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Monday, December 21, 2009

Learning Centered Education

A learning-centered environment is one that focuses on the needs of the student rather than others involved in the educational process. Student needs range from administrative services, to tutoring and instruction, and include everything in between such as life services.

A learning centered environment ensures that the student is empowered to learn through a balanced power in the classroom, critical thinking, student research and discovery, improved modeling of learning by educators, learning conducive environments, acting on feedback and tight institutional integration with the mission of realizing mastery learning rather than curve grading and ensuring that learning is positioned in a well-applied context to retain and utilize the knowledge learned.

Business Agility: Do You Have Some?

There have been various attempts to define business agility out there. Many are bogus definitions and very incorrect, so I thought I shed some light on the proper meaning of being agile, and what it means to an enterprise. Michael Hugos defines agility to be a product of visibility, motivation and training. I do not fully agree with his point of view, it is too specific and focused on enablers rather than the definition of agility. Agility needs enablers, and these could be some of the required enablers, but not necessarily all, moreover, each environment and enterprise might require different enablers.

According to Webster's College Dictionary, agility is being in a quick and well coordinated state, or nimble, active and lively. So agility is a state when one is able to act quickly and to the extent needed. Over-acting is not agility, its actually exerting more than needed, and under-acting is low performance.

So applying this to an enterprise means that it is able to act quickly and in a lean way. The terms quickly and lean are a little vague, so its not a bad idea to add some context to them.

  • Quick is being able to respond to a stimulus in a time-frame that allows the enterprise to capture an opportunity or mitigate a threat.
  • Lean is being able to respond with only what is needed to accomplish the point above, no more and no less.
An agile enterprise is one that has the capabilities to execute and realize what needs to be accomplished, without overstretching itself or wasting resources.

Some close definitions to mine are Brad Appleton's, which is a little too specific by listing energy and also specifying it along with economy and efficiency; and Wikipedia's definition which ties it specifically to cost. There are many ways to enable agility in your enterprise. Nicholas Evans promotes mobility solutions as one approach. I believe cloud computing will also make possible many enablers for an agile business. An example of how cloud can make telecom providers agile is illustrated in my recent patent.

Agile = Quick + Lean

Some examples of lean enterprises are those that:

  • Can quickly change their website to respond to a trend, or customer need
  • Can easily and without introducing additional cost reposition a product line
  • Can enter a new market area with no additional overhead
  • Can serve new types of customers with no impact on its customer support resources
Developing an agile enterprise is an on-going process, and it pulls from many areas of the enterprise architecture. An agile enterprise has agile business, technology and governance, reflected in its operations, systems, infrastructure and competitive abilities.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Do Not Undermine Your Most Valuable Asset: The Soft Assets

A couple of decades ago software was provided almost as a possible freebie to encourage buyers to purchase computer hardware. Today both hardware and software are available for free. With services such as Google's App, IBM's Symphony Suite, Sun's Open Office, and others software applications and hardware platforms are available for free. The competitive difference between two organizations is not what assets (capital, resources, technology, etc..) they have but rather how they utilize these assets. In other words their capabilities and in particular their soft capabilities.

Soft capabilities is becoming increasing important. As discussed in a past blog entry soft skills of individuals are things like a person's interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. The question on the table is what defines an organization's soft assets? We can state that soft assets of your organization include its agility, culture, values, alignment to its mission, sustainability. The reason they are soft is because we usually can not measure them easily. This might change in the future. Today we can measure an organization's performance through monitoring its financial reports and deriving some measures that reflect its level of success in managing its capital and financial resources. However this performance measure is very narrow-sighted, it only addresses one stakeholder of the business, the investor, and does not include all aspects of a business' mission, or maybe none of it at all.

Take for example a company whose mission statement is "preserving and improving human life". To effectively measure the delivery of its mission, measuring return on investment and debt / equity ratios will not provide a true picture. Rather measurements of soft aspects of the business are needed. Examples would be return on educating customers about diseases, adoption of good practices by patients, healing rates, impact of side-effects on the health of patients, economies and other aspects of human life, and the list goes on. Our lack of solid approaches and well-defined techniques makes measuring these performance indicators difficult, and hence we call them soft.

Businesses need to focus on these soft areas, whether they are soft outcomes of the business, soft assets, or soft capabilities; simply because this is where true value lies. True value of a business is its ability to achieve its mission. I consider any business metric that can not be measured in a standardized approach across business borders to be part of the soft side of the business. For example, a business' performance is a soft attribute, simply because true performance is not simply financial return on investment (which has very standard approaches of calculating and measuring), but could include customer satisfaction, and other metrics that most people today do not have standard way of measuring across autonomous domains. The first step of understanding a business's soft-side is to include it as part of the business architecture.

The concept of soft extends beyond businesses and organizations and is also considered at country level, an example is discussed on the Foreign Policy Blog which is seen to be an emerging component in valuation of nations.

In summary, (1) the soft-side is where value is located, and its is usually hidden simply because we do not attempt to measure it, and those who do attempt to measure do not have sound approaches. (2) anything that a business has difficulty in measuring will be defined as soft.