Nigel Green has been working with Carl Bate, a fellow CTO and poster on the CTO Blog to develop approaches and thinking around closing the gap between Business and Technology. Together they authored the book ‘Lost In Translation’ and support for their basic approach called VPEC-T can be found across the industry leading to its own pages on WiKipedia. This piece is a development of their ideas by Nigel. I expect it to provoke some good comments and thoughts on developing the theme!
Regards, Andy
There’s a developing consensus emerging from the blogosphere and other group discussions (such as the recent MashUp* Enterprise 2.0 Event). It’s a shared conviction that a new approach to ‘Enterprise’ IT is needed; a new approach that embraces Web 2.0 thinking, and at the same time, helps make traditional implementations of IT more useful and better adopted. This approach is rooted in pragmatics, simplification and iterative experimentation. Perhaps surprisingly, this new thinking is being led by mature and experienced Enterprise Architects and Systems Thinkers worldwide.
From numerous discussions since we published ‘Lost In Translation’ in December 2007, my first observation is that there is a need to redefine what Enterprise Architecture is – starting with dropping the ‘Enterprise’ moniker because of its association with the lines drawn-around ‘Company’ or ‘Organisation’ in a market. The reality is organisations need to understand the entire context of their interactions with customers, suppliers, staff, markets and even competitors. This context cannot be fully expressed under the unhelpful and unrealistic constraint of a ‘Four-Walled-Fortress’ somehow protected and disconnected from the Web and its communities. This is very aligned with Andy Mulholland’s post on the Capgemini CTO blog around the need to embrace the Business-Technology (BT) language first coined by Forrester.
In a nutshell, it’s suggested that BT would be a much better label than IT because it expresses the need to treat ‘Business’ and ‘Technology’ as a cohesive whole. This takes us way beyond, the frankly uninspiring call for ‘business-led IT’, to a recognition that today’s businesses are comprised of inseparable sub-systems of wetware, software and hardware that all contribute to the corporation’s behaviour and, its success or otherwise in markets. This is not to say that under the broader BT banner, we might go on to examine the specifics of Information Systems and Information Technology as we do today (this allows for a useful ‘Separation of Concerns’). If however, Enterprise IT is replaced with BT as a highest-level view of the business, what should we be calling Enterprise Architecture?

In a recent discussion with Sally Bean, we concluded that Business Systems, a term we’d both used in the past, and Business Systems Architecture might be a more appropriate tag. The Business Systems label is not referring to IT ‘systems’ but to both the human/social and mechanistic, soft and hard systems that contribute to business behaviour. A Business Systems Architecture contains a number of models and methods that provide the means by which members of an organisation can understand, and readily discuss, the ‘why/what/where/when/who/how and how-much’ aspects of the Business System.
This is nothing new – many architects will recognise a similarity with the Zachman Framework. What is new is that these dimensions need to be applied to both the traditional world of IT-supported transactions and the Web 2.0-led world of IT-supported interactions. Moreover, there is a far greater recognition for emphasis on softer aspects of the Business System, such as personal and collective values and trust-relationships.
Over and above the traditional expressions of Functional and Non-Functional Requirements (FRs & NFRs), our Business Systems Architectures must also contain a clear formulation of such concepts as; value-based behaviour, complexity management and pragmatic outcomes. Such concepts must be included in the requirements processes and will often take precedence over traditional FRs and NFRs.
“But wait!” I hear you say, “Won’t adding further concepts to the requirements process will just make things more complicated and long-winded?”
This is where the simplification of the architecture process comes in. Roger Sessions, a long standing proponent of ‘Simplified EA’, has developed the SIP (Simplified Interactive Partitions) methodology to help tackle the complexities associated with EA (or BSA in my language). Roger and I have been discussing complexity within EA since I wrote an article for the International Association of Software Architects, where he’s Chief Editor of their periodical, and for which, I wrote ‘Keep it Clear, Keep it Simple’.
Similarly, Charles Edwards has been a third voice in our discussions, Charles is refactoring TOGAF and other EA methods into a more agile and adaptive approach to implementing EA operational processes.
