What is an enterprise, really? It’s a question that always seems to invoke a lot of discussion amongst enterprise-architects – perhaps not least because the answer is so essential to any description of whatever it is that we actually do!
Anyway, for some reason – and I’ve actually forgotten why – I put up the following yesterday on Twitter:
Working-definition: An enterprise is an ecosystem with a (sense of its own) purpose or direction. #entarch
Which turned out to be the seed for one of those really good back-and-forth discussions that do occasionally happen there. The first part with was Gene Hughson, over on the US East Coast:
- GeneHughson: needs something more to convey the human element IMHO
- tetradian: agreed (tho’ partly implied by ‘sense of its own…’) – wanted first to break it out of ‘enterprise=organisation’ problems
- GeneHughson: true…hard enough to break out of ‘enterprise=commercial business’ misconception
- ironick: an enterprise is more like an organism than it is like an ecosystem. a market or an industry is more like an ecosystem #entarch
- joyce_hostyn: what elements form an enterprise? if suppliers, customers, community included then can see as ecosystem #entarch
- ironick: yes, and if you include human microbiome, then each human is an ecosystem. but org/eco distinction still important
- joyce_hostyn: beyond microbiomes, as humans our social connection with other humans is as critical as our body to health. // though I have used analogy of organism for enterprise in context of immunity to change
- ironick: i guess organism/ecosystem analogy hinges on DNA. org=same DNA & eco=diverse DNA. Does enterprise have same DNA?
- tetradian: @joyce_hostyn I do include customers etc in enterprise – hence why I see it it as ecosystem-with-shared-purpose
- tetradian: @ironick “org/ecosystem distinction important” – yes: org=how/with-what, ent/eco=why; org=inside-out, ent=whole/outside-in // org is _within_ eco; key points of connection b/w org and others in eco = shared-purpose, share/exchange of services
- tetradian: key difference is ecosystem just _is_; enterprise has (shared) direction, movement, intent, sometimes sense of ‘self’
- nickmalik: but partners in eco don’t have to share purpose or values, just money. Sometimes in biz, you dance with the devil
- tetradian: @nickmalik “partners in eco don’t have to share purpose or values, just money” – huh??? – see http://bit.ly/TkWLTZ [‘what is a value-proposition?’] #entarch // (biz-centrism – money-obsessed self-centrism – is how businesses get kicked out of biz-ecosystems… #entarch )
- tetradian: @nickmalik “Sometimes in biz, you dance with the devil” – there are very good business-reasons for business-ethics… 😐 #entarch #bizarch
- nickmalik: you are correct that #BMGEN #BMC is fundamentally flawed – product != value prop. I hit same flaw in my analysis
- nickmalik: is a retailer who sells the iPhone ethical if workers at Foxconn commit suicide? Where is the line?
- tetradian: @nickmalik “Where is the line?” – that’s exactly the challenge – and it goes _way_ deeper than just surface-level money-only focus // one tool really useful for this is Causal Layered Analysis: Wikipedia http://bit.ly/bdrHAf , original http://bit.ly/Y8RO2
After that, there was a nice (and, later, somewhat silly 🙂 ) back-and-forth with Michael Vrijhoef, from the Netherlands:
- m_vrijhoef: so if we have the same budget resource we actively have an architecture? 🙂 Oh well….
- tetradian: we _always_ have an architecture – it’s generally a good idea to have some choices in it! 🙂
- m_vrijhoef: true! Conscious choices even!
- tetradian: not just choice but _conscious choice_? with real thought/awareness?? that’s asking a bit much of business, isn’t it??? 🙂 🙂
- m_vrijhoef: oops, sorry! I got carried away there for a bit!
- tetradian: @m_vrijhoef: “oops, sorry! I got carried away there for a bit!” – as do we all, good sir, as do we all… 😐 #wishingthingswerebetter.. 🙂
Following all of that, I kind of kickstarted it again with another question:
if we use ‘enterprise’ only to mean ‘a commercial business’, how do we describe relations beyond/with that business? #entarch
Roderick Lim Banda, from South Africa, was the first one to join in on that:
- rlimbanda: that is why enterprise is an endeavour by organization or network or of persons, families/households, communities.
- tetradian: @rlimbanda “that is why… network…” – yes, exactly – a much broader understanding of whose ‘enterprise’ it actually is
- rlimbanda: hard to see coz the enterprise is more evident when network collaboration matures to workflow, processes and transactions.
- tetradian: @rlimbanda “hard to see” – yes, exactly – to me, part of EAs task is to make that network/shared-enterprise more visible
Next was Brendan Morley, from Australia:
- morb_au: the extended enterprise if I recall TOGAF, or even the “vision” …?
- tetradian: “if I recall TOGAF” – TOGAF’s ‘enterprise’ can be multi-org, but still tends to be ‘inside-out‘ view only (mostly tech-only, too) // “or even the “vision” …?” – I prefer ISO9000-type ‘vision’ (indefinite-time, always larger than org) – also ‘promise’-commitment
- morb_au: who would be the audience of an outside-in view? The shareholders? The supply chain? The body politic?
