Real EA: crossing the chasm?
One of the practical problems of the innovator’s lifestyle is that, by definition, we tend to work a long way away (metaphorically speaking) from the mainstream. It’s true that there are some real advantages to playing the Outsider role – for example, it’s one of the few ways to bypass the ‘groupthink’ trap. Yet the catch is that there’s often real barriers between creating a new idea and its subsequent adoption in the mainstream – and that matters a lot, not least because mainstream adoption is also the point where we actually get paid for all that previous development-effort…
Classically, this follows the ‘diffusion of innovations‘ pattern described by Everett Rogers and others:
- Innovators – venturesome, educated, multiple info sources;
- Early adopters – social leaders, popular, educated;
- Early majority – deliberate, many informal social contacts;
- Late majority – skeptical, traditional, lower socio-economic status;
- Laggards – neighbours and friends are main info sources, fear of debt.
But the catch, as documented by Geoffrey Moore in his 1991 book Crossing the Chasm, is that there’s that chasm of (lack of) understanding that sits somewhere in the ‘early adopters’ range, blocking the path between innovation and the mainstream – the gap between the people who’ll try anything new, and the people who won’t. Something we need to explore…
For incremental innovation – essentially within the same paradigm – the gap is usually quite easy to bridge. If you can prove some kind of ROI – return on investment, in any appropriate sense of return on the respective investment of effort or whatever – that’ll usually be enough to make the bridge. Often the only real problem is the hype-cycle of over-inflated expectations and disillusionment before sense finally settles in – kind of like hoping that a lightweight rope-bridge is enough to carry heavy traffic, without dealing with any of the heavy engineering needed to make it actually work…
For disruptive new technologies, that gap can easily turn out to be a real chasm that’s hard to bridge. Many worthwhile new technologies have fallen into that chasm, or – like Betamax versus VHS video – succumbed to the dread syndrome of “a triumph of marketing over technical expertise”.
But when the innovation is essentially just an idea – a new way of doing things, a new paradigm in itself – that chasm can be huge: and, for a long time, often apparently unbridgeable. And when there’s a strong wannabe blocking the way, stranded halfway over the bridge but clearly going no further, we first have to clear the wreckage out of the way before we can cross. That’s pretty much the situation we have right now with enterprise-architecture…
The ‘strong wannabe’ here is so-called ‘traditional’ EA – in other words, enterprise-wide IT-architecture with some dangerous delusions as to its business role and value. What it’s designed for, is quite good at, and with some care can actually deliver on, is IT-infrastructure architecture. Anything else IT-related, such as data-architecture, applications-architecture and IT-security architecture, is somewhat of a bonus to that core promise, but with no guarantees as to whether it’ll actually work; whilst anything less IT-related, such as information-architecture or business-architecture, it tends to work either less well again, or not well at all. Unfortunately it’s often busily pretending that it’s ‘the architecture of the enterprise’ – which isn’t. In fact the fundamental design of typical ‘traditional’ EA, as Jeff Scott explains in his Forrester article ‘Is The Current EA Paradigm Right For Business Architecture?‘, is simply not suited to a world beyond IT, and perhaps now not even for that:
Here are the six elements that I see very consistently in the thought patterns of EAs:
Governance – Mechanisms to approve EA designs and enforce adherence to the reference architecture at the project level.
Principles – Decision filters that both EA development and application decisions flow through.
Current state – A snapshot of current issues and technology baseline (often in significant detail).
Reference architecture – The body of work describing EA’s intent, organized in a framework, expressed in strategy, standards, patterns, guidelines, etc.
Target state – An idealized future state viewpoint describing how the organization desires to change the current state based on the current understanding of technology and architecture.
Solutions architecture – Application of principle compliant reference architecture to current problems in order to move the EA closer to the target state viewpoint.
So what’s the problem? We seem to adhere to this model even though it is at best only moderately successful. For example, most EAs have established a governance process, but very few describe it as being impactful. Almost all EA teams have a set of principles, but almost none actually live by them – they are more like a set of good intentions. And who has actually attained a reasonable facsimile of their target state?
In short, there are three myths here that are blocking the bridge over the chasm:
- the myth of causality and control – seen above as ‘Governance’, ‘Reference architecture’ and the causal-style usage of ‘Principles’
- the myth of stasis – seen above as ‘Current state’ and ‘Target state’
- the myth of detail, that detail alone is enough – seen above as ‘Principles’ and ‘Solutions architecture’
And, of course, the myth of IT-centrism – the belief that IT itself is the true core of any enterprise. And elsewhere in business-architecture, there’s another core myth that’s blocking the road: the myth of money as the measure of value – or even as a meaningful measure of value at all. Until we get all of these myths out of the way, enterprise-architecture is going nowhere.
