What tools and toolsets do we need, to support our work in the architecture of the enterprise as a whole?
The short and more cynical answer is “Not what we have right now”. To be blunt, maybe none of the current ‘enterprise-architecture’ toolsets are fit-for-purpose, for the work we need right now to do as architects of the enterprise itself.
(Fit-for-purpose for some parts of the work in some cases, maybe yes; but for the work as a whole, no. And since almost none of the toolsets will talk to each other – and in many cases are designed to prevent that happening, and instead each attempt to enforce its own proprietary ‘walled-garden’ – they’re now often more of a hindrance than a help in making sense of the whole-as-whole. Bah.)
The real problem is that the core premise for most of those toolsets is at least a couple of decades out of date. Back when they were designed, ‘enterprise-architecture’ was a misleading term that actually meant ‘architecture of enterprise-wide IT-infrastructure’ – which was, yes, a significant problem for certain large organisations of that time. For that kind of ‘enterprise-architecture’, Zachman’s oft-repeated assertion that “Architecture for airplanes, ships, chairs, buildings, it’s all the same – why should it be any different for enterprises?” almost did sort-of make sense. (Sort-of. For a given sense of ‘Sort-of’, anyway.) Hence the usefulness, for that problem, of toolsets that could document all the relationships and interdependencies of a large organisation’s IT-estate and all the applications and data that might depend on it.
Yet the reality is that, however complex it might be, IT-infrastructure is merely one small part of the enterprise as a whole – and at that, often by far the easiest part of the overall complexity of that enterprise. And to make it worse, many of the toolsets are designed only to provide some form of static document, a snapshot of that IT-estate at just one given moment – with little to no support to guide us through the sheer messiness and dynamics of change. The one place where we most need help, they give us no help at all.
So, to put this the other way round, there’s a huge unaddressed need for toolsets to help in design, development and dynamic change of all aspects of ‘the architecture of the enterprise’. Toolsets that help us with the core aim of all architectures, that ‘things work better when they work together, on-purpose’. Toolsets that will work the same way, consistently, across every context, every type of content, every scope, every scale, every level of granularity, every level of implementation, every level of complexity – and hence bring to an end the fragmented mess that we have right now of toolsets that merely make worse the relentless ‘dotting the joins‘ throughout every stage of Damien Newman’s ‘the Squiggle’:
To get out of this current mess, all we need to do is apply a bit of architecture to architecture itself. And as we do that, it should become clear that there’s a huge market-opportunity right now for anyone who can make this work.
In a sense, it’s not even about toolsets as such. Instead, the real need is for a platform that links all of the tools together, across every part of the toolset-ecosystem and toolset-workspace. Almost by definition, that platform itself cannot be proprietary: it must be open, it must be shareable by all – otherwise it cannot achieve its purpose of linking everything together. This is one place where the Open Group’s tagline of ‘Boundaryless Information-Flow’ really does make sense.
(Note, though, that an open platform doesn’t mean that everything has to be open: there’s still plenty of room for proprietary toolsets and suchlike, if that’s what people really want. As long as those proprietary toolsets do support this very real need to link everything together, then everything’s fine. Probably.)
I’ve been working on this problem for well over a decade now: but I’ve had to accept that I’m not the right person to do it. At the very least, it’d need a real master of software-development – and my days for doing that are long since gone. It’d need a master in user-experience development – which I’m not. It’d need a true master of marketing and suchlike – which I’m definitely not. And perhaps above all, it’d need a great team-lead – which I’m, uh, also not. Oh well…
But if it’s not for me, could this be for you?
And whoever does take up this challenge, I believe that what I’ve done so far could definitely help. As I say, I’ve been working on this for over a decade, documenting pretty much every step of that work as I went along. Hence all of the links that follow – all of which document different aspects of what’d be needed to make this platform work.
I’ll admit there’s a lot of it: almost fifty posts right there, with plenty of further material crosslinked in along the way. To be honest, it’d probably take you at least a couple of days to read just these posts themselves – maybe more like a week if you follow up on all of the link-trails and cross-references. But even that would be a trivial investment of time if you have any interest in creating toolsets for enterprise-architecture that actually work in the ways that we need. And I do believe that there’s just about everything you’d need right there to form the basis of requirements and more for the overall purpose and for its implementation.