Finally, Carl Bate and I developed VPEC-T, a business-technology communications and thinking framework. The aim of VPEC-T is to ensure the complete implications of a change and the desired (and undesired) outcomes are understood, in a simple and easy-to-use way. A number of this community are taking these ideas further in our Blogs, Social Networking Groups and Wikis.
I’ve been discussing with Roger Sessions how we might create a framework for these ‘next-practice’ techniques and methods that will help practitioners decide when and how to use each technique from a menu (I like to think of this as being like a Dim Sum menu rather than a full-blown TOGAF feast!).
Looking at this next-practice IS architecture ‘Dim Sum Menu’, there appear to be some recurring themes around pragmatics, simplicity and agility. One oft-discussed under-pinning philosophy comes from the world of Systems Thinking and Cybernetics.
More, specifically, from the systems-focused work of Dave Snowden and the Cynefin framework (I’m told he wouldn’t call himself a System Thinker, perhaps a Systems Sense-Maker, but his work appears to come from similar roots). The Cynefin framework highlights the differences between different information system types; Chaotic (e.g. the Web, unconstrained), Ordered (e.g. top-down & Six-Sigma-like) and Complex Adaptive (e.g. Web 2.0-like, emergent & agile ) – among others. Traditionally, Dave has focused on Knowledge Management, but he recognises that the KM term is now overburdened with too many failed attempts at corporate knowledge sharing, and he is now focusing on Sense-Making techniques developed by Dr. Brenda Dervin to help tackle some of the knottiest information systems problems today such as those that surface in the war against terrorism. But his work also focuses on the use of Web 2.0 Social Networking phenomena, how people communicate in large groups and how agility and flexibility can be achieved at the same time. Tackling complexity is at the heart of Cynefin, here follows a quote about Cynefin from a fellow Systems Thinker and blogger Water R. Smith:
“… after a decade or so of kicking around concepts from complexity, philosophy, social psychology, and large IT system development, I’ve found Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework helpful in thinking about complexity. Here’s why: it looks at the intersection of the subject (the knower) and the object (the system, the system context, and the associated data/info).
For IT systems development, that typically means focusing on creating models of a slice of a “frozen” context, a static knower, and a system that connects the user to the context slice. For Known/Knowable contexts, that works well. However, for Complex contexts (and an increasingly hyper-connected world is making these more the norm than not), it seems that we may need to expand root causes to address such issues as (a) the context of systems usage (e.g., for Known/Knowable work, or for Complex work), (b) the knower’s ability to effectively engage the context, and (c) the ability of the knower’s organization to do likewise (where multiple individuals are trying to maintain decision making coherence)”.
Original post.
Complex Adaptive Systems approaches seem the most applicable to the world of interaction and, what the industry has been referring to a Enterprise 2.0 (Web 2.0 applied to business). They are characterised by a being built upon a scaffold of light-constraint and the ability to nurture positive emergent behaviours and dampen negative ones. A Complex Adaptive approach embraces the notion of Safe-Fail, an environment where experimentation is encouraged (this fits with Tom O’Rielly’sUsers add value’ and ‘Perpetual beta’ ideals from eight principles of Web 2.0).
But perhaps most importantly, Dave Snowden has written about how to apply Complex Adaptive thinking to business leadership in an award winning article in the Harvard Business Review (A Leader’s Framework For Decision Making – November 2007 by David J. Snowden, Mary E. Boone).
I believe this is to be important because, this is the first the first time, a strong relationship can be made between emerging business leadership practices, Web 2.0 phenomena and the practice of IS architecture.
One of the most heartening comments I hear on this collective work, is that it just seems like a common-sense approach (although, as I pointed out in a recent blog dialogue ‘common-sense’ doesn’t appear to naturally scale and so needs the help of the type of methods and approaches mentioned here). I believe, the roots in System Thinking, give this set of emerging practices a robust base that has been proven in other fields by the likes of Dr. Russell Ackoff since the early 1950s.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Systems Thinking techniques fit so well in a Web 2.0 world, and underpin IS architecture, given they take lessons from nature’s, organic, eco-systems. In these systems understanding the behaviour of the system is required before attempting to change it and emergent qualities are more prevalent than predetermined ones.