Monday, February 16, 2009

SOA and Holism 2

Holism is another one of those much-abused words. Does it mean anything at all for Service-Oriented Architecture?

In a keynote address to ENASE 2008, Tony Shan introduces "a holistic 9-point list of SOA wisdom". What magic can convert a 9-point list into holistic wisdom?

Volker Hoyer (SAP) has developed what he describes as a Holistic analysis framework for Collaborative e-Business Process Modelling.

Rex Lee (Research in