The skills of trained database administrators and data analysts are crucial to maintaining functioning databases and architecture of data that is used in technology solutions.
  • Technology Architecture – When a business needs to deploy a technology solution it needs to have the right hardware and networks available to it to accomplish this. Often this means effective management of how technology and infrastructure is deployed. As well as deciding when, and when not, to try new things.
  • Application Architecture – Finally, we get to the heart of many IT organizations, the application development and support teams. This domain seeks to effectively develop and deploy applications that carry out the business objectives of the organization.

Although this breakdown works well when talking about an Information Technology organization, I believe it can be taken further. This isn’t a new idea, as others have suggested this as well, but I would like to present a simple description of how I feel that these four domains can translate to any organizational situation, even outside of technology. To do that, I want to change the names a bit, but we’re going to start even further back. There are four key concepts that are required to run an effective organization.

  • Why you do what you do
  • What you know
  • What you have
  • How you accomplish work

Why you do what you do – Similar to traditional Business Architecture, this is about how you translate your business capabilities into effective goals and visions. A business/organization is pointless without a solid vision of what it’s about. You have to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing before you can begin to implement any type of solution. For some businesses this “why” might revolve around a shared vision of change in the world around them. For others, it may involve the skills and talents of specific individuals, and how they can use those skills to further the group’s goals. Whatever the driving force, the “why” will influence what you are capable of, and how you want to shape your mission.

What you know – Just like traditional data architecture, consideration needs to be given to your knowledge base. The information that is gathered in the collective of the organization forms the basis from which decisions and outcomes are driven. The intellectual property of an organization is often the gold mine of what makes that group unique. Almost every business, non-profit, or government entity, in existence has some level of proprietary knowledge. It knows something that others do not, and that knowledge is what sets itself apart from other organizations.

What you have – For many organizations, these are the assets and capital that have been invested in. Every business has “things” that they own. It might be their office equipment that help them do their job, or it might be their factory machines which produce their product. It could be a unique space or location where they do their business, or it could be a simple kitchen filled with pots and pans where amazing food is prepared. The assets of a business or organization are key to how they get their work done. However, these assets need to be managed effectively, and uniquely, depending on what they are. You manage a truck much differently than a computer server.

How you work – These are the business processes that are used to deliver the services or products of the organization. In the Information Technology world, this could be specialized applications that do unique functions for the consumer. In a bookstore, this would be how you manage your retail storefront with appropriate staffing and stocking of product. Development of these processes is key to effectively running a business. Without strong and effective processes, a business or organization cannot function to the best of its ability, and will not succeed. Managing these processes well is an art form and looks different in every situation.

If we start to look at Enterprise Architecture through this more holistic lens, we can see something that has more to say to an organization at large, and not just the Information Technology department. EA can provide a structure through which an entire organization can be viewed. By utilizing a structure such as has been laid out here, an organization can develop systems to manage each domain in the way that works best for each.

For a technology company that might mean traditional SDLC and data management practices. In the case of a manufacturing company it could include specific maintenance schedules and hardware refresh standards of critical equipment. Or, for a brewery it could mean management of the specialized knowledge of recipe creation and the catalog of recipes that the brewery has created. Therefore, I would propose a slightly different set of domains that encompass a bit broader view of what Enterprise Architecture can be.

  • Business Architecture
  • Knowledge Architecture
  • Asset Architecture
  • Process Architecture

When we’re open to looking at EA as something that goes beyond technology, then the frameworks can apply across a broad spectrum of industries and businesses. We don’t need to be limited to thinking of EA as just the domain of the CIO. We can bring it to the entire business, and apply solid principles of planning and management across everything that occurs. Enterprise Architects have a wonderful set of skills that can go beyond technology.

Architects are experts in helping develop processes for reviewing changes, or cataloging knowledge. They can look at the big picture view and help an organization manage their goals, both practically and strategically. Including solid Enterprise Architecture in an organization strengthens the organization as a whole, and can help drive progress to the future. It’s time to move beyond just EA for IT, and bring Architecture to the world at large.

Now that we’ve defined a different way to look at Enterprise Architecture we can start to talk about the different processes that can help guide an organization in each of these domains. That will be the topic of future entries.