IT-centrism, business-centrism and business-architecture

This one continues the recent theme of IT-centrism and why it’s such a problem for enterprise-architecture, but extends it into a slightly different direction, courtesy of a Tweet yesterday by Ron Tolido:

  • rtolido: interesting stuff coming soon around a global Business Architect certification standard by The Open Group #ogsfo

Important to say here that I have enormous respect for Ron: quite apart from his senior role at CapGemini, he’s also an amazing innovator in IT-architecture and enterprise-architecture, with ideas such as Slow IT, the importance of a demolition strategy, and the SCOOTER metaphor. Yet I must admit I was absolutely horrified at that comment above, and said so:

  • tetradian: @rtolido IT-centrism in TOGAF etc has crippled #entarch for half a decade: please don’t let OG do the same to #bizarch as well…

The point is that, given their track-record so far on business-architecture,  I can hardly think of any organisation that’s less qualified than Open Group to create such a standard. For Pete’s sake, even the Piddletrenthide Parish Parent-Teacher Panel would probably do a better job of it…

And no, I’m not being nasty here – I’m serious about this. The utter shambles that is TOGAF’s ‘Phase B: Business Architecture’ should sound clangorous alarm-bells about any such suggestion: it’s just a random collection of ‘anything not-IT that might affect IT’, with no structure, no symmetry and no sense. If you want to see how so much of so-called ‘enterprise’-architecture actively increases the infamous ‘business/IT-divide’, you need only to take a careful look at the TOGAF specification for its ADM Phase B. And these people seriously consider themselves competent to define a global certification for business-architecture? No way! – please…?

Anyway, my Tweet-response above triggered a reply from Ron:

  • rtolido: @tetradian it’s an IT thing to criticize IT-centrism but after all: #entarch is an IT people invention. Let’s try to do better with #bizarch

To which my first response was ‘What the…?‘, which came out in more polite form on Twitter as this:

  • tetradian: @rtolido “it’s an IT thing… entarch is IT-invention” – disagree on both counts, but yes, please let’s do better with bizarch…

Let’s tackle Ron’s points in reverse order…

At least there’s an acknowledgement that we could do better with business-architecture than has been done with those current attempts at ‘enterprise’-architecture. That’s something. Good.

On “#entarch is an IT-people invention”, it isn’t. That’s a convenient myth that IT-people want to believe – though no doubt a fair few of them will want to throw various historical quotes at me to ‘prove’ their provenance. Sure, the term ‘architecture’ has long since been linked to IT – almost half a century, by now. And somewhen around a couple of decades back, some bright spark extended that idea to distinguish between a context-specific IT-architecture versus an IT-architecture at organisation-wide or enterprise-wide scope, as ‘enterprise-wide IT-architecture’ – at which point some idiot conflated that nominally-valid term to a no-doubt ‘simpler’ shorthand term as ‘enterprise-architecture’, without any awareness of just how misleading that would be, or how much damage that term-hijack would cause. Yet reality is that there are many long-established business disciplines such as systems-thinking and design-thinking as applied to the enterprise that have a much better natural fit with the term ‘enterprise-architecture’; the original meaning of ‘business-analysis’ was also probably very close, too. In short, ‘enterprise IT-architecture’ is arguably “an IT-people invention”; but enterprise-architecture most definitely is not.

On “it’s a IT thing to criticise IT-centrism”, I’m not quite sure what Ron means there – whether only ‘IT-people’ have the right to do so, or else that anyone criticising IT-centrism is inherently self-identifying as an ‘IT-person’. If it’s the former, then the fact that I’ve had perhaps 30 years experience in and around IT might qualify me to criticise? But more to the point, my background is as an explicit cross-discipline generalist – I’m one of the few people formally qualified as such, with an MA in General Studies from London’s Royal College of Art. And it’s in that sense, as a long-experienced practitioner of ‘design-thinking’ within a very wide variety of business contexts, that I see IT-centrism as such a problem. (And, for that matter, business-centrism – which I’ll come back to in a moment.) In terms focus of attention, the single most important fact in enterprise-architecture, or business-architecture, or any other architecture, is this:

Within any architecture, everywhere and nowhere is ‘the centre’, all at the same time.

