Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

Summary: Hear the words "enterprise architecture" and many people will turn away automatically. It's not that they aren't aware that technology drives so much of the modern world, they just think it doesn't apply to what they do. The famous IT/business divide is too often kept this way because of mutual incomprehension, not-invented-here thinking, and apparently incompatible mindsets. However, this is beginning to change.

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TOPICS: Software, CXO
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The best outcomes result naturally from self-organizing thought leaders in an organization that seek each other out and collaborate on shared solutions to their problems.Hear the words "enterprise architecture" and many people will turn away automatically. It's not that they aren't aware that technology drives so much of the modern world, they just think it doesn't apply to what they do. The famous IT/business divide is too often kept this way because of mutual incomprehension, not-invented-here thinking, and apparently incompatible mindsets. However, this is beginning to change.

High technology continues to relentlessly pervade practically every aspect of today's business world, prescribing what is potentially possible and often conferring enormous leverage when harnessed fully. But it has been the advent of the Web 2.0 era and its inexorable movement (some might even say infiltration) into the workplace that is making traditional IT -- and the master planning version of it, enterprise architecture -- an entirely new beast by popularizing simple, egalitarian tools and approaches that can be understood and applied more easily and quickly by a broad audience across most organizations.

Increasingly, in some IT departments and business units around the world, a closer new relationship is forming in which technology is deeply interwoven into continuous joint business processes of creation, change, and adaptation. Like so many grassroots tech culture movements, this one doesn't yet have a formal name, but increasingly some are calling it emergent architecture.

The first seeds of this change began to be felt with advent of agile development processes a few years ago along with the subsequent rise of software mashups, and the popularity of user-distributable widgets, badges, and gadgets. These technology approaches combined with emerging business trends such as tacit interactions and pull-based systems driven from with bottom-up within organizations, particularly when co-existing with social computing and Enterprise 2.0.

The result: A new environment for creating technology-driven business solutions using different, more open communication channels with richer information and ground truth as well as significantly more adaptive technology elements often strongly influenced by the Web 2.0 world.

Meeting in the middle: Emergent Architecture

In recent years enterprise architecture has been moving from a discipline that provides top-down, a priori technology blueprints to the business side to one that articulates key, strategic possibilities and only the most critical high-level constraints (such as security standards) and then operates as a conductor, promoter, problem solver, and evangelist across the organization through the vehicle of a cohesive community to co-develop needed solutions.

Emergent Architecture: Rethinking Enterprise Architecture for the 21st Century

When I wrote that most organizations were badly in need of a technology and software process "angioplasty" a few years ago, I highlighted the trends that will increasingly drive the agenda for new initiatives and projects when it comes to the strategic application of technology to business:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration (internal or external) over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

This is more true than it's ever been and has been contributing to a growing discontinuity in the way that enterprise architecture will be conducted in the future. Going away are overly formal procedures, detailed technology prescriptions, complex software frameworks, and dreaded compliance checks. Replacing them are highly collaborative, adaptive processes, technology opportunism, simple (frequently Web-oriented) technologies, and dynamic -- even spontaneous responses -- to organizational and marketplace needs.

Enterprise architects of the near future will still dispense clear guidance that carries the requirements of the entire organization with it, but it will be appropriately broad and EAs will actively help tailor it to local needs across the organization. Self-service IT will become much more common as workers are comfortable using today's extremely easy-to-use, adaptive, and flexible tools, many of them using Web 2.0 ideas such as simple, open architectures and malleable pieces and parts, especially open APIs, and even new, open business models such as crowdsourcing and community-based involvement.

While organizations such as Gartner are just beginning to map this trend, there's increasingly little doubt that the infamous chasm that often disconnects IT and business is being crossed in many quarters by business users unafraid of today's populist technologies combined with IT practitioners that strongly desire to solve immediate and important business problems. That today's collaborative and communication technologies in the workplace are much more open, social and collaborative than they were even a couple of years ago are likely to be responsible to a considerable degree for the growth of this trend. The refinement and improved understanding of the power of emergent solutions that respond better to change, create blended responses to widespread organizational needs with local ones, and deal with disruption explicitly just makes more efficient use of resources and better software solutions to business problems.

