RBPEA: A taste for value

As enterprise-architecture expands outward (see video) to a much broader scope and scale (see video), we’ll need a different kind of anchor for the architecture itself: less on means such as IT or money, more on aims, ends and purpose. In short, a new focus on people, on needs, on values and value.

To make that work, we may well need to reframe almost everything we know about ideas such as price, value, worth and cost – and how each of those intersect with enterprise, too.

But how do we do that?

One place to start is a useful trick that we can apply to our architectures: that in principle we could replace every monetary transaction with the one phrase “What do you need?”. So let’s sit back with a nice hot drink and a biscuit – and acquire a taste for value, by exploring the enterprise of the biscuit:

Graphic by Joseph Chittenden ( www.JC3DVis.co.uk )

(Note for US folks: not biscuit as in ‘biscuits and gravy’, but biscuit in the British sense – what you’d call a ‘cookie’. The same principles do apply in both cases, though the taste wouldn’t be quite the same…)

There’s the biscuit – just what you need!

Yet what is it? It’s a round biscuit, fully coated in chocolate, wrapped in blue foil. You took it from that colourful cardboard pack on the cafe counter. You paid perhaps fifty pence for it here, or maybe fifty cents – though you know it would have been a quarter of that price at the supermarket. Nice, of course – you wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. Just happens to be what you need right now. Nothing to notice there.

Really? Let’s take closer look…

What are the ingredients for the biscuit itself, or for the chocolate coating? Where were each of those ingredients grown, or found? Who grew them, or found them? What were the needs, to make all of that possible? What weather did they need? What type of land did they need? What were the needs for their families, their communities, or from their regulators, lawmakers and others, to support those people in all of this?

For the biscuit itself, who made the biscuit-dough? How did they make it? Who baked the dough into a biscuit? How did they do that? Who needed what, to make all of this happen, at scale?

Who mixed the cocoa, the sugar and more, to make the chocolate? What did they need, to get the mix to work smoothly? What did they need to do, to measure, to test, so as to get the right taste and texture, every time, at large scale?

Who brought the biscuit and the chocolate together, to make the chocolate-biscuit in your hand? How did they do it? – again at large scale? What did they need, to make that happen?

Who moved each of these elements around, at every stage from the field to plate? What did they need, to make all of this happen? What were the needs behind each of those needs? – the vehicles, the fuel, the infrastructure to make and maintain the vehicles, the infrastructure for fuel-delivery, the infrastructure to find and make the fuel, on and on and on…

What about the foil-wrapper? – what are the elements for that? Where are those elements found, grown, extracted, created, mixed, brought together, printed, tested as safe for use with food, wrapped around the finished biscuit? What are the needs at each step, to make each of those steps happen? Who does what, at each stage of this supply-chain? What are their needs?

The same for the cardboard pack: sourcing or growing each of its elements, creating the cardboard, printing, shaping, cutting, folding, filling, storage, transport and more. What are the needs at each stage? Who is responsible for satisfying each of those needs? What are their own needs, in turn?

And for the foil and the pack, what needs to happen after our own needs have been satisfied? How do we manage any waste of those resources that we no longer require for that need? How might we eliminate any waste at all, so as to support the needs of a circular-economy?

All of that, just to support the enterprise of your need for a chocolate biscuit.

So let’s turn that around a bit, and look at that whole enterprise from the perspective of whole-enterprise architecture.

Implications for enterprise-architecture

First point: in today’s globalised economies, the actual shared-enterprise of even something as seemingly-basic as a chocolate-biscuit can be hugely complex, in places extending outward to a literally global scope and scale. Given that all of the players in the shared-enterprise are in some way interdependent on every other player, then the pretence that it’s only about the biscuit and nothing else is not so much myopic as downright dangerous to the entire enterprise. The same applies if we place the focus solely on any other arbitrarily-selected ‘the Centre’.

Next point: the needs behind every aspect of the enterprise can themselves be hugely complex, in turn intersecting with many other forms of shared-enterprise – a family, a community, a region, a country, an entire continent, and many, many more. The entire enterprise is placed at risk if we fail to satisfy any of those needs, especially in the longer term. Our architecture of that enterprise therefore does need to pay appropriate attention to all of those respective needs, so as to identify hidden risks (and opportunities too) behind each of the respective interactions.

Next: classic ‘enterprise’-architecture places its focus almost exclusively on IT. And yes, it’s relevant to the enterprise – no doubt about that, given the amount of information that needs to move around and connect everything together. Yet its tightly-held notion that ‘IT is the sole centre of everything‘ will seriously miss the point here, in far too many ways to count. And the tendency of that approach to dump everything not-IT into a random grab-bag called ‘business-architecture’ – otherwise known as ‘Somebody Else’s Problem‘ – will really not help us in making sense of the enterprise as a whole. In short, IT-architectures are relevant, yes, in some aspects of the enterprise, yes – yet always with serious caveats about its very real limitations around the enterprise as a whole.

Next: current business-architecture still tends to place its focus on the needs of just one organisation – with little if any attention paid to the needs of others in the shared-enterprise, particularly those beyond direct interaction with that organisation itself. There’s also a strong tendency to reduce everything to monetary terms – even where this makes no sense, such as trying to put a price on weather or waterflows, or on the hopes, fears and families of farmers and others spread out across the centuries and across an entire continent. Yes, we can sort-of put a price on everything, but doing so often seriously misses the point – especially at a whole-enterprise scope and scale. Anything that isn’t amenable to money-based metrics tends to be dumped into yet another ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ basket – again risking serious gaps in the overall architecture. So yes, business-architecture is relevant to some aspects of the enterprise – but not all.

In short, both of those (IT-centric ‘enterprise’-architecture, and money-centric ‘business-architecture’) often claim to be all that we’d need for enterprise-architecture – yet in reality they leave so many gaps in coverage of the context that they’re fast becoming more of a disservice to what we actually need for a true whole-of-enterprise architecture.

Why does this matter? Short-answer: If those gaps in coverage of the enterprise aren’t covered by some valid form of architecture, to map and track all of the interdependencies, the architecture for that enterprise will likely fail – and hence no-one will get their chocolate biscuit.

The same issues also recur as we extend the scope of architecture-concerns for our architectures further outward, to themes such as the impact of global-scale economics on the business of even the smallest of organisations. To me at least, it’s clear that at present much of those themes are based on arbitrary assumptions and subset-pretending-to-be-the-whole ‘term-hijacks’ that have rarely been questioned at all – and when we do start to question them, yet more glaring gaps immediately appear, along with some seriouslyworrying risks.

What can we do about this? Well, one place to start would be something we’ve seen so often above: the assumption that ‘money’ is the same as ‘value’. Yet what might happen if we were to show that money doesn’t matter? – that we don’t even need it to make things work? We already know that money doesn’t make much sense in the literal economics of the household itself – yet might the same apply to our other everyday economic-interactions too? In short, can we imagine a world beyond money? That’s what we’ll explore in the next post in this series.

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