By Stuart Boardman, Senior Business Consultant, Business & IT Advisory, KPN Consulting
Last week I attended a Club of Rome (Netherlands) debate about a draft report on sustainability and social responsibility. The author of the report described his approach as being like a kaleidoscope, because the same set of elements can form quite different pictures.
Some people had some difficulty with this. They wanted a single picture they could focus on. To me it felt quite natural, because that’s very much what we try to do in Enterprise Architecture (EA) – produce different views of the same whole for the benefit of different stakeholders. And suddenly I realized how to express the relationship between EA and a broader topic like sustainability. That matters to me, because sustainability is something I’m passionate about and I’d like my work to be some small contribution to achieving that.
Before that, I’d been thinking that EA obviously has a role to play in a sustainable enterprise but I hadn’t convinced myself that the relationship was so fundamental – it felt a bit too much like wishful thinking on my part.
When we talk about sustainability today, we need to be clear that we’re not just talking about environmental issues and we’re certainly not talking about “greenwashing”. There’s an increasing awareness that a change needs to occur (and is to some extent occurring) in how we work, how we do business, how we relate to and value each other and how we relate to and value our natural environment.
This is relevant too for The Open Group Open Platform 3.0™. Plenty is written these days about the role that the Internet of Things and Big Data Analytics can play in sustainability. A lot is actually happening. Too much of this fails to take any account of the kaleidoscope and offers a purely technological and resource centric view of a shining future. People are reduced to being the happy consumers of this particular soma. By bringing other factors and in particular social media and locating the discussion in The Open Group’s traditions of Enterprise Architecture (and see also The Open Group’s work on Identity), these rather dangerous limitations can be overcome.
Success in any one of these areas is dependent on success in the others. That was really the message of the Club of Rome discussion.
And that’s where EA comes in – the architecture of a global enterprise. There are multiple stakeholders with multiple concerns. They range from a CEO with a company to keep afloat to a farming community, whose livelihood is threatened by a giant coal mine. They also include those whose livelihood is threatened by closing that mine and governments saddled with crippling national debt. They include the people working to achieve change. These people also have their own areas of focus within the overall picture. There are people designing the new solutions – technological or otherwise. There are the people who will have to operate the changed situation. There are the stewards for the natural environment and the non-human inhabitants of platform Earth.
Now Enterprise Architects are in a sense always concerned with sustainability, at least at the micro level of one organization or enterprise. We try to develop an architecture in which the whole enterprise (and all its parts) can achieve its goals – with a minimum of instability and with the ability to respond effectively to change. That in and of itself requires us to be aware of what’s going on in the world outside our organization’s direct sphere of influence, so it’s a small step to looking at a broader picture and wondering what the future of the enterprise might be in a non-sustainable world.
The next step is an obvious one for any Enterprise Architect – well actually any architect at all in any kind of enterprise. This isn’t a political or moral question (although architects have as much right as anyone to else to such considerations) but really just one of drawing conclusions, which are logical and obvious – unless one is merely driven by short-term considerations. What you do with those conclusions is up to you and constrained by your own situation. You do what you can. You can take the campaigning viewpoint or look for collateral lack of damage or just facilitate sustainability when it’s on the agenda – look for opportunities for re-use or repair. And if your situation is one where nothing is possible, you might want to be thinking about moving on.
Sustainability is not conservatism. Some things reach the end of their useful life or can’t survive unexpected and/or dramatic changes. Some things actually improve as a result of taking a serious knock – what Nicholas Nassim Taleb calls anti-fragility. That’s true in nature at both micro and macro levels and it’s particularly true in nature. It’s not surprising that the ideas of biomimicry are rapidly gaining traction in sustainability circles.
In this sense, agile is really about sustainability. When we work with agile methods, we’re not trying to create something changeless. We’re trying to create a way of working in which our enterprise or some small part of it, can change and adapt so as to continue to fulfill its mission for so long as that remains relevant in the world.
So yes, there’s a lot an (enterprise) architect can do towards achieving a sustainable world and there are more than enough reasons that’s consistent with our role in the organizations and enterprises we serve.
Agreed? Not? Please comment one way or the other and let’s continue the discussion.
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.