We have witnessed the evolution of architecture from a focus on “systems and data” to “capabilities and outcomes.” This has elevated architecture from technical aloofness, or even snobbery, to a focus on delivering business value to enterprises and organizations. Architected “solutions” usually deliver value at the division or section level, providing groups of knowledge workers the tools and capabilities that make them more efficient or productive. Architecting solutions into a consistent enterprise framework of standardized technologies and platforms often delivers improved scalability enterprise wide, while keeping integration, enhancement, support, and maintenance costs under control.
Architecting capabilities and outcomes at the division and section levels is necessary, and will remain so as we move closer to the pinnacle of the “knowledge” enterprise in a “knowledge” society. The time has come, however, when more organizations are finding that individual workers need unique tools and access to specialized knowledge to be most effective. The rise of mobile devices and their apps has accentuated and accelerated this transformation to more individual focus. The incredible array of apps that people can download has the potential to blur the edges of the enterprise systems portfolio. One question more companies and more technologists will be asking more frequently is: How do we better empower knowledge workers to meet their unique needs?
This may sound like a daunting question, both in technical and financial terms. Organizations don’t allocate IT budget at the individual level. And governance doesn’t feel like something that can be distributed to the individual. But we may be able to take cues from the successes of the free market economies and democratic societies where the rule of law and fair arbitration systems appear to be enough to maintain order. Fine-tuning the laws and arbitration system at a corporate level should be even easier than in nations and states. But pushing governance responsibilities to individuals, though an appealing choice, means accepting some significant risks, implementing comprehensive technical security and auditing technologies, and instituting organization-wide governance responsibilities and accountabilities throughout the hierarchy.
Dave Payne, vice president of Systems Engineering at Code42, a rapidly growing Minneapolis technology company, recently told me that one of the reasons for his company’s success is the fact that it delivers its capabilities to both individuals and organizations. The individuals know of the software quality from personal experience (they downloaded the app on their home PC), so it’s easy to explain the business value to the broader organization. As the core capabilities are needed by organizations as well as individuals, the dual approach works. In this case, what’s good for the organization is also good for the individual, and they are largely the same thing.
Shall we turn the tables and suggest that what is good for the individual is good for the organization, even when they are not largely the same thing? I am NOT suggesting that everything good for the individual benefits the group. I can think of many cases where individual and group interests conflict, and many others where they coincide to lesser or greater degrees: hence the need for governance.
I’ve seen a lot of under-the-radar applications in many organizations, often built in MS Access© or Excel©, that serve the individual and benefit the enterprise but are not subject to any level of governance. In the new knowledge enterprise, where business users have more ability to customize workflows, rules, dashboards, and reports, and the outputs of some of the more intelligent systems will be in the form of actionable knowledge, governance will rise in both complexity and importance.
If we accept the propositions that individual knowledge workers may need unique sets of capabilities, and that governance should be applied to overseeing this mélange of capabilities, traditional “information category” or “organization section” based definitions of stewardship may not suffice.
The fortunes of nations, armies and companies surprisingly often pivot on a single point, or a few very strong points of excellence. These points revolve around individual people. I believe it is always true that the more an organization, country, or military empowers individuals, the more aggregate strength they can count on. In both cases, individual successes add up to collective successes. Individual failures and malicious behavior can be similarly devastating if not contained. Bottom line: The new knowledge architecture must meet individual users’ needs while containing and limiting the potential damage.
Can we empower individuals with unique capabilities without incurring massive costs and governance nightmares? Yes. Just because the organization needs to give individuals unique capabilities, doesn’t mean the organization has to be fully responsible for what unique capabilities each individual has. How is this possible? Allow me to propose a new distributed dynamic architecture and governance formalism.
- Canonical knowledge model with converged content for heuristic search and processing
- Secure, dynamic integration templates and agnostic services
- Workflow and “dialog” heuristics (fine-grained services) with knowledge-based rules
- Smart monitoring and auditing of interactions with third-party apps and devices
The knowledge architecture components will require four-point governance (see figure 1):
- Meta-Content Governance
a. Canonical modeling and content transformation
b. Content convergence with meta-data master management
- Integration Governance
a. IT-managed workflow templates with content and systems integrations
b. Privilege-based remote user access
- Heuristic Governance
a. User-managed and steward-governed workflows
b. Custom “dialogs” with embedded rules
- Device Agnosticism with Mobile Device Management
a. Storage anywhere with managed encryption
b. Rules-based APIs for remote apps and devices
In the upcoming articles in this series, I will present case studies from multiple industries and verticals in which application of components of this model have produced positive results as well as examples or mine fields that should be avoided.
The series will go into depth on the implications of each of these four points of implementation and governance in the knowledge enterprise. Their focus will be on WHAT to do to govern digital knowledge, with one final installment on HOW to model and build it using existing commercial and open source technologies.