By Stuart Boardman, KPN
It’s interesting looking back at what people have written over the course of the year and seeing which themes appear regularly in their blogs. I thought I’d do the same with my own posts for The Open Group and see whether I could pull some of it together. I saw that the recurring themes for me have been dealing with uncertainty, the changing nature of the enterprise and the influence of information technology from outside the enterprise – and all of this in relation to the practice of enterprise architecture. I also explored the mutual influences these themes have on each other.
Unsurprisingly I’m not alone in picking up on these themes. At the risk of offending anyone I don’t mention, I note that Serge Thorn, Raghuraman Krishnamurthy and Len Fehskens have given their own perspectives on The Open Group’s Blog on some or all of these themes. And of course there’s plenty of writing on these themes going on in the blogosphere at large. In one sense I think writing about this is part of a process of trying to understand what’s going on in the world.
After some reflection, it seems to me that all of this converges in what tends to be called ”social business.” For better or worse, there is no fixed definition of the term. I would say it describes a way of working where, both within and across organizations, hierarchies and rules are being replaced by networks and collaboration. The concept of the enterprise in such a system is then definitively extended to include a whole ecosystem of customers and suppliers as well as investors and beneficiaries. Any one organization is just a part of the enterprise – a stakeholder. And of course the enterprise will look different dependent on the viewpoint of a particular stakeholder. That should be a familiar concept anyway for an enterprise architect. That one participant can be a stakeholder in multiple enterprises is not really new – it’s just something we now have no choice but to take into account.
Within any one organization, social business means that creativity and strategy development takes place at and across multiple levels. We can speak of networked, podular or fractal forms of organization. It also means a lot of other things with wider economic, social and political implications but that’s not my focus here.
Another important aspect is the relationship with newer developments in information and communication technology. We can’t separate social business from the technology which has helped it to develop and which in turn is stimulated by its existence and demands. I don’t mean any one technology and I won’t even insist on restricting it to information technology. But it’s clear that there is at least a high degree of synergy between newer IT developments and social business. In other words, the more an organization becomes a social business, the more its business will involve the use of information technology – not as a support function but as an essential part of how it does its business. Moreover exactly this usage of IT is not and cannot be (entirely) under its own control.
A social business therefore demonstrates, in all aspects of the enterprise, fuzzy boundaries and a higher level of what I call entropy (uncertainty, rate of change, sensitivity to change). It means we need new ways of dealing with complexity, which fortunately is a topic a lot of people are looking at. It means that simplicity is not in every case a desirable goal and that, scary as it may seem, we may actually need to encourage entropy (in some places) in order to develop the agility to respond to change – effectively and without making any unnecessary long term assumptions.
So, if indeed the world is evolving to such a state, what can enterprise architects do to help their own organizations become successful social businesses (social governments – whatever)?
Enterprise Architecture is a practice that is founded in communication. To support and add value to that communication we have developed analysis methods and frameworks, which help us model what we learn and, in turn, communicate the results. Enterprise Architects work across organizations to understand how the activities of the participants relate to the strategy of the organization and how the performance of each person/group’s activities can optimally support and reinforce everyone else’s. We don’t do their work for them and don’t, if we do our work properly, have any sectional interests. We are the ultimate generalists, specialized in bringing together all those aspects, in which other people are the experts. We’re therefore ideally placed to facilitate the development of a unified vision and a complementary set of practices. OK, that sounds a bit idealistic. We know reality is never perfect but, if we don’t have ideals, we’d be hypocrites to be doing this work anyway. Pragmatism and ideals can be a positive combination.
Yes, there’s plenty of work to do to adapt our models to this new reality. Our goals, the things we try to achieve with EA will not be different. In some significant aspects, the results will be – if only because of the scope and diversity of the enterprise. We’ll certainly need to produce some good example EA artifacts to show what these results will look like. I can see an obvious impact in business architecture and in governance – most likely other areas too. But the issues faced in governance may be similar to those being tackled by The Open Group’s Cloud Governance project. And business architecture is long due for expansion outside of the single organization, so there’s synergy there as well. We can also look outside of our own community for inspiration – in the area of complexity theory, in business modeling, in material about innovation and strategy development and in economic and even political thinking about social business.
We’ll also be faced with organizational challenges. EA has for too long and too often been seen as the property of the IT department. That’s always been a problem anyway, but to face the challenges of social business, EA must avoid the slightest whiff of sectional interest and IT centrism. And, ironically, the best hope for the IT department in this scary new world may come from letting go of what it does not need to control and taking on a new role as a positive enabler of change.
There could hardly be a more appropriate time to be working on TOGAF Next. What an opportunity!
Stuart Boardman is a Senior Business Consultant with KPN where he co-leads the Enterprise Architecture practice as well as the Cloud Computing solutions group. He is co-lead of The Open Group Cloud Computing Work Group’s Security for the Cloud and SOA project and a founding member of both The Open Group Cloud Computing Work Group and The Open Group SOA Work Group. Stuart is the author of publications by the Information Security Platform (PvIB) in The Netherlands and of his previous employer, CGI. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on the topics of Cloud, SOA, and Identity.