Monday, October 15, 2007

Should IT deliberately create chaos?

There is an old IT joke

A farmer, an architect, a gardener and an IT guy are talking about which is the oldest profession. Now these chaps are bible literalists so they think the Garden of Eden was the start of everything.

The farmer says "Mine is the oldest profession as Adam had to tend all the animals and get all the fruit from the trees, if he wasn't a farmer he would have starved."

The gardener jumped in saying "yes but someone had to design the garden of Eden and put all the plants in place, so God must be a gardener"

"No, no" said the architect "First God had to create order and structure out of the chaos and build the universe so he must have been an architect"

"Ahhh" said the IT guy "but where did you think the chaos came from?"

Now the reason for saying this is that I saw one of the best pro-REST presentations at the Enterprise SOA conference in Belgium last week (which actually talked about business SOA). One bit I did have issue around was a concept that disorder and fragmentation was the "norm" of enterprise IT and thus the problems were the same as the web (its slide 37)
Internet vs. Enterprise
One is a gigantic, uncontrollable anarchy of heterogeneous systems with varying quality that evolve independently and constantly get connected in new and unexpected ways.

The other is a worldwide, publicly accessible series of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP).

Now in part Stefan has a good point, namely that IT systems currently suck. But where I'd disagree is that the goal of IT should be to create such a chaotic system with so little governance and control. This is one challenge I have when people talk about applying Web principles to the enterprise, it misses out on a fundamental difference between businesses and the internet. Namely that of compulsion.

It is true that IT unfortunately does create IT estates that are a mess and which have in the main part been driven by people who focused on the technologies first. This isn't however true for the businesses that they support, there is the ability in companies to compel change and to enforce conformity. Companies establish procurement departments, HR departments and even IT departments with these aims. Taking the Web view and applying it to business seems to imply that the chaotic nature of the web is the correct approach to take in creating an IT estate that works for the business. This doesn't make sense.

We need to understand in IT that sometimes compulsion is a better approach, if you are putting in SAP its best to fit the business to the package not the other way around, equally if you are looking at links between businesses is it better to take the standardised approach of procurement and enforce conformity of contract or to enable a "dynamic discovery" approach (whether UDDI or via MIME)?

IT needs to learn from the business an understand the power of enforcement and contracts, rather than thinking that its the business that needs to learn from the chaos that IT creates.

(Oh and Stefan, join the revolution. My presentation on SOA Methodology is web delivered :) )

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1 comment:

stu said...

I think the point is that the Web is an architecture of participation, wherein we set up constraints to enable value by converging on a small number of strong rules, even if you diverge in many other aspects. And even in businesses, people disagree on issues, but still need to work together.