Gartner’s Emergent Architecture – Is this really a new approach?

On August 11th, Gartner announced a “new approach for enterprise architecture” that they labelled “Emergent Architecture”.  I got a chance to read some responses from Todd Biske, Mike Rollings, and Dion Hinchcliffe.  Thanks for the great insights and commentary.

In the press release, Bruce Robertson, Gartner Research VP states the two characteristics of “Emergent EA”:

  1. “Architect the lines, not the boxes – which means managing the connections between the different parts of the business rather than the actual parts of the business themselves.”
  2. “It models all relationships as interactions via some set of interfaces, which can be informal and manual”

On characteristic 1. is if you only look at the connections between parts of the business, how can you look for opportunities to reduce complexity, increase efficiency and implement reusability? I believe enterprise architecture is about the whole organization and its environment, not just pieces of it. As an example, our EA practice encompasses IT Service Management (ITIL), Business Analysis (BA) and Program Management (PMO).

On characteristic 2. , again all this says to me is to take a “user experience” approach to describing the architecture. This is nothing new as far as I can tell … perhaps I am missing something?

Now to look at the 7 properties that differentiate “emergent architecture” from “traditional EA”.

  1. Non-deterministic – “… decentralize decision making to enable innovation”.  I don’t see this as anything new. We address this with our technology lifecycle and our technology governance models. We ensure our architecture has a place for innovation in the R&D phase of the technology lifecycle and in the Innovative area of our technology governance.
  2. Autonomous actors – “… devolve control to constituients”.  Being that we grew our EA practice out of IT and that I was a one person team, I never was able to “control all aspects of architecture”.  Working collaboratively, within a technology governance framework allows autonomy based on funding, support and impact our practice influenced the architecture adopted by our community. Again, I do not see how this is different from our existing EA practice. Implementing data stewardship in our business areas is an example of autonomous acting within our EA.
  3. Rule bound actors – “… define a minimal set of rules and enable choice”. What EA practice has not started with some set of guiding principles? Enabling choice is fundamental within an architecture as long as it respects the established guiding principles. I blogged on this here and here.
  4. Goal oriented actors – “… each constituient acting in their own best interest”. I completely disagree with this one. How does an organization move forward if each of the parts are pulling in separate directions? This is one of the reasons enterprise architecture came into existence. Especially in today’s economy, I know our organization can not afford to have silos of architecture created because it is in a group’s or department’s best interest without considering the overall goals of the organization.
  5. Local Influences – “… EA must increasingly coordinate”.  Nothing new here, we have always needed to provide the enterprise view and coordinate information across our organizations.  This really speaks to the communication mandate of an EA practice. Here are blogs on EA communication by Serge Thorn and Todd Biske.
  6. Dynamic or Adaptive Systems – “… design emergent systems sense and respond to changes in their environment”.  Isn’t this just planning?  We publish a Technology Plan which is a 3 year plan for technology adoption. We consider strategic planning assumptions from our senior leaders, environmental scans of trends in various higher education, human resources, technology and environmental areas and annually update the plan. Sorry but I do not see anything new here.
  7. Resource Contrained Environment – “… the scarcity of resources drives emergence”.  Talk about stating the obvious! We have always been in a resource constrained environment; that is why I consistently work on “practical approaches” to enterprise architecture.  We use standard office software and lightweight databases, leverage our existing capabilities and communicate, communicate, communicate!

So after all is said and done, I don’t see anything new here but a confirmation that we are already doing some to the right things in a practical way to move our organizations forward using enterprise architecture practices. Looking forward to your observations.