A great conversation yesterday evening with a former colleague from Sydney, Robert Phipps. Rambling over a range of enterprise-architecture themes: about the distinctions between organisation and enterprise, about the role of values in the defining vision (or ‘venture’, as he put it – a useful term), about the flow of value around the shared-enterprise, and the usefulness of Business Model Canvas but its limitations for a not-for-profit government department – in other words, all the usual EA topics.
But there was one almost throwaway remark he made that caught my attention, that could be a very useful avenue to explore: the enterprise composed not of entities but vectors.
(He’s been brewing on this theme for quite a while, it seems, but unfortunately hasn’t written much about it as yet – will chase him to do so when he gets home from his holidays!)
What excites me here is that this could be a way to break enterprise-architecture discussions out of the wretched trap of talking about supposed states – ‘present-state’ versus the non-existent ‘future-state’, and so on. In effect this model uses the old physics metaphor of particle versus wave, but applies it to enterprise-architecture. The usual ‘components’ or ‘building-blocks’ are like particles, and hence it’s easy to fall back into the language of ‘states’. But if we see the same quantum-like entities in a guise of wave rather than particle, this suggests the notion that everything has a vector, a trajectory of change, with direction, velocity, even with its own mass or inertia – but not a ‘state’. A project or whatever doesn’t change the organisation from ‘current state’ to ‘future state’: instead, it provides a vector that points towards a particular direction at a particular speed. The vector does sort-of imply a ‘future state’ at an arbitrarily-chosen future point in time, but that kind of frozen-time snapshot belies the dynamics of what’s actually going on. And vectors intersect: hence whilst a single vector may point to a ‘future state’, the interaction of all the vectors will inherently take the overall system someplace else.
Architectural alignment also makes more sense in the terms of this metaphor, too: we’re not lining up a bunch of particles, but aligning the vectors. Or, another way to look at this would be in terms of Brownian motion: all the different vectors coincide and intersect and interact to drive larger, more visible ‘particles’ (business capabilities, perhaps? or even the organisation as a whole?).
Just seems a nice idea, anyway. Comments or suggestions, anyone? (And if so, let Robert know via Twitter at @robert_phipps ?)