6 aspects of Emergent Architecture

Here the key aspects of emergent architecture that seem to be the most significant in terms of productivity, timeliness, effectiveness, and innovation:

  1. Community-driven architecture. The growth of online communities within organizations are allowing workers to come together and solve problems in a much more ad hoc fashion and respond to change and opportunities more quickly than ever before. Technical architecture is also melding with business architecture to a higher degree than before in community settings, reflecting a more cosmopolitan make-up of solution participants and broader, non-technical inputs.
  2. Autonomous stakeholders. Workers and projects have more freedom to make business, design, and technology decisions. The center of the organization can now monitor, engage, and/or participate more easily at the edge to ensure its essential requirements are met, but otherwise get out of the way of progress.
  3. Adaptive processes. In today's much more continuous and intense environments with tremendous streams of real-time information, businesses are increasingly required to respond quickly to suddenly developing conditions that are both highly impactful and well outside the traditional (read: lengthy) response times of traditional solutions development. Adaptive processes use change as a key input and also expect disruption and other unusual forms of input and even outright interference as normal. The key is to flexibly introduce frequent course corrections that respond appropriately to external changes. This rapidly often leads to multiple emergent outcomes to solve problems that are uncovered, teased apart, and then dealt with along the way.
  4. Resource constraints. Web startups have long discovered that too many resources ensures that enormous waste is allowed, even encouraged. Scarce resources encourages reuse, collaboration, sharing, and innovation in solving problems. Resource excess tends to encourage autonomy and not-invented-here thinking and drives the motivation out of many emergent outcomes. The "less is more" mantra seems to be very true when it comes to information rich, yet resource balanced environments.
  5. Decentralized solutions. The result of applying emergent architecture tends to be a software solution well-integrated across the systems and involving many data sources and other organizational attributes of value (in particular, its people). Emergent architecture naturally results in mashups and similar lightweight, highly composite SOA solutions that build upon existing resources to solve new business problems. Silos can still form and political fiefdoms can still block global progress, but the increased visibility of environments favorable to emergent architecture encourage the opposite.
  6. Emergent outcomes. The highly deterministic outcomes of traditional, directed IT solutions are being replaced by many more numerous but smaller solutions that tackle the large problems in a more distributed, organic though still systemic manner.

We are entering a post-modern era of enterprise architecture that the advent of initiatives like SOA actually helped usher in. As I observed as this trend began a few years ago:

Invariably, the best architecture I see comes naturally from self-organizing thought leaders in an organization that seek each other out and collaborate on common solutions to their problems. Rather than the us vs. them mentality of old-world enterprise architecture, there is only an us mentality. Instead of prescribed standards, designs, technologies, and tools there is real [two-way] consensus and immediate buy-in.

To get a better sense of what is going on, I'll be taking a look at specific examples of emergent architecture over the next few months and presenting the most compelling examples here. I'd also be delighted to hear about new projects that have any of the attributes above. Finally, to get a sense of how this field is developing, a great place to start is Brad Appleton's new list of Emergent Design and Evolution Architecture resources.

How do you see enterprise architecture changing in your organization? Please respond in Talkback below.

Topics: Software, CXO

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21 comments
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  • This is really great

    Very articulate and overall wonderful!
    esauve@...
    • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

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      AlexSerdar
    • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

      @esauve@... i was really fascinated by this! keep it up
      AlexSerdar
  • EA, Emergent Architecture and Optimized Engagement Models

    Mr Hinchcliffe,

    Great post. Id like to point out that our research shows the best way to move to a more responsive, agile and deliberate architect organization is through an active engagement model which employs all 'types' of architects as participants throughout the business. What that means is instead of having a single EA team that must engage throughout the business (either in the traditional top-down model or in the manner you describe) the group uses software, infrastructure, business and information architects to cover the entire spectrum and scope of the enterprise. This frees the EA team to facilitate the engagement of the overall Connected Architect Organization instead of being swamped with tactical delivery. It also heals the chasm between the EA, SA, IA and BA worlds by ensuring they are a part of a single living unit. That unit is distributed throughout the enterprise and can then apply architecture principles at any level of scope (from project to executive strategy).
    paultpreiss
  • Emergent architecture and BPM

    Interesting thoughts--I wonder how these trends are likely to affect companies trying to implement business process management. It's a fair cop against BPM that it can lock its practitioners into processes that are far too rigid, but hopefully that doesn't have to be the case. I wonder if we'll end up seeing a generation of BPM tools that facilitate flexibility and interdepartmental communication rather than hinder it? Web 2.0 apps seem to be part of the solution, especially for getting different parts of the business on board with each other, but I think tools focusing specifically on process will still have a place in an emergent-architecture-dominated world. They just can't prioritize the process over the people.

