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Nick Gall
I am an ironist (see and general systems theorist (talk about a duality), a member of my loving immediate family along with my wife and three children, and an analyst for a major IT "Research and Advisory" firm.
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Irving, Your excellent post is dated April 22, 2013 and today is April 17, 2013. How did you time travel into the future? :)
John, Great post. I especially like the term "thrivability" at the end. I too am looking for a better word than "anti-fragile" for the property of growing through disruption. I've been using the term Panarchy from Buzz Holling et al ( ), but that's not perfect either. One nit: Redundancy is NOT key to thrivable/anti-fragile/panarchic systems--DEGENERACY is. I'm trying to help spread the word about the importance of "degeneracy" in such systems. Degeneracy is similar to redundancy, but different from it in a vital way. Redundant (sub)systems are identical--think two kidneys. Degenerate (sub)systems are different, but can perform the same function when necessary--think spoken language vs sign language. There is a growing realization that degeneracy is intrinsic to evolution. And it turns out that true redundancy is surprising rare in biological systems, so it For more on degeneracy, wikipedia offers a good jumping off point: .
Here's another description of IA that emphasizes decision-making (from IBM): "Enterprise information architecture: Systematically unlock the business value of information through strategies and models that deliver actionable, real-time information in context to enable better ***decision-making*** throughout the enterprise." I like it even better than my definition--much punchier! It reinforces my main point that a definition of IA that doesn't focus on decision-making is rubbish. I came across it because I got an interesting email from IBM's InfoGov Community in my inbox a few minutes ago: "I Am an Information Strategist." So now we go from Information Architects to Information Strategists (who apparently lead both Information Scientists and Information Architects). :) Here's a short excerpt describing the role: 'I am an information strategist. My job title is new, but my challenge is ancient: I have to get the right information to the right people at the right time. If the information is in the wrong format or if it is hard to read, confusing, or conflicting, with sloppy interfaces, then I have failed. Endless lists and search results without relationships, connections, and meaning are not what my customers demand. They want clarity. And they expect interfaces to match the ease of use they are accustomed to on their tablets and smartphones. This is the twenty-first century, and my job is to deliver information that is enlightening and entertaining. My customers—both internal and external—need insight, so by definition I have to know more about their business than they do. That means I spend a lot of time sitting in business meetings, listening and asking questions to understand the structure and context of what customers are doing. I join sales reps on customer calls, participate in industry conferences, and use my extended network to understand emerging trends and ideas in very diverse forums. Information strategists combine data management, information governance, and data science techniques to deliver refined, fit-for-purpose, high-value information products and services across the entire information supply chain. This role is an organic evolution of many information-centric roles that have been established over the past two decades to engineer data into silos, govern its uses, and ensure application access. However, information needs today extend far beyond data engineering and industrial automation. Most enterprises are filled with people who are information connoisseurs in their private lives—and these people are frustrated that enterprise information systems produce industrial interfaces. They want at work what they get at home: intuitive interfaces and information that is updated often and is fun to use.' Sounds pretty exciting. For the full description see .
So a definition focused on ***decision-making*** is too abstract and too motherhood and apple pie to be useful to anyone? Perhaps you should tell that to Nick Malik, because, guess what?, that's how Microsoft defines Business Intelligence: "Microsoft BI solutions ... empower users to gain access to accurate, up-to-date information for better, more relevant ***decision making.***" "One definition of BI that seems to make sense is the process of organizing and analyzing existing data in a way that helps you make better-informed business decisions." :) So while one may legitimately criticize my definition of IA and being too BI-focused, I don't think you can legitimately criticize it for being too abstract or vague. In fact Mike, you beat me to the punch! I was going to point out that YOUR definition was too abstract to be useful! It is so vague that the basic structure of your IA definition can be used for TA (Technical Architecture) and BA (Business Architecture) or any ?A. :) For example, here's your definition of IA and then the same structure spun for TA: "Information Architecture is an aspect of enterprise architecture that enables an information strategy or business solution through the definition of the company's business information assets, their sources, structure, classification and associations that will prescribe the required application architecture and technical capabilities." "Technical Architecture is an aspect of enterprise architecture that enables a technical strategy or business solution through the definition of the company's business technical assets, their sources, structure, classification and associations that will prescribe the required application architecture and technical capabilities." What have we said with your definition? Not much: * It's part of EA. * Somehow the archtitecture will "enable" strategies and solutions. (How? No idea.) * Somehow the architecture will "prescribe" application architecture and technical capabilities. (Seems like a pretty IT focused definition of IA! I'd rather see my IA "prescribe" business processes and business decision-making, not JUST how they are mapped onto SW/HW.) Your definition is so abstract that I have no idea HOW IA enables strategies and solutions or prescribes application and technical architecture. ANY architecture (information, application, technology, even building architecture for goodness sake) makes the abstract claim that it enables strategies and solutions! *** Perhaps it might help to think about IA as follows: An IA, no matter how we define it, will be eventually realized as metadata. Why? Because the IA will be realized as information about an enterprise's information assets. And information about information is metadata! If we think about the purpose of an IA as it relates to the purpose of metadata, perhaps we'll make some progress in grounding the defintion in something practical. Consider Gartner's definition of metadata: "Metadata is information that describes various facets of an information asset to improve its usability throughout its life cycle." What I like about our definition is that it focuses on the PURPOSE of metadata. The traditional definition of metadata ('data about data') focuses only on what it is, not what value it provides. The Gartner definition of metadata zeros in on the WHY: to improve the usability of information. In fact, the OTHER IA (the one defined by web designers) provides a similar definition of IA: "Information architecture (IA) is the art and science of organizing and labeling data (including: websites, intranets, online communities and software) to support ***usability***." So in summary, improving decision-making is a perfectly concrete goal for an IA, since it works perfectly well in defining BI. If one wants to add additional goals such as usability or findability (was the web design IA folk want to do), I'm amenable to that. But one way or another, the definition of IA should be short and focused on the PURPOSE of the exercise itself. Agreed?
