>Architecting a Balance

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As a child, we learn from our parents, teachers, and mentors, that too much of even a good thing is bad for you: be it sweets or hard work—in fact, just about anything taken to an extreme is deadly.

The lesson of finding a balance in life has been captured in religious and philosophical teaching about practicing a middle of the road or golden path approach in life. In architecture as well, developing a strong viable architecture is also premised on balancing conflicting demands and finding that delicate balance.

In simple terms, architecting a balance shows up in having to manage scarce IT resources. So that while on one hand, we may like to have the latest and greatest technologies to give us every edge, we have to balance to promise of those technologies with the cost involved. We do not have endlessly deep pockets.

Similarly, while on one hand, we it would be wonderfully customer-centric to provide each and every one of our customers the customized business processes and technology solution that they want, prefer, or are simply most familiar or comfortable using; on the other hand, we must balance the innovativeness and agility that our customers demand with the need to standard around enterprise and common solutions, which provide a more structured, deliberate, and lower cost base on which to service the enterprise.

As we know from childhood, it is not easy to find the “right” balance. That next bite of cotton candy tastes great going down and we won’t feel the stomachache till later that evening.

National Defense Magazine, November 2007, has an article about architecting a balance in the Coast Guard mission of maritime security, titled “License to Boat?”

The threats from small boating vessels are threefold:

  1. Smuggling—“the use of a boat to smuggle people or weapons of mass destruction into the United States.”
  2. Waterborne improvised explosive device (IED)—“that a boat will be used as a weapon itself by a suicide bomber” (such as the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole). “Imagine…the consequences of waterborne IEDs against passenger ships, against tankers, against port facilities themselves.”
  3. Weapons’ platform—“boat used as a platform to launch a weapon, such as a short-range ballistic missle,” says Dana Goward, Director of MDA, at the U.S. Coast Guard

Despite these serious security threats, the article discusses the challenges of architecting a balance between increased security/maritime domain awareness (such as through requiring of boating licenses and/or automated identification systems for the more than 17 million small vessels that operate in U.S. waterways) and the desire to “ensure that future regulations don’t compromise boaters’ way of life or disrupt the flow of commerce.”

Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so if security options don’t include boating licenses, Goward states, “the answer could be something as simple as a combination of rules, extra patrols, and increased monitoring on the waterways.”

When it comes to balancing competing interests, nothing is really simple. National Defense Magazine reports that in terms of maritime security, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on “Maritime Security: Potential Terrorist Attacks and Protection Priorities,” states that “terrorists are more likely to use small boats for waterborne attacks because they ‘satisfy the overwhelming terrorist requirements for simplicity,” Now, we need to continue architecting solutions that meet these security threats head-on, but at the same time preserve freedoms, our way of life, and support international commerce.

Creating balance between alternate views/needs is one of the biggest challenges, but also has the potential for some of the greatest benefits, because by striking a balance, we have the potential to satisfy the greatest number of stakeholders and optimize our ability to meet conflicting requirements. It’s easy to (as the Nike slogan says) “just do it,” but it’s hard to do it and not mess up something else in the process. For example, it’s relatively easy to do security, if you aren’t concerned with the affect on quality of life, commerce, and so on. However, this is not realistic.

Like all things in life, finding the right balance is an art and a science, and requires ongoing course corrections.

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