EA the DNA Way

EA the DNA Way

Enterprise architecture is a means of understanding an organization's DNA as well as providing a platform for innovation and experimentation.

The Heart of Organization

At Investec, such thinking is more than just speculative. Enterprise architecture at Investec is viewed as a pyramid, with culture (or behaviour) at the bottom, where it informs the social architecture, which sits on top of it. This social architecture in turn plays a big role in influencing the information architecture, determined by information needed from both the external environment (what the competition is doing and so forth), and also from internal sources. In order to make decisions the "social architecture" needs information. Many of the decisions revolve about the business model in play in the organization and go to the heart of the purpose of the organization.

The information architecture then feeds into the business model, which influences the applications, which in turn influence the nature and volume of data. At the top, finally, is the technology. In Shapiro's eyes therefore, starting with the technology is to ignore everything but the tip of the iceberg.

Instead, it is vital to account for culture in developing the architecture. Culture distinguishes between "okay" behaviour and "not okay" behaviour amongst groups of people in the context of the society or organization, he says. This sets the foundation for all decision making. The enterprise is a "melting pot" of influences and negotiations, which eventually form distinct observable patterns. These repeated patterns and ways of making decisions are reflected in organizational structures and formal and informal reporting lines.

Recognizing how resistant organizations with strong cultures can be to change, Shapiro says enterprise architects should use every tool at their disposal to create a common view or vision before embarking on significant change or any new development. The starting point should be the development of a common "language" or "meta-model", ideally recorded in an electronic form that makes it amenable to rigorous, automated analysis.

After all, the purpose of the EA is to communicate in order to expose our "mental models", he says. "People frequently misunderstand each other because they can use the same words while meaning different things. Similarly, the same words can create different mental images in people's minds. Until you can explain those different models by using a common language, you will create only misunderstanding. And since every organization is unique, the framework used to describe the organization should be unique. Using object-domain models to document the discussions around this framework naturally exposes some of the unique organizational DNA.

"We concentrate on language a lot in the work that we do in Investec on enterprise architecture, because the language - the way in which we say things and the words that we use - actually becomes the framework itself," Shapiro says. "And we use an object domain model which derives from the object world of the 1990s, to document the discussions that we have about the framework.

"That term 'object domain model' has got analogies in other fields. In the heyday of artificial intelligence we would have called it the 'semantic database'. So now if you go and have workshops across the organization, the purpose is to flesh out the semantic model or framework: looking at the language that we use - especially for the relationships between objects - in the object domain model does exactly the same thing."

Shapiro says that although the framework to record business processes does little to reveal the organizational DNA, the bottom layers of the pyramid reveal much about its nature. For example at Investec the object domain model shows that a business area consists of people, and people belong to a business area. Those people have differing roles, but as a people-centric organization, there is no sense of role hierarchy in the organization. A hierarchically-centric organization would have a very different diagram.

"In our place it is a hotly contested area; you need to listen to the words that you use. For instance, take the fact that the business area consists of people who fill roles - we insist in the discussion that it is recorded like that: the business area consists of people, people just happen to have a bunch of roles. We are insistent on describing it that way because this is really part of the culture that we hold very, very dear. So when we look at an HR system, if it talks of building an organizational hierarchy of 'posts' and filling them with 'full-time equivalents', the language really jars."

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