Friday, April 01, 2005

Deconfliction and Interoperability

Deconfliction

Deconfliction is an important type of decoupling. In October 2001, a Time Magazine cover story (Facing the Fury) used the term.

Bush's gambit — filling the skies with bullets and bread — is also a gamble, Pentagon officials concede. The humanitarian mission will to some degree complicate war planning. What the brass calls "deconfliction" — making sure warplanes and relief planes don't confuse one another — is now a major focus of Pentagon strategy. "Trying to fight and trying to feed at the same time is something new for us," says an Air Force general. "We're not sure precisely how it's going to work out."

The military take interference very seriously - it's a life and death issue. Deconfliction means organizing operations in a way that minimizes the potential risk of interference and internal conflict, so that separate units or activities can be operated independently and asynchronously.

But deconfliction is often a costly trade-off. Resources are duplicated, and potentially conflicting operations are deliberately inhibited.

As communications become more sophisticated and reliable, it becomes possible to reintroduce some degree of synchronization, to allow units and activities to be orchestrated in more powerful ways. This is the motivation for network-centric warfare, which brings increased power to the edge.

Although the word isn't often used in commercial and administrative organizations, a similar form of deconfliction can be inferred from the way hierarchical organizations are managed, and in traditional accounting structure of budgets and cost centres. This is known to be inflexible and inefficient. Whenever we hear the terms "joined-up management" or "joined-up government", this is a clue that excessive deconfliction has occurred.

Interoperability

Deconfliction leads us towards a negative notion of pseudo-interoperability: X and Y are pseudo-interoperable if they can operate side-by-side without mutual interference.

But there is also a positive notion of real interoperability: X and Y are interoperable if there is some active coordination between them. This forces us to go beyond deconfliction, back towards synchronization.

General Shoomaker: "We've gone from deconfliction of joint capability to interoperability to actually interdependence where we've become more dependent upon each other's capabilities to give us what we need." (CSA Interview, Oct 2004).

Philip Boxer writes: "The traditional way of managing interoperability is through establishing forms of vertical transparency consistent with the way in which the constituent activities have been deconflicted. The new forms of edge role require new forms of horizontal transparency that are consistent with the horizontal forms of linkage needed across enterprise silos to support them. Horizontal transparency enables different forms of accountability to be used that take power to the edge, but which in turn require asymmetric forms of governance." (Double Challenge, March 2006)

Relevance to Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)

It is sometimes supposed that the SOA agenda is all about decoupling. Requirements models are used to drive decomposition - the identification of services that will not interfere with each other. These services are then designed for maximum reuse, producing low-level economies of scale.

Clearly there are some systems that are excessively rigid, and will benefit from a bit of loosening up.

But this is only one side of the story. While some systems are excessively rigid, there are many others that are hopelessly fragmented. The full potential of SOA comes from decomposition and recomposition.


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