>A Postmodernist Approach to Enterprise Architecture

>It’s a crazy world out there. Just about every argument a counter-argument, every theory a contrary theory, every point a counter-point: whether we are watching the Presidential debates, open session on Capitol Hill or at the United Nations, The Supreme Court or Court TV, bull or bear on the stock market, religious and philosophical beliefs, and more. Even what some deemed scientific “facts” or religious doctrine are now regularly debated and disputed. Some examples: Creation or “Big Bang,” global warming or cyclical changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, peak oil theory or ample supplies, right to life at conception or at some point of maturation, cloning and stem cells or not, criminal punishment or rehabilitation—it seems like there is no end to the argument.

So what are we to believe?

For those who are religious, the answer is simple, you believe what you have been taught and accept as the “word of G-d.” This is straightforward. However, the problem is that not everyone adheres to the same religious beliefs.

For those that believe in “following their hearts”, gut, intuition, then we have very subjective belief systems.

For those that only “believe what they see” or what is “proven”, then we are still left with lots of issues that can’t be proved beyond a doubt and are open to interpretation, critical thinking, teachings, or which side of the bed you woke up on that day.

Fortune Magazine, 27 October 2008, has an article on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, “the state-owned national oil company…it’s daily profit is 21/2 times that of Exxon Mobil, the world’s most profitable publicly held company.” Aramco’s annual report contains details about “daily oil and natural gas production, the number of wells it drills, exports, refinery outputs, and more. The only problem: Since it contains no audited financial numbers, it’s hard to know what to believe.”

Similarly, “it warms readers not to listen to scaremongers spreading the ‘misperception’ that future supplies may not meet global demand. The world’s resources, it says are sufficient for well over a century—and when technological advances are factored in, for another 100 years after that.”

It’s hard to know who and what to believe, because usually those presenting “a side” have a vested interest in the outcome of a certain viewpoint. Hence all the lobbyists in Washington!

For example, Aramco and OPEC have a vested interest in everyone believing that there is plenty of oil to go around and stave off the research and development into alternatives energy sources. At the same time, those who preach peak oil theory, may have an interest in energy independence of this country or they may just be scared (or they may be right on!).

From an enterprise architecture perspective, I think the question of getting to the truth is essential to us being able to plan for our organizations and to make wise investment decisions. If we can’t tell the truth of a matter, how we can set a direction and determine what to do, invest in, how to proceed?

Of course, it’s easy to say trust but verify, validate from multiple sources, and so on, but as we saw earlier not everything is subject to verification at this point in time. We may be limited by science, technology, oppositional views, or our feeble brain matter (i.e. we just don’t know or can’t comprehend).

When it comes to IT governance, for example, project sponsors routinely come to the Enterprise Architecture to present their business cases for IT investments and to them, each investment idea is the greatest thing since Swiss cheese and of course, they have the return on investment projections, and subject matter expert to back them up. Yes, their mission will fail without an investment in X, Y, or Z and no one wants to be responsible for that, of course.

So what’s the truth? How do we determine truth?

Bring in the auditors? Comb through the ROI projections? Put the SMEs on the EA Board “witness stand” or take them to a back room and interrogate them. Perhaps, some water boarding will “make them talk”?

Many experts, for example, Jack Welch of GE and other high profile Fortune 500 execs, including the big Wall Street powerhouses (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie/Freddie) call for asking lots of questions—tearing this way and that way at subordinates—until the truth be known. Well look at how many or most of these companies are doing these days. “The truth” was apparently a lot of lies. The likes of Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, and on and on.

So we can’t underestimate the challenge of getting to truth and planning and governing towards a future where argument and questions prevail.

Perhaps the answer is that truth is somewhat relative, and is anchored in the worldview, priorities, assumptions, and constraints of the viewer. From this perspective, the stock market crashes not necessarily or only because businesses are poorly run, but because investors believe that the bottom has fallen out and that their investments are worthless. Similarly, from an enterprise architecture perspective, the baseline/target may not be an objective set of “where we are” vs. “where we want to be,” but “how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others now” vs. “how we want to be perceived in the future.”

This approach is not wholly new—this is the postmodern attitude toward the world that academics have been preaching for decades. What is unique is the application of postmodernism and relativism to the IT/business world and the recognition that sometimes to understand reality, we have to let go of our strict addiction to it.

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