By Leonard Fehskens, The Open Group
Many people have commented that one of the most significant consequences of the Internet is the “democratization of commentary.” The ability to comment on subjects of interest to a community is no longer limited to those few who have access to traditional methods of broadcast communications (e.g., printed media, radio and television). At the same time, membership in such communities is no longer limited to those who are physically proximate. The result is everyone has a wide-reaching public voice now (even this blog is one such example).
The chorus of public voices speaking about Enterprise Architecture has created something of a din. Over the past several years my listening to this chorus has revealed an extraordinary diversity of opinion about what we mean by “Enterprise Architecture.” I have tried to sort out and categorize this diversity of opinion to try to understand how the Enterprise Architecture community could think so many different things about the idea that unites it. Creating a true profession of Enterprise Architecture will require that we come to some sort of convergence and agreement as to what the profession is about, and I hope that understanding the roots of this wide diversity of opinion will facilitate achieving that convergence.
At The Open Group Conference in Cannes, France later this month, I will be speaking on this subject. Here is a preview of that talk.
Assumptions and Approaches
In many discussions about Enterprise Architecture I have seen preliminary apparent agreement rapidly disintegrate into disagreement bordering on hostility. People who initially thought they were saying the same things discovered as they explored the implications of those statements that they actually meant and understood things quite differently. How can this happen?
There seem to me to be two things that contribute to this phenomenon. The first is the assumptions we make, and the second is the approaches we adopt in defining, thinking about and talking about Enterprise Architecture. As important as the nature of these assumptions and approaches is the fact that we are almost never explicit about them. Indeed, one of the most widespread and consequential assumptions we make is that we all share the same assumptions.
To keep this article short and to avoid “stealing my own thunder” from my upcoming conference presentation, I’m going to step from the tip of one iceberg to the next, hopefully whetting your appetite for a more in-depth treatment.
How We Approach the Problem
There are an even half dozen ways that I have observed people approach the problem of defining Enterprise Architecture that have, by their use, created additional problems. They are:
- The use of ambiguous language – many of the words we have borrowed from common usage to talk about Enterprise Architecture have multiple meanings.
- Failing to understand, and account for, the difference between denotation and connotation – a word denotes its literal meaning, but it also connotes a set of associations. We may all agree explicitly on what a word denotes, but at the same time each hold, probably implicitly, very different connotative associations for the word.
- The use of figures of speech (metaphor, simile, metonymy, synecdoche) – figures of speech are expressive rhetorical gestures, but they too often have very little practical value as models for reasoning about the subject to which they are applied.
- Conflation – the inclusion of a related but distinct discipline as an integral part of Enterprise Architecture.
- Mixing up roles and job definitions or job descriptions – jobs are defined to meet the needs of a specific organization and may include parts of many different roles.
- The “blind men and the elephant” syndrome – defining something to be the part of it that we individually know.
The Many Things We Make Assumptions About
The problem with assumptions is not that we make them, but that we do so implicitly, or worse, unknowingly. Our assumptions often reflect legitimate choices that we have made, but we must not forget that there are other possible choices that others can make.
I’ve identified fifteen areas where people make assumptions that lead to sometimes radically different perspectives on Enterprise Architecture. They have to do with things like what we think “architecture,” “enterprise,” and “business” mean; what we think the geography, landscape or taxonomy of Enterprise Architecture is; how we name or think we should name architectures; what kinds of things can have architectures; what we think makes a good definition; and several more. Come to my talk at The Open Group conference in Cannes at the end of the month if you want to explore this very rich space.
What Can We Do?
It’s tempting when someone comes at a problem from a different perspective, or makes a different choice from among a number of options, to conclude that they don’t understand our position, or too often, that they are simply wrong. Enterprise Architecture is a young discipline, and it is still sorting itself out. We need to remain open to alternative perspectives, and rather than focus on our differences, look for ways to accommodate these different perspectives under unifying generalizations. The first step to doing do is to be aware of our assumptions, and to acknowledge that they are not the only assumptions that might be made.
In the words of St. Augustine, “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”
Len Fehskens is Vice President of Skills and Capabilities at The Open Group. He is responsible for The Open Group’s activities relating to the professionalization of the discipline of enterprise architecture. Prior to joining The Open Group, Len led the Worldwide Architecture Profession Office for HP Services at Hewlett-Packard. Len is based in the US.