October 18, 2007

On Chaos in IT

Steve Jones:

...in part Stefan has a good point, namely that IT systems currently suck. But where I'd disagree is that the goal of IT should be to create such a chaotic system with so little governance and control. This is one challenge I have when people talk about applying Web principles to the enterprise, it misses out on a fundamental difference between businesses and the internet. Namely that of compulsion.

I think the point is that the Web is an architecture of participation, wherein we set up constraints to enable value by converging on a small number of strong rules, even if you diverge in many other aspects. And even in businesses, people disagree on issues, but still need to work together.

People have often referred enterprise architecture as "city planning", primarily because the business does not speak with one voice -- it is very typically decentralized. Weill & Ross' excellent book IT Governance discusses the variety of governance styles, and very few are "Monarchy" or "Duopoly", wherein the compulsory standards will be likely adhered to. "Feudal" seems to be the dysfunctional norm, where each profit center doing what it wants, and "Federal" as an acceptable, if politicized, alternative.

The other note, similar to what John Hagel & John Seeley Brown have been saying, channeling Drucker, is that the borders of the enterprise are dissolving, and interaction is occurring outside of its walls at an increasing rate. Why adopt an architecture that is inwardly focused, when all results, most opportunities, and threats are on the outside of the legal fiction of the organization?

I guess the core question is whether the large organization *fundamentally* tends towards convergence or divergence in nature. If it's divergent, you're rarely going to get broad compulsory agreement on many domains of value, and even when you do, you need to invest heavily to maintain that agreement.

The alternative is to adopt a collaborative agreement, wherein the participants have incentives to join, and the benefits are emergent. With the web, the assumed incentive is exchanging and transforming an ever increasing amount of wildly diverse information.

Of course this is not the end of history, but I think it's a step towards better IT.

Posted by stu at October 18, 2007 10:30 AM