RBP-EA: From ‘Really Big Picture’ into real-world practice
This continues the themes of the previous posts, ‘The Really Big Picture for enterprise-architecture‘ and RBP-EA: The dangers of business-centric ‘enterprise’-architecture.
Much like strategy, enterprise-architecture is one of the few business-disciplines that explicitly focusses on the mid- to longer-term future. As such, one of the unfortunate side-effects is that much of what we do is at risk of being labelled ‘ivory-tower thinking’ – and especially so when we talk about the Really Big Picture, the huge changes that, whether we like them or not, are going to come up over the next few years and decades.
So what I want to do here is show that even the Really Big Picture ideas and concerns are really important to all of us not just somewhere in the indefinite (and ignorable?) future, but for everyday EA-practice right now.
A bit of background
Right now I’m just short of sixty years old. Before I moved fully into enterprise-architecture almost a decade ago, I worked as a professional futurist; I’d spent most of the previous ten years or so working in aircraft research, and before that had, in essence, ‘careered’ from place to place and industry to industry for a couple of decades or more. I actually started out as a graphic designer; my first published work was as an illustrator in child-development. To many people, I’m best known for my work on skills-research, eventually using the somewhat peculiar disciplines of dowsing as my main test-case. I came into computing via the pre-press industry, eventually creating and running one of the first true desktop-publishing operations in Britain – and writing most of the software for it, too – several years before even the first Macintosh hit the streets. Most of what I’ve worked on has had wildly different timescales: from the instant perishability of ‘news’, right through to the literal lifetime and more of medical records and large-scale infrastructure. I’ve never yet been an employee: always either a contractor, an independent consultant, or an entrepreneur in my own right. And I’ve had homes on three distinct continents, worked in one way or another in at least a dozen different countries, and in well over a dozen different industries. In other words, I’ve been around for a while, seen a few things, learnt a bit in my time. Always learning; always something new.
To me, that’s a fairly typical background for an enterprise-architect. (It isn’t a common background for many people who happen to call themselves ‘enterprise-architects’ – many of them have never placed a foot outside of IT in their entire working lives. But to be blunt I don’t and can’t regard them as enterprise-architects anyway: at best, they’re indulging in a ‘term-hijack‘ that creates enormous risks and doesn’t help anyone at all.) Quite a lot of us are older folks – in our 40s, 50s or more – but there’s also an exciting new generation of younger enterprise-architects (such as Bas van Gils, Gerold Kathan, Ondrej Galik, Iyigun Cevik and Sinan Si Alhir, to perhaps-unfairly select out a few of them) who tend to come from backgrounds other than solely IT and seem to have made a strong effort to cover as broad a space as possible in a very short time.
We may all come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different experiences, different disciplines. But what we all have in common is an emphasis on breadth, and an ability to make connections across any parts of that breadth, and beyond. And help to put those connections into real everyday practice, in support of the respective organisation’s aims.
In short, enterprise-architects show how go from the Big Picture to the practical detail – “linking strategy to execution”, as one colleague put it.
But I suggest we also need to take more care to link back to the Really Big Picture – and that’s what this series of posts will be about.
The Really Big Picture
What I’m calling ‘the Really Big Picture’ is a set of fundamental shifts that will start to impact fairly soon at every conceivable scale. These shifts will be forced on us by the confluence of a number of distinct yet interrelated strands – in particular, increasing complexity, increasing global-scale interdependency, increasing resource-constraints, and several serious sustainability issues.
The point here is that many of the assumptions of current Business As Usual – such as the notion of continuous growth, embedded right into the core of most current economic theories and models – simply will not work under the conditions imposed by this shift. If we want architectures that will continue to work up to and through that transition, we need to be starting to embed those new principles into our current architecture-work.
This is going to be made a lot harder for two key reasons:
- most of the shifts at the Really Big Picture level are taking place over the medium- to longer-term – years to decades – but most of the people we work with, and work for, prefer only to understand things in terms of the relatively short-term – usually measured in months at most;
- for most people, most of the themes of the shift at the Really Big Picture level are, to put it bluntly, scary-as-hell – which means that if we can even introduce these themes into our architecture at all, we’ll usually have to do so in a quiet way, through the back-door, often almost by stealth.
And, of course, there’s the beloved ‘ivory-tower’ accusation – when in fact facing these many of these concerns right now will turn out, over the longer term, to have been literally life-or-death choices. I’m not joking: everything I can see, from a futurist’s perspective, makes that point perfectly plain.
All of which makes this t-r-i-c-k-y, to say the least… 🙁
What I’ll do here, over this series of posts, is tackle these themes through what I sometimes call the business-anarchist taglines:
- There’s gonna be a revolution – but one that’s both sudden and slow, all at the same time
- There are no rules – so what we need is a roadmap for chaos
- There are no rights – only responsibilities are real
- From possession to responsibility – the practical meaning of property
- Money doesn’t matter – but value and values do
- Everything adapts, everything changes – the role of agility, stability and vision
(I’ll edit this list above to include the links when the respective posts are up on the site.)
Putting this into practice
If we only explore the Really Big Picture on its own, it wouldn’t be of much use: it would indeed be an ‘ivory-tower’ exercise. But in each of the posts I’ll include a section about what to look for right now in our existing architecture-work, how we can help our clients and organisations improve their effectiveness right now by incorporating at least some aspects of those themes from the Really Big Picture, and what we can do right now do to reduce the otherwise-unnoticed Enterprise Debt and short-, medium- and longer-term kurtosis-risk within the organisation’s architectures and business-practices. That’s real and often immediate ‘bottom-line’ stuff – whichever way the organisation happens to measure its ‘bottom’ line.
In other words, taking these perhaps abstract-seeming ideas, and making them real, in the everyday world, for everyone’s benefit. Which is probably a good idea, wouldn’t you think? 🙂
Anyway, more to come over the next few days: Watch This Space?