What happens in any form of ‘-centrism’ is that we keep on being dragged back to some specific area that claims to be ‘The Centre’ of the architecture. Rather than an ‘outside-in’ view – an awareness of the whole – we’re constrained to an ‘inside-out’ view, where everything in the architecture is seen only in relation to and in terms of that single ‘The Centre’. If there is no direct connection to that ‘The Centre’, or no direct impact, whatever-it-is is usually dismissed as ‘out of scope’, and often deemed not even to exist. Hence, in TOGAF’s inherently ‘inside-out’ view – in which IT-infrastructure is its actual ‘The Centre’ – we have no means to describe anything that is not-IT and that does not in some way impact directly on IT.

[To illustrate the point, try using TOGAF or its linked Archimate-notation to describe the physical activity of a production-line, the trucks and conveyor belts and other machines of physical logistics, the human activity of paper-based record-keeping, or the physical infrastructure – cooling, power-supplies and suchlike – of an IT data-centre: if you can do it all, you’ll have to use some horrible kludges and fudged reframings of the supposed standards in order to do it… And yet all of these things would be essential in an enterprise-architecture for the respective industry.]

I need to reiterate that it isn’t only IT-centrism that creates this kind of problem: it’s any-centrism. What I’ve also been seeing recently is a lot more ‘business-centrism’ in enterprise-architectures, where ‘the business of the business’ is taken to be ‘The Centre’ of the enterprise-architecture. We see this, for example, in the insistence that financial metrics are the only metrics that count, and that return-on-investment (ROI) and the like can only be measured in financial terms – which might be valid within certain subsets of business-architecture, but are way too constrained to be valid in the far broader scope of enterprise-architecture. In some ways this trend worries me even more than IT-centrism, because by the nature of business it will tend to have even more of the wrong kind of credibility, making that much harder to counterbalance and correct within the architecture.

Anyway, Peter Bakker dropped in a useful comment at this point, pointing to a classic early essay by Christopher Alexander, famed author of A Pattern Language:

And a brief Twitter-exchange with Nigel Green served to enliven the discussion again:
  • taotwit: @tetradian @rtolido erm.. Tom I think you’re mixing up what EA is with what should be! 🙂
  • tetradian: @taotwit @rtolido if someone’s defining a new standard, surely it should be about what should be, not about preserving current mistakes? 🙂
  • taotwit: @tetradian @rtolido good point – I hope they listen to the likes of Alec Sharp and Patrick Hoverstadt

Agreed with Nigel there: a business-architecture certification scheme would need input from people like Alec or Patrick, or likewise from other key figures in business-architecture or business-innovation such as Alex Osterwalder or Steve Blank. But, like me, none of them are members of Open Group – which means that not only do we not have a voice, but what we say will be ignored anyway. In other words, Open Group expressly locks out many of the people who are doing real innovation in business-architecture, and then wonders why there are real doubts about the usefulness or validity of what it then produces as its ‘standard’.

Which brings us to the disaster-area of certification. In principle it’s a good idea, even a very necessary idea: every profession needs some way to identify and validate core knowledge and the like. But when the certification for a discipline is managed by a group that evidently do not understand what that core-knowledge actually needs to be, then we have a problem… and that’s exactly what we have with Open Group and business-architecture.

Open Group are an IT-standards body: and they’re very, very good at what they do in IT. But they’re not a general business-standards body – and that fact is becoming extremely important here. In the days when TOGAF was solely about IT-architecture – as it was up until version 7 – then it made sense for the ‘enterprise IT-architecture’ standard to be maintained by the Open Group. But the problem with any enterprise-scope architecture is that, by definition, you have to take everything in the enterprise into account: hence an expansion out into data- and applications-architectures in TOGAF 8, and then, in TOGAF 8.1 ‘Enterprise Edition’, the addition of a loosely-defined ‘anything not-IT that might affect IT’. Unfortunately they made two fundamental errors at that point: because that random bundle represented IT’s view of what it called ‘the business’, they labelled it ‘Business Architecture’; and they then described the whole IT-specific structure as ‘Enterprise Architecture’ – both of which sort-of made sense from their own inside-out perspective, but made no sense to anyone else, especially when looking outside-in. Oops…

Anyway, back to certification. So first, there is a real value in having a common language for specific types of architecture. In that sense, the TOGAF 9 ‘Foundation’ certification is genuinely useful, because it tests knowledge of that common language.

Likewise the practitioner-certifications such as ITAC, which assess someone’s practical skills and competence. Unfortunately it’s no use to me, though, as it still assumes that the only possible path to enterprise-architecture is via detail-level IT-infrastructure architecture, which I don’t do and never have. (I’ve done a lot of mainstream data-architecture in my time, but that doesn’t towards ITAC certification either.)

