Sometimes, when we architect change, we can make mistakes and people and organizations end up getting hurt.
In the movie I Am Legend, mankind architects a way to use a virus to kill cancer—seemingly, the cure that we’ve all been hoping for; but something goes terribly wrong and 90% of the world ends up dead, while another 9% end up as zombie cannibals feeding off of the remaining 1% of the population that is immune to the virus.
“Viral diseases such as rabies, yellow fever and smallpox have affected humans for centuries…Examples of common human diseases caused by viruses include the common cold, the flu, chickenpox and cold sores. Serious diseases such as Ebola, AIDS, avian influenza and SARS are caused by viruses…The ability of viruses to cause devastating epidemics in human societies has led to the concern that viruses could be weaponized for biological warfare.” (Adapted from Wikipedia)
So is there such a thing as a good virus?
Now scientists have architected, they believe, a way for viruses (bacteriophages) to kill bacterial infections (hopefully, not a repeat of the I Am Legend plot!)
MIT Technology Review, 15 April 2008, reports that “in the fight against infection, viruses take up where antibiotics leave off.”
Superbug bacteria infects up to 1.2 million patients a year in the U.S., particularly in hospitals where bacteria can spread from countertops, stethoscopes, and catheters.
Scientists have developed “nylon sutures coated with bacteriophages—viruses, found naturally in water, that eat bacteria while leaving human cells intact.”
Bacteriophages were used in World War II to treat soldiers with dysentery and gangrene, but this was soon overcome by rising interest in antibiotics. But “it takes time to get new classes of antibiotics onto the market, whereas bacteriophages can be easily isolated from environmental sources such as sewage water.”
How do the bacteriophages work?
“In water, these natural born-killers are extremely effective at eating up bacteria. The virus binds to bacteria and injects its DNA, replicating within its host until it reaches capacity, whereupon it bursts out, killing the bacteria in the process.”
What is the advantage to using bacteriophages?
“Antibiotics are broad-spectrum, and for certain bacterial strains, it’s easier to use bacteriophages if you know exactly which bacterium is causing the infection. You can target one strain, and it wouldn’t affect any other bacteria that may be protecting cells.”
Aside from sutures, how else might bacteriophages be applied?
They can be incorporated into sprays and creams.
Additionally, bacteriophages, aside from use in fighting bacteria, may be useful in detecting bacterial infection.
From an enterprise architecture perspective, the baseline for fighting infection has for many years been through antibiotics. Now, the target architecture includes viruses that can kill the bacteria. However, as in the case of the virus that is supposed to help cure, but instead causes a lethal epidemic, there is always the potential for things to go off course, when we architect change in the enterprise.
Catastrophic consequences from change can occur for example, when we make changes to products, processes, people, and technologies in organizations. These can result in unintended consequences like defective products, inefficient processes, accidents to employees, and failed IT implementations to name just a few.
The point is that enterprise architecture is not a bacteriophage or antibiotic cure-all. As architects, we need to be cognizant of the risks inherent in change (as well as in maintaining the status quo) and manage change thoughtfully, carefully, and with an eye toward risk management all along the way.
The last thing we want to be is Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (in the movie I Am Legend) left as the last healthy human along with his trusty dog in New York City and possibly the entire world.