- tetradian: “who would be the audience of an outside-in view? The shareholders? The supply chain? The body politic?” – all of those, and more
- morb_au: I wonder if “Members of the community work with Queensland Police to stop crime and make Queensland safer” counts?
- tetradian: “Members of the community work with Queensland Police to stop crime and make Queensland safer” – yes, good example of ent-vision
- tetradian: reframe ‘enterprise’ as mutual service-relationships/interactions between all stakeholders – makes #entarch make a lot more sense
By this time the clock had worked its way round to the US East Coast, and Eric Stephens, with a somewhat different perspective:
- EricStephens: (not sure I follow) – enterprise = biz/govt agency/ministry, not for profit. interactions equally important – value flows diff.
- EricStephens: @tetradian commercial interactions have reciprocal flows/exchanges (money for product/service). Govt agency reciprocity less direct
- EricStephens: @tetradian Govt: we pay taxes and may harvest benefits at some time down the road. also, individual contribution benefits > 1 individual
- tetradian: @EricStephens “value flows diff.” – yes: problem occurs when money is viewed as _only_ valid form of value in an enterprise
And finally to another back-and-forth with Nick Gall (which also ended up being happily silly towards the end 🙂 ):
- ironick: if essence of enterprise is shared intent, etc. then again organism or even community seems a better analogy
- tetradian: @ironick “..then organism .. seems a better analogy” – not really: they’re distinct organisms within a shared-ecosystem
- ironick: +1 BTW I’m simply pushing back a bit because I find many misuse/misunderstand ecosystems, see early Gaia theory
- tetradian: pushback fully understood/accepted – hence why distinction here b/w ‘ecosystem’ vs ‘ecosystem-like w shared-purpose’
- ironick: by “they”, are u referring to enterprises? If so, then ur making my point: enterprise=org & market=ecosys
- tetradian: ‘they’=all players in the context. re market=ecosys etc, see ‘Market as organisation, market as enterprise‘
- ironick: lumping organization, market, enterprise, organism, ecosystem, etc is 1st step to the madness known as GST 🙂
- tetradian: GST = General Systems Theory? or Goods & Services Tax? 🙂 (latter is Australia sales-tax, btw)
- tetradian: I don’t ‘lump together’ all those items: I use v.careful defns/distinctions b/w them! 🙂 I’m not mad!! bwah-hah-hah! // (okay, I’ve just proved I’m mad, by talking at all systems-theory at all – but you get the point…? 🙂 )
- ironick: tax system thinking is much more coherent than general system thinking. that shows how incoherent general system thinking is 🙂 // but it’s hard to get across such distinctions in 140 chars. Better to discuss by blog 🙂
- tetradian: incoherent? me? ag blurp general thingking grep systems entarch babble babble why would you say that?? 🙂 // “Better to discuss by blog :)” – I get plenty of complaints that I blog too much already, with too-long posts… 🙁
- ironick: I’m crazy cuz I published this: “biodynamically coordinated hyperconnected networks operating holistically across scales emerge”
- tetradian: “biodynamically coordinated hyperconnected networks operating holistically across scales emerge” – nice one, Nick! 🙂 (true, too)
Nick’s ‘pushback’ is interesting because of that initial idea of enterprise as ‘ecosystem with purpose‘. What went wrong with many people’s interpretations of the Gaia Hypothesis is that the whole point was that all it described was a self-regulating ecosystem, without any inherent purpose – it’s just an ecosystem. (No religion needed: ‘Gaia’ as an abstract label, not as some kind of implicit deity.) An enterprise, by contrast, should have some kind of intent, or at least some sense of a direction towards which it’s moving or aligning itself – there’s intentionality there, even if only in an implicit, largely-subconscious way. So in the same sense that we shouldn’t confuse an ecosystem with a purposeful enterprise, we also shouldn’t confuse an enterprise with a purposeless ecosystem: that sense of purpose is fundamental to its definition – and hence, for enterprise-architects, a fundamental node in its architecture.
[Update, about an hour later: some really useful additional notes, from Nick Gall again:
- ironick: @tetradian great summary. Got me thinking more. Maybe an enterprise is more like a species than an organism OR an ecosystem… // …easier 2 c w/ a franchise enterprise like starbucks. each shop has same DNA and plays a role in an ecosystem (eg a city)…
- ironick: …the role of a species in an ecosystem is similar to the purpose of an enterprise ur looking for… // …it’s a variation on @richardveryard ‘s #POSIWID: the purpose of a system (eg species, ent) is role it plays #POSIRIP … // IMO #POSIRIP (POSI Role It Plays) is a more outside-in version of #POSIWID . Thks for triggering this insight 4!
Many thanks for that, Nick!]