But to my mind – and in my experience, too – the mid-level certification, ‘TOGAF Certified’, is actually worse than useless: to be blunt, it’s almost a measure of how much someone is not competent to do enterprise-architecture. Yikes… there are some serious problems there…

That perhaps sounds a bit harsh: it’s not. There are two interlinked reasons why this is so.

The first is that ‘TOGAF Certified’ is a content-based exam. All it tests is how well people know the TOGAF specification – not architecture-practice. And to be blunt, the TOGAF specification is a long way from what’s needed to do enterprise-architecture – especially in any industry other than ‘the usual suspects’ of banking, finance, insurance, tax. (Why those industries? Because their business-models are built almost entirely around large volumes of simple structured information with automatable business-processes – in other words, strongly IT-oriented. Which doesn’t apply to most other industries.) I almost failed my TOGAF 8.1 exam because I answered several questions in terms of what I knew worked in practice, rather than what’s written in the book. And the ‘correct’ answer in the book was just plain wrong: I knew from real-world practice that it was exactly what not to do. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed when I was penalised in the exam for doing it right…

The second reason is that TOGAF is not a standard. This isn’t some arbitrarily-unkind assertion that I’m making: it’s not only common knowledge, but I’ve even heard several senior Open Group figures say so in public. (Exact quote: “Of course no-one uses TOGAF out of the box! – we always have to customise it one way or another”.) The best way to describe TOGAF is that it’s a somewhat-better-than-random cookbook of ideas and practices vaguely held together by a almost equally-vague structure of the Architecture Development Method [ADM] – and that’s it. There’s not much guidance in TOGAF itself on how to customise TOGAF: you get that from experience, with a bit of help from some of the better training-providers.

So what we have at present in the ‘TOGAF Certified’ exam is a way-too-simplistic multiple-choice test on the supposed content of a ‘standard’ that actually isn’t a standard and often doesn’t match up at all well with real-world practice anyway. So just how much use do you think that’s going to be? To anyone? Honestly? Hmm…

And given that, how much credence would you place on a certification-scheme by the same people on a domain which they demonstrably don’t understand much if at all, judging by the current content of TOGAF’s ‘Phase B: Business Architecture’? Oops…

Hence why I’m extremely wary of letting this current attempt by Open Group go unchallenged: they really are almost the least-appropriate group to do the job.

No question at all that we do need some very good work to happen on business-architecture, and urgently so. But please, not from Open Group? – at the very least, not until they’ve tidied up the utter shambles of ‘Business Architecture’ in the current TOGAF, and can demonstrate that that they can keep their reflex IT-centrism under better control than at present?

Sigh… Oh well… back to the grindstone, I guess…

Over to you for comment or whatever, anyway.

2 Comments on “IT-centrism, business-centrism and business-architecture

  1. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for mentioning my tweet. But I think it is good to mention some other quotes I’ve tweeted because your interaction with Ron Tolido reminded me of something:

    “Agile = shortcutting the process (cheating legally to win) ” Alistair Cockburn

    “The best laid business models are overturned by a kid in a dorm room, more now than ever” Steven Levy

    “Orville Wright Did Not Have a Pilot’s License”

    And here I will add another one from Albert Einstein:
    “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”

    The common thing we, as architects, must learn from these quotes and from the “A city is not a tree” article is that if you want to really change things you will need diversity and evolutionary mechanisms like hacking and agile (both based on learning by doing). The role of central control and therefore architects & designers is becoming less and less important…

    So architecture has to change. And for that we can lot from how BIM has changed the world of building/construction architecture:
    “BIM changes how architecture is done by demanding a process that considers a project’s whole system and entire life cycle up front and requiring a team synergy to design it.”

    But even with BIM it is good to remember that: ‘If you know where it’s going, it’s not worth doing.’ Which is a quote from Frank Gehry, the man who was one of the first architects who knew that architecture had to change. And by changing his way of doing architecture he became one of the “founders” of BIM.
    You always need creative people who can think and act like artists. Tom, I guess that is what makes you truly special, and that is also the reason that I’ve compared you already a few times with Frank Gehry 🙂

  2. Hi Tom,

    You make some really good points that have got me thinking. In particular I think you are right about TOGAF/Archimate. While I do really like aspects of Archimate (and I think you do it a bit of a disservice, there are some quite good aspects of the business layer), the layers below “business” are entirely IT focussed exclusively. Your point about architecture lacking a centre is a good one, and one I will need to think on more.


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