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Social Enterprise Architecture

July 17th, 2013 » Posted in Architecture

There are 2 apparently unrelated trends that have been permeating the corporate environment in the last few years. One of them, Enterprise Architecture has been around for quite a while, but with all the recent technology advances (i.e. ERP systems, Cloud computing, SaaS, Big Data, etc.), and heterogeneous business needs (i.e. globalization, different markets, products, etc.), it has reached a crisis point. The second one, most of us are familiar with it outside of the corporate environment: Social Networks.

Let’s go into each of these “distinct” areas, and see if there is anything that one can benefit from the other.

Enterprise Architecture

Many years ago, a new practice in the IT world was started that soon came to be known as Enterprise Architecture. The field initially began to address two problems:

  1. ♦ Applications and Systems Complexity—Enterprises were investing more and more money building Business Solutions with IT systems
  2. ♦ Poor business alignment—Enterprises were finding it more and more difficult to keep those increasingly expensive IT Applications aligned with the Business Needs.

At the end: more cost, less value.

Those problems, first observed more than twenty years ago, have today reached a crisis point. The cost and complexity of the IT Business Solutions have exponentially increased, while the chances of gaining any real value from those solutions have dramatically decreased.

There is a lot of literature on the topic of Enterprise Architecture (EA.) Different Frameworks, and Methodologies have been created. We have TOGAF, Zachman, FEA, and many more. All of those defining a set of Practices to help the organizations managing and dealing with the problems outlined above.

In this article, we will not cover any of them. As said before, there are plenty of articles and books that describe them pretty well.

A well managed EA Practice will help managing the problems outlined above while providing the following benefits:

  1. A more efficient IT operation
  2. Better return on existing IT investment and reduced risk for future IT investment
  3. Faster, simpler and cheaper procurement
  4. Increased flexibility for business growth and restructuring
  5. Simplified integration through a merge or acquisition (M&A activities)
  6. Faster time-to-market for new products or even operational innovations
  7. Reduced business risk associated with IT
  8. Bridging of the business strategy & implementation gap
  9. More pertinent and relevant solutions for the business

Those are very significant benefits, that tell any executive that you should definitively look into having an efficient EA Practice in your organization.

Independently of which framework or methodology you choose to use, they all converge into one topic as the general reason an Enterprise Architecture practice will succeed or fail: “Engagement.”

“Engagement” needs to occur at all the levels of the Organization. Some claim that the only way the EA Practice will succeed is if it belongs organizationally to the business. The reason they say that, is because you need full engagement from the business for it to be of any success.

Extending this concept, you need engagement of the entire organization, not just the business or IT, but both.

The other problem that we have seen in many organizations is that the EA Practice is a continuous process. The organization is changing on a daily basis, and what you know of the organization today, might not be true tomorrow.

This presents itself as a major challenge to any EA Practice in an Enterprise. How do you do to keep up with a living organization that is changing all the time? Do you need to have an “army of people” just to maintain your EA practice up to date? How to you keep your entire organization engaged in the EA practice throughout change? What option do we have?

Social Networks

Social networks have totally changed the way in which we communicate, and share information.

It only takes to get in the subway in any of the major cities to see all the people just connected through their mobile devices into the network, and socializing through the different web services out there.

These Social Networks, are working great while helping us connecting in our personal relationships. They allow people to connect successfully at a personal level (even thought that they are not necessarily in-person.)

At the same time, they are very disorganized in nature. They are difficult to work within a structure, as there is no predefined, well constructed structure. It is a self-organizing system, where people connect the way they “feel” like.

In the last few years, we have seen Social network technologies entering the corporate environment.

It has been a great way to build your business, facilitate interactions within your organization, and also fostering the relations with customers and suppliers.

In the enterprise, it all started with the simple Wiki sites. Now a days, many enterprises use a more sophisticated version of the original Wikis to collaborate internally and store information about how everything is working. A prime example of that is Sharepoint.

The biggest challenge of these internal networking technologies within the Enterprise is that they try to leverage the same nature of the social/personal interactions in a structured environment. Those social interactions don’t occur the same way in the corporation as it is in the personal environment.

To help us managing the complexities of the corporate environment we need pretty well defined structures.

While having the connections with the people you know in the enterprise, and having a “place” where to collaborate have tremendous value, the real value would be on finding a way to “engage” using the social technologies while leveraging the well defined structures that define how the enterprise works.

The way the organizations are using these collaboration tools in the enterprise make it often impossible to find some information, or someone who can provide you the information, if you don’t know where it is supposed to be. Specially, if you don’t even know what you are looking for…

It might sound out of place for me to expect to find something you don’t know what it is, but those are the pieces of information that if they were available to the employees, they could be so much more productive.

Questions as simple as:

- Who is the business group that is responsible for this business process?

- What are the business processes that are supported by this application? and who is in charge of that business process?

The Enterprise Architecture Meets the Social Network: Social Enterprise Architecture

Yes, you have probably connected the dots by now.

The Enterprise Architecture frameworks provide a way to organize, communicate, and reach to conclusions, on how the information works in the Enterprise, due to its structure. The EA Practice allows us to store the information with its semantics (meaning.) The Social Network technologies allow people to collaborate. You put them together, and you have an organized, engaging, and collaborative environment to help manage the information of how your business works, and how the business solutions supports the business to make it great!

At Silnium, we have developed Semantic Center. The first Social Enterprise Architecture Repository, a solution that integrates these concepts. Using the benefits of one to solve the problems of the other.

The structure of the different types of objects that compose the enterprise, and its relations are maintained by the organization itself. Each individual can interact on top of any of these objects, using the Social Networking services that are available.

In Semantic Center you have your EA Objects: Business Domains with the different objects that compose it (i.e. Business Units, Business Processes, etc.). all the Technology Domains and its constituents (i.e. Applications, Interfaces, etc.) and the relations between them, with all of their Semantics.

Then on top of each of the EA Objects, we have all the social networking services: Announcements, RSS, Documents, Wiki, Discussions, Polls, IM & Presence,  events, etc.

In this way, you can browse the network of EA Objects through its relations, and interact with the employees that are members of each in many different ways, like you would do in a social networking site.

When you are in a “Project”, you can see who are the employees that are working in that project, what are the business processes that are going to be affected by that project. Then you can browse to those business processes, and see what is on its wiki. If you have the proper permissions, you can update that wiki and add the information you think is missing. You can post a question on the project page, and then anyone in the organization who is searching for that Project will see all the interactions that have occurred in an organized way.

Semantic Center has also the option to integrate with Sharepoint, and with Oracle WebCenter. Using these integration plugins, you will gain exponential value in your current installations of those products, as you will have a way to navigate your corporate information that is stored already there in a meaningful way.

All of this functionality in a security framework that allows you to control who can see what, and who can do an action of what type of object.

At Silnium, we have a consulting practice on the Enteprise Architecture field as well. If you want to get more information about Semantic Center, and our consulting practice, please call us at: 1-855-745-5550, or email as to: email@silnium.com.

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