Is it possible to more completely grasp the idea of “enterprise”?
And thereby submit that enterprise to the will of executive leadership?
John Zachman, well-known evangelist for enterprise architecture and originator of the Zachman “Framework for Enterprise Architecture”, says “yes”.
Canada’s DAMA affiliate IRMAC scored a coup last week by hosting Mr. Zachman on his road show for an update of the famous Zachman Framework. Mr. Zachman gave a comprehensive tour of the Framework, the reasoning behind it and the advantages that adopting organizations might enjoy.
Mr. Zachman’s key message was that the application of normalization and ontological modeling to low-order, high-entropy organizations – i.e. organizations which are failing due to high cost structures and sclerotic inflexibility -- would reverse that state. The sciences of organizational normalization and ontological modeling, defined by the Zachman Framework, unlock enormous benefits for organizational stakeholders.
Mr. Zachman’s enthusiasm, insights and persuasiveness – and even charisma -- made for an extremely enjoyable and worthwhile event. You could say it was a case of “charisma versus chaos!” And chaos was the loser!
Although the Zachman Framework is widely known more than widely used, nevertheless the Framework sets an aspirational standard to which organizations and software architects everywhere can strive toward.
Who might be interested in the Framework?
Mr. Zachman presents his eponymous Framework as an analytical technology completely applicable to a canonical description of any enterprise. To that end, the ultimate audience for the Zachman Framework should be line-of-business and executive suite cadres – and even shareholders! If there is a huge current hype cycle around search and business intelligence, KPIs and scorecards, all of these things to serve both operational and executive management, then there is also an enormous assumption that the data is available to feed these sensors and controls. That assumption is often unwarranted, in part because the kind of rigorous enterprise modeling promoted by Mr. Zachman has mostly not been done!
How does Mr. Zachman sell the Framework?
“Extreme global competition” and “extreme rates of change” will create a world organizational environment where only rationalized organizations will survive. This is the almost frightening scenario that Mr. Zachman paints, with the answer being the application of rationalizing frameworks which ruthlessly squeeze entropy or redundancy from any organization. And insofar as enterprise architecture or the Zachman Framework specifically, is the recipe book for organizational rationalization, the sales pitch is nicely compelling. Use Zachman, rationalize, survive, and thrive!
Mr. Zachman, a 26-year IBM executive, spoke eloquently about a need to “normalize” the functions of an organization. Without normalization (i.e. the discovery and elimination of redundancy, a term derived from database design and calculus), organizational costs are higher and organizational flexibility is reduced. In this vision, a truly normalized organization would be a supremely flexible organization. Your host finds this vision to be very compelling!
In addition to the application of the terms normalization and ontology to business, Mr. Zachman also emphasizes that the Framework drives a modeling exercise built on the identification of organizational “primitives”, almost like LEGO building blocks.
And Mr. Zachman adds a compelling analogy around manufacturing, in that all organizational and software construction to date has been characterized by a “manufacturing” approach, as opposed to his preferred “engineering” approach. Manufacturing, it seems to Mr. Zachman, is akin to performing by rote, without insight or control; this method is as opposed to an engineering approach where decisions are made consciously.
John Zachman is also no fan of slipshod software design, possibly represented by “agile” development methods. In conversation after his presentation, Mr. Zachman suggested that agile software design is typically conducted without any theoretical underpinnings or systematic modeling of business reality. As Mr. Zachman says “you don’t get good data quality by accident, only by design”. [Ed: From this point of view, agile software development is predicated on a radical “statement of faith” in the “properties of emergence”.]
It’s exciting to imagine “normalization” and “ontologies” applied on a grand scale. And even more exciting is an image of ultra-flexible organizations stripped to their essentials, ready for the world of “extreme competition and complexity” mentioned by Mr. Zachman. And although Mr. Zachman is a leading exponent of enterprise modeling, he is fortunately not alone, but rather only a leading exemplar of the whole “enterprise architecture movement”.
What have been the results to date for enterprise architecture and enterprise modeling framework adoptions?
To date, widespread adoption of enterprise architecture generally, or the Zachman framework specifically, has been disappointing. Given the compelling business and technical case outlined above, what might explain this situation?
There are at least three reasons for the slow uptake of enterprise architecture; which if addressed, would probably go a long way to removing the obstacles in the way of the normalized, flexible enterprise described by Mr. Zachman.
(1) Senior business leaders have not bought in to a technology that purports to completely describe their world. Zachman’s emphasis on a holistic analysis of enterprise systems is important and worthwhile. But is there an “impedance mismatch” between a framework-based vision and the organized chaos which is the reality of organizational life? And is this gap intuited by ever-practical executive cadres?
(2) Another issue is cost, which is of course related to the executive sponsorship issue mentioned in No. 1 above. But, just in and of itself, the number of Framework artifacts which must be maintained in any organization of passing complexity, could easily number in the millions. It is likely that the modelled permutations and combinations of reality would be impossible to “administer”. (Interesting calculations on this question can be found in various blogs. In fairness, Mr. Zachman is not suggesting the impossible and clearly the methodology of Framework implementation is important.)
(3) As is widely debated in IT departments, by the enterprise architecture "commentariate" and even in academia, the definition of enterprise architecture is not settled. This lack of definition is sometimes blamed for notable EA debacles. As a technology, enterprise architecture still has some maturing to do.
Maybe in a future note we can see what economics, organizational behavior and IT governance have to say about idealistic, “top-down” modeling regimes. And also about how BPM technology relates to enterprise architecture.
In the meantime however, a big shout-out to IRMAC and especially to Mr. Zachman for such a stimulating event!