(In the sections that follow, I’ve listed the posts in date-order, so that you can see how the ideas have developed over the years.)
First, a few posts on what we might describe as Integration – a set of overviews that bring it all together:
- Guess I could do with some help here… (10 Aug 2011)
- More on that enterprise-architecture ‘help needed’ (15 Aug 2011)
- From tools to toolset (02 Feb 2015)
- Towards a whole-enterprise architecture standard – 5: Practices and toolsets (09 May 2016)
Next, a decade’s-worth of explorations in the ‘Why‘ behind the need:
- On EA tools and paper trials (23 Aug 2007)
- Time for open-source enterprise-architecture? (20 Sept 2008)
- Meanderings on metamodels (24 Apr 2009)
- ‘Bindedness’ in metamodels (03 May 2009)
- Executable enterprise-architecture (01 Jul 2009)
- Enabling enterprise-architecture conversations (22 Aug 2010)
- Next-generation toolsets for enterprise-architecture? (30 Aug 2010)
- Models as decision-records (Enterprise Canvas) (23 Jan 2011)
- What’s the point of this ‘EA metamodel’? (08 Sept 2011)
- Which EA tools? – and why? (21 Jul 2012)
- Dotting the joins (the JEA version) (22 Aug 2013)
- EA toolsets – time to get on the cluetrain? (07 Feb 2014)
- How do you think? (09 Apr 2014)
- Enterprise-architecture as hologram (06 Oct 2014)
- Pinball-wizard (08 Jan 2015)
- Toolsets, pinball and un-dotting the joins (16 Jan 2015)
- Platform, toolset and tool (16 Jan 2015)
- More on the ‘Why’ for new toolsets (20 Feb 2015)
Then a few forays into the ‘How‘ – about how this blending of toolset and platform would be used in real-world practice:
- Big EA, Little EA and Personal EA (06 Jan 2010)
- The toolset-ecosystem (26 Jan 2011)
- This: an exploratory game for service-oriented EA (20 Oct 2011)
- The ‘This’ game and EA toolsets (30 October 2011)
- What do we need from our EA tools? (30 Sept 2014)
- Tools and metatools (25 Jan 2015)
- Toolsets for associative modelling (29 Jan 2015)
- A tale of three toolsets (18 March 2015)
- The game of enterprise-architecture (15 Feb 2016)
Some examples of the ‘What‘ that we’d need to cover across the whole-enterprise space, in terms of notations and the like:
- Simplifying the Enterprise Canvas (10 Sept 2011)
- More on simplified Enterprise Canvas (11 Sept 2011)
- Five EA app ideas – anyone interested? (23 Dec 2011)
- An inventory of sorts (10 Oct 2016)
And, to finish, some practical notes towards Implementation – getting beyond conjecture and towards making it real:
- Unravelling the anatomy of Archimate (04 Aug 2011)
- Back to the roots for EA toolset metamodels (01 Sept 2011)
- More detail on EA metamodel (01 Sept 2011)
- EA metamodel and method (03 Sept 2011)
- EA metamodel – a possible structure (05 Sept 2011)
- EA metamodel – the big picture (and the small picture too) (06 Sept 2011)
- EA metamodel: two questions (15 Sept 2011)
- New toolsets for enterprise-architecture (05 Jan 2015)
- More notes on toolsets for EA (12 Jan 2015)
- And more on toolsets for EA (14 Jan 2015)
(There’s also one more post – More metamodel stuff (26 May 2009) – that was a pointer to a bunch of metamodel descriptions on a self-hosted wiki I ran for a while at ‘ea.openfutures.org/OsEATools’. Unfortunately the wiki is now broken and no longer accessible, but I think I can dig up the content from somewhere if anyone really wants it – perhaps let me know if so?)
Now, over to you: the time is ripe for this – so somehow, between all of us, can we make it work this time?