This site nearly got called The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Enterprise. My admiration for Douglas Adams only seems to increase with the years. Now he’s provided me with inspiration for the second blog in a row.
Adams, in his quiet way, conveyed quite a few useful insights into both human behavior and how the world (and the universe) works – or seems to work – or seems at times not to work. One of his little masterpieces was “the interconnectedness of all things” which was the insight that inspired the work of Dirk Gently (owner and sole operative of the Holistic Detective Agency).
This wasn’t some piece of cosmic mysticism but essentially a rather practical insistence on looking at the pieces of the puzzle as an interconnected whole, even when one doesn’t yet know what the completed puzzle will look like. Here’s how Dirk expressed it:
I’m very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term `holistic’ refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson.
Let me give you an example. If you go to an acupuncturist with toothache he sticks a needle instead into your thigh. Do you know why he does that, Mrs Rawlinson?
No, neither do I, Mrs Rawlinson, but we intend to find out. A pleasure talking to you, Mrs Rawlinson. Goodbye.
Industry analyst groups (you know, Gartner, Forrester etc) have recently discovered that there’s a lot of technology happening, which can be seen as different manifestations of a general trend. There’s Cloud, SOA, (Enterprise) Mobility, Social Media/Enterprise/Business, The Internet of Things, Big Data – and more. The general trend is for enterprises to become increasingly involved in increasingly broad ecosystems. As a trend, it predates that list of Internet phenomena but it’s clear that they are dramatically accelerating the pace.
Although no one (as far as I know) denies that each of these has its own specifics and deserves individual examination, people are starting to understand that it’s time to find ways of understanding the puzzle as a whole. Some of us have been pointing this out for a few years now but, like it or not, it often takes a Gartner Group to notice it for everyone else to start taking it seriously. What these organizations like to do is to pin labels on things. Give it a name and you can kid yourself you know what it is. That fact in and of itself makes it easier for people – especially those who don’t like dealing with stuff you actually have to think about. I hope we’ll make the minimum possible use of these labels and concentrate on the real issues.
What matters here is that the phenomena listed above are part of a general tendency for the business of an enterprise to become increasingly bound up with the business of other enterprises and as a result to be affected by changes and developments well outside its own range of control. Organizations and in particular commercial organizations become part of what Jack Martin Leith calls a Business Ecosystem. If one goes back, say, 10 years (maybe less), this tendency already manifested itself on the business side through the “outsourcing” of significant parts of the organization’s business processes to other organizations – partners. The result wasn’t simply a value chain but a value network, sometimes known as Extended Enterprise. Ten years later we see technological developments like Cloud having the same effect on how even the processes retained within the organization are carried out. Social and Mobile take this further and also take it out into the wider enterprise and out into that business ecosystem. Cloud, Social and Mobile involve technological interconnectedness. Social and Mobile also involve business interconnectedness (one could argue that Cloud does too and I wouldn’t feel the need to disagree).
We know that the effects of these various technologies are interconnected at multiple levels, so it becomes increasingly important to understand how they will work together – or fail to work together. Or to put it more constructively, we need strategies and standards to ensure that they do work together to the extent that we can control them. We also need to understand what all the things are that we can’t control but might just jump out and bite us.
There are already enough anti-patterns for the use of social media. Add to that the multi-channel implications of mobility, stir in a dose of Cloud and a bunch of machines exchanging messages without being able to ask each other “excuse me, what did you mean by that?” It’s easy to see how this all might go horribly wrong or at least become just the latest bright idea that finishes up making our lives more difficult. And that would be a shame.
So I’m with Dirk Gently. Let’s try to understand the “pattern and web of the whole”.
As I write this, The Open Group is starting a new initiative to look at these technological developments as a whole. I don’t much like the name, Platform 3.0, but I’ll live with it. What’s important is that someone is going to look at the whole interconnected whatever-we’re-going-to-call-it in a holistic manner. I’ll certainly do my bit to help with that.