To counter all of those myths and clear the bridge-block, we need the following:
- a better understanding of the balance between causality and complexity (such as in systems-theory)
- a better understanding of the balance between static and dynamic (again, as in systems-theory)
- a better understanding of the balance between detail and ‘big-picture’
- a better understanding of role of IT (and other domains) within the overall enterprise
- a better understanding of value, with money as merely one proxy-form for value
We also need a better understanding of the role of people within an enterprise-architecture – because they hardly appear at all in most models at present…
There are plenty of independent innovators in enterprise-architecture, but almost by definition most of us are somewhat out on the fringes – the Outsiders. There’ve been a few good signs over the past year or so – particularly the increasing focus on business-architecture in Open Group (TOGAF) conferences and elsewhere. Yet to me the crucial signal that real change is about to occur is when the innovators in the big consultancies are finally let loose. Big-consultancies are the archetypal ‘early adopters’: they need to purport to be ahead of the market (as indeed they are, relative to the ‘early majority’ and the rest), but they also rarely make a move until all the hard work has already been done by the ‘innovators’ (because otherwise the idea is too ‘new’ to be saleable to their ‘early-majority’ constituency). That’s why I’m careful to keep track of ‘insider’ innovators that I trust – people like Ron Tolido at CapGemini, Nick Gall at Gartner, Jeff Scott at Forrester, and Michael Porter at Harvard. So when all four of those folks put out important new work in the same week, something’s definitely on the move – clearing the blockage from both sides of the bridge.
Jeff Scott‘s critique-piece ‘Is The Current EA Paradigm Right For Business Architecture?‘ was mentioned earlier above. In essence he’s tackling the problems that ‘traditional’ IT-centrism has caused for enterprise-architecture and its expansion outward to cover a true whole-of-enterprise scope. The article raises some important questions, as do the comments that follow it. Strongly recommended, anyway.
Nick Gall was one of the team who last year introduced the concept of ‘hybrid thinking‘ – Gartner’s variant on ‘design-thinking‘. This week he published a summary-pointer to his somewhat earlier article ‘From Hierarchy to Panarchy: Hybrid Thinking’s Resilient Network of Renewal‘ (previously for Gartner clients only), a long exploratory piece on what he called ‘panarchitecture’, linking the ecology concept of ‘panarchy‘ to enterprise-architecture and Gartner’s notion of ‘hybrid-thinking’. Gall’s version of panarchy takes the standard ‘S-curve’ for implementation, exploitation and conservation (continuing use) of an idea or a resource, and links it to Holling’s ‘back-loop’ of release and reorganization, to make a complete cycle, and then cycles within cycles. This addresses much of the missing material on systems-theory and complexity in EA, and also affirms the centrality of real people in the architecture. Again, strongly recommended for enterprise-architects, though to be honest I suspect Gall’s term ‘panarchitecture’ is even less likely to fly with business-folk than the existing term ‘enterprise-architecture’…
Ron Tolido – he who brought us the notion of ‘Slow IT‘ and the demolition strategy – has come up trumps again with a really nice metaphor for application lifecycles, in his article ‘The Inception of TRAIN and SCOOTER Apps‘:
Actually, we distinguish different ‘Application Lifecycles’, each with their own dynamics around requirements, quality, time-to-market, agility, tools being used and place within the organization. We thought a transport metaphor would be quite effective, so prepare yourselves to be familiarized in the near future with 5 different types of applications, ranging from TRAIN apps (solid, stable, standard, predictable) all the way to SCOOTER apps (highly individual and personalized, ultra-agile, ad-hoc). Much more soon, so stay tuned to this blog. For now, one little visualization [a still from the film ‘Inception‘] of what happens when you try to make a TRAIN application behave like a SCOOTER. I believe our ‘application city’ streets are full of these trains gone rogue. Let’s hope they are just a bad dream soon.
In other words, a metaphor that addresses that much-needed balance between static and dynamic, detail versus big-picture, big-system ‘control’ and predictability versus agility for a complex, unpredictable world. The article is only a taster for a more detailed exploration due to follow in the next few weeks: watch out for it when it comes, because it’ll be valuable indeed – especially for the IT-oriented aspects of enterprise-architecture.
Finally, Michael Porter, who’s previously brought us Five Forces, Value Chains and the warning that the obsession with shareholder-value is the ‘Bermuda Triangle of Strategy‘ [PDF]. This time, with Mark Kramer, he wrote in HBR on the notion of ‘shared value’ – ‘The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value‘ (see also here on his presentation at Davos) providing business-architecture with another means to break away from the deadweight stranglehold of money-only business drivers. (A few predictable commenters, of course, doing the usual Friedman-style shrieks about “the only purpose of business is to make a profit” – and, unlike Porter, failing to understand where that profit actually comes from, or any of the complex relationships between currency, value and trust.) To my mind Porter doesn’t quite go far enough as yet towards making the connection with ISO9000-style vision and the shared-enterprise or ‘extended-enterprise‘ – but at least it’s something we can leverage as we build towards a business-architecture that actually is about the business of the business.
And that’s the point here: these people are helping to clear the crossing over the chasm from the other side of the bridge – the ‘early-adopter’ side. Which means that whole-enterprise architecture is just starting to go mainstream. Which, for me and so many of my other enterprise-architecture colleagues, is very good news indeed… 🙂
There’s one part of the chasm that we still need to bridge, though: the engagement of people within the architecture. So in the next few days I’ll write at least a couple more posts: one on where the people-themes fit within architecture-models; the other on the problem of power, and how to address it within an architecture.
But in the meantime, I guess it’s Watch This Space – because it seems clear that things are on the move at last! 🙂