    KC Frodyma
    www.enterprisewizard.com
    kcfrodyma
  • A little long winded maybe

    But essentially accurate, even though you're still trying to paint the mash-up world as SOA. I've never seen a service architecture project ever work like it was advertised, or ever deliver anything that looked like efficiency. It's like trying to find a happy Siebel customer.

    The widget and plugin model has a much better chance of being successful in actually helping people to get work done. Yeah, it's still sorta SOA, but more practical and free of the single vendor stack that attached such groaning price tags to those projects in the past.

    Giving internal groups the ability to structure a working environment that works for them is a much needed evolutionary step from the one-size-fits-all approach a lot of enterprise managers try to force-fit their workforce into these days.

    It's okay, enterprise managers, move toward the light.
    Chad_z
  • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

    I'm adding your great graphic to the slides I use on a TOGAF 9 cert course. We talk a good bit about tailoring frameworks - your article gives me a feel for how radical this discussion needs to get. Thanks!
    johnpolgreen
  • Adaptive management - USMC style

    Great entry - the highly flexible, iterative processes described here are part of a broader trend in business towards decentralized decision-makers operating within clearly defined boundaries and resource constraints.

    The US Marine Corps has mastered this style of iterative, emergent operations described famously in "Warfighting" http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/service_pubs/mcdp1.pdf

    In the 1950's, the US Air Force defined the term OODA Loop for breaking decisions into small modular bits and iterating frequently. If an organization could go through its decision cycle faster than their competitors, they would win.

    London Business School professor Don Sull's forthcoming book "The Upside of Turbulence" explores these issues in depth.
    Verical
  • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

    Glad to see more EA articles here. I think EA should
    improve with collaboration for build and usage.
    mama0001
    • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

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  • bottom up architecture

    Hurrah for your iteration on enterprise architecture which was, in and of itself, an attempt to get the software architect out of his ivory tower and promoting an architecture in the service of the business. Now, it appears that you are trying to get both the suits and the geeks out of their silos and down where the people are.

    As a software architect, I have always believed that listening was the first and most important step to leading. I like how MIT's Thomas Malone frames it; coordinate and cultivate over command and control. I am paraphrasing here but you can watch his video and hear how he describes it yourself over at http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/future-of-work/decentralized-decision-making-31954
    gengstrand
  • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

    Really interesting article. It seems to me that the
    pressure for a more pragmatic, less centralised and
    bottom-up approach is acute and the symptoms are
    widely visible. For example how many business units -
    such as call centres - have resorted to "Guerrilla IT"
    tactics, with Excel, Access or web applications that
    they depend on "built by a summer intern" because they
    couldn't wait for the release schedule of the major
    enterprise application or a formal IT project? The
    motivation is clearly strong and the requirements are
    pressing, even if the delivery models have, until now
    been wanting.

    The exciting thing is that enterprise architecture, in
    tandem with new technologies like enterprise mashups
    is now finding ways to respond.
    David Davies
  • In 2 dimensions - need change in thinking

    - Loose Coupling
    - Unstructured Data

    http://setandbma.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/enterprise-20-departure-from-traditional-thinking/
    udayan.banerjee@...
  • RE: Pragmatic new models for enterprise architecture take shape

    "We should work on our process, not the outcome of our processes."? --W. Edwards Deming

    "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools" --Dion Hinchcliffe


    Because of comments like Deming's above, Deming is often associated with processes. Processes are of course one element of what Deming called Profound Knowledge. However, there are several other parts, and Deming said they were all essential. Few people over the last 20-30 years who jumped on the "process" bandwagon ever understood this aspect of what Deming was saying. Late in his life, Deming himself said they hadn't (a friend of mine was Deming's assistant at the time and heard him say it.).

    Hinchcliffe's comments can be interpreted that he is anti-process. I suspect that is not the case. However, it would have been good to clarify that one should embrace all of what Deming called Profound Knowledge--which includes "individuals and interactions"--instead of emphasizing another part of Profound Knowledge while seeming to make the same mistake as the process camp; i.e., throwing out part of PK while emphasizing other parts.
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