The is-ness of business

What do enterprise-architects do?

At first glance it’s not an easy question. We talk a lot, with many different people, about lots of different things; but we don’t seem to do much. We tend to use a jawbreaking jargon, about narratives of knowledge, terminology, taxonomy, and things with a 2.0 in the name; we mumble about models and methods and mash-ups, or mutter about meta that might not matter to anyone else at all. We might do a drawing or two, but we probably don’t design much – domain-architects do that instead. And we don’t drive the enterprise, or the organisation – that’s the CEO’s job, and definitely not ours. So what value do we add to the enterprise? What do we do?

A nice answer came up this morning: we deal with the is-ness of business.

What is anything? Does it exist? How does it exist? Why does it exist? Do we want it to exist? In what ways does it exist in relation to others? And what is this ‘it’ anyway?

That’s sounds a bit like philosophy, doesn’t it? But what’s that got to do with anything? Business is not exactly famed for its focus on philosophy: it’s much more concerned with getting the job out of the door – and with good reason, too.

Yet making sense of things certainly does matter in business. Communication is a key concern here: to make sense of what’s going on, or what we want to happen, we need to agree on what things are, how we describe them, and how we describe the arrangement of their relationships with each other. (Otherwise known as the ontology, terminology and taxonomy of those things.) If we don’t get clear on that, we end up with separation between silos, or ‘wicked-problems’ such as the infamous ”business/IT-divide’. Worse, we end up with strategies that don’t make sense, to everyone, or to anyone.

So whilst it might sound like philosophy – and about as far from the real work as it’s possible to get – in reality these seemingly absurd abstractions are right at the root of everything. Making sense of sense-making, and all that. Without it, nothing is going to work – or work well, anyway. Especially in any large organisation.

That’s why there’s a real job, called ‘enterprise architect’, just to deal with all of that that ‘is-ness’.

And that’s what we do: the is-ness of business.

Just seemed a nice way to put it, anyway. 🙂

2 Comments on “The is-ness of business

  1. Do we react or do we encourage exploration to define a line of what an enterprise “is” and what it “isn’t” ? Are the Enterprise Architect’s purpose to challenge the current boundaries (and boundaries within boundaries). Or are we just to define what is in the minds of truth and executive vision. Do we act out the philosphy or challenge it?

  2. Short answer is “Yes” – all of those things. 🙂

    None of it is really an ‘either/or’: if it’s to do with ‘is-ness’, and getting people to recognise and experience that anything to do with ‘is-ness’ is a choice, it’s part of the EA role.

    (The only thing we shouldn’t do is try to define the ‘is-ness’ for everyone else – or worse, the ‘is-ness’ of everyone else. Telling others what to do is bad enough, trying to tell people who they ‘are’ and who they ‘should be’ is not a good idea…)

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