By Stuart Boardman, Senior Business Consultant, KPN Consulting, and Co-Chair of The Open Group Open Platform 3.0™
The onion is widely used as an analogy for complex systems – from IT systems to mystical world views.
It’s a good analogy. From the outside it’s a solid whole but each layer you peel off reveals a new onion (new information) underneath.
And a slice through the onion looks quite different from the whole…
The Open Group Open Platform 3.0™ is like that. Use-cases for Open Platform 3.0 reveal multiple participants and technologies (Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics, Social networks, Mobility and The Internet of Things) working together to achieve goals that vary by participant. Each participant’s goals represent a different slice through the onion.
The Ecosystem View
We commonly use the idea of peeling off layers to understand large ecosystems, which could be Open Platform 3.0 systems like the energy smart grid but could equally be the workings of a large cooperative or the transport infrastructure of a city. We want to know what is needed to keep the ecosystem healthy and what the effects could be of the actions of individuals on the whole and therefore on each other. So we start from the whole thing and work our way in.
The Service at the Centre of the Onion
If you’re the provider or consumer (or both) of an Open Platform 3.0 service, you’re primarily concerned with your slice of the onion. You want to be able to obtain and/or deliver the expected value from your service(s). You need to know as much as possible about the things that can positively or negatively affect that. So your concern is not the onion (ecosystem) as a whole but your part of it.
Right in the middle is your part of the service. The first level out from that consists of other participants with whom you have a direct relationship (contractual or otherwise). These are the organizations that deliver the services you consume directly to enable your own service.
One level out from that (level 2) are participants with whom you have no direct relationship but on whose services you are still dependent. It’s common in Platform 3.0 that your partners too will consume other services in order to deliver their services (see the use cases we have documented). You need to know as much as possible about this level , because whatever happens here can have a positive or negative effect on you.
One level further from the centre we find indirect participants who don’t necessarily delivery any part of the service but whose actions may well affect the rest. They could just be indirect materials suppliers. They could also be part of a completely different value network in which your level 1 or 2 “partners” participate. You can’t expect to understand this level in detail but you know that how that value network performs can affect your partners’ strategy or even their very existence. The knock-on impact on your own strategy can be significant.
We can conceive of more levels but pretty soon a law of diminishing returns sets in. At each level further from your own organization you will see less detail and more variety. That in turn means that there will be fewer things you can actually know (with any certainty) and not much more that you can even guess at. That doesn’t mean that the ecosystem ends at this point. Ecosystems are potentially infinite. You just need to decide how deep you can usefully go.
Limits of the Onion
At a certain point one hits the limits of an analogy. If everybody sees their own organization as the centre of the onion, what we actually have is a bunch of different, overlapping onions.
And you can’t actually make onions overlap, so let’s not take the analogy too literally. Just keep it in mind as we move on. Remember that our objective is to ensure the value of the service we’re delivering or consuming. What we need to know therefore is what can change that’s outside of our own control and what kind of change we might expect. At each visible level of the theoretical onion we will find these sources of variety. How certain of their behaviour we can be will vary – with a tendency to the less certain as we move further from the centre of the onion. We’ll need to decide how, if at all, we want to respond to each kind of variety.
But that will have to wait for my next blog. In the meantime, here are some ways people look at the onion.
Stuart Boardman is a Senior Business Consultant with KPN Consulting where he leads the Enterprise Architecture practice and consults to clients on Cloud Computing, Enterprise Mobility and The Internet of Everything. He is Co-Chair of The Open Group Open Platform 3.0™ Forum and was Co-Chair of the 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 KPN, the Information Security Platform (PvIB) in The Netherlands and of his previous employer, CGI as well as several Open Group white papers, guides and standards. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on the topics of Open Platform 3.0 and Identity.