Mike: "There is a difference between the definition of specific information and the practice/methods of Information Architecture (IA)." Mike, I'm not following you. First, my definition was NOT about the definition of specific information. So I'm not sure why you're making this particular distinction. Second, the quote sounds analogous to, "There is a difference between the design of a specific building and the practice/methods of Building Architecture (BldgArch)." True...but nevertheless, the practice/methods of BldgArch should be essentially focused on the design of specific buildings. Shouldn't it? I am reminded of the famous dictum from one of the early written works on BldgArch: : "Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight." IMO, a good definition of IA should, like a good definition of BldgArch, highlight SOME ***specific*** goal or attribute of GOOD architecture. Better decision making (or as Richard V would have it, better judgment) is the explicit goal of my definition of IA. What's the goal of yours? If De architectura had a definition along the lines of your definition it would sound something like this: "(Building) Architecture enables a building strategy or real estate solution through the definition of the company's building assets, their sources, structure, classification and associations that will prescribe the required facilities architecture and technical capabilities." Lots of words saying very little. I, and I think most people, prefer "The ideal building has three elements; it is sturdy, useful, and beautiful." Likewise, I think most business people would prefer a definition along the lines of, "The purpose of IA is to design the business information needed for more reliable, effective, and rapid business judgment." Thanks for helping me refine my IA definition in the course of this discussion!
Nick M: "At some level, information is used to make decisions, but most information supports other information which supports other information... only the top layer is used in decision making." Nick M, It's decision-making (or if you prefer judgment-making) all the way down. :) That said, I agree that a BETTER definition of Information Architecture (IA) than the one I cobbled together for a blog comment would include some mention of the prioritization of business decision making. The IA should focus on the most important business decisions and use that focus to scope which information needs the most attention from architects. In my 17 years advising hundreds of architects, I see broad, unfocused, generic definitions like most of those above leading to "boil the ocean" approaches to cataloging everything under the sun without any sense of what the "architecture" is supposed to accomplish. I've tried to hold back the tide of architecture-for-architecture-sake, but sometimes it feels like I'm the boy with his finger in the dike. :) Richard V, Judgment works fine for me!
IMO, a definition of Information Architecture (IA) that doesn't focus on decision making is worthless. The sole purpose of information is to enable a decision to be made. Period. It doesn't matter if that decision is whether a piece of RNA should attach to a strand of DNA at a particular point or whether to offer a customer a discount on a purchase. Gregory Bateson famously said that information is a "difference that makes a difference." The latter difference refers to a different decision. See the definition of the word "decide" (v): "influence or determine the outcome of." Information is something that determines the outcome of some behavior or action. That's why information and process are yin and yang: process is the sequence of actions, information is what determines the path taken through such actions. Accordingly, IA should be defined as something along these lines (adapted from the IEEE-1471 definition of architecture): The fundamental organization of decision making; embodied in its components, their relationships to each other, and to the environment, and the principles guiding its design and evolution. Note, for more on information as patterns driving transformation of other patterns see .
William, Thanks for your comment. Do you have a cite for the Einstein quote? I'd like to see it in context. Taken out of context it just sounds wrong. First, it is not clear that the entropy of the Earth is increasing. It could very well be moving further from equilibrium due to technology. But what's most confusing is the idea of "reversing" entropy. In the long run, according to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, entropy cannot be reversed (in a closed system). There's lots of things we need to "fix" here on Earth, but I'm not sure "fixing the increase in entropy" is one of them.
Great stuff! You should really check out the concept of Panarchy by Holling and Gunderson. Their paradigm of an adaptive cycle is well respected and it addresses the very same "pioneer species" issue you address. The seminal book is "Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems" at . It is based in part on the concept of ecological succession. (See ) After a collapse (eg forest fire), r-selected (fast growing, high # of offspring) species dominate an ecology. Over time K-selected species come to dominate, until the ecology collapses and the cycle repeats. There have been several efforts to map this model to market economies and industries.
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Mar 15, 2010
@Paul: "Gartner c.s. keeps telling 'the business' that EA is an IT discipline." Gartner's EA research does NOT say that EA is an IT discipline. Here's our published definition of EA: "Enterprise architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key principles and models that describe the enterprise's future state and enable its evolution." So it is NOT Gartner who has been marginalizing EA (at least not Gartner's research on EA). In fact, we've been trying to resist such marginalization for years. @Mike. First, welcome aboard! Second, Amen. Completely agree with your analysis and recommendations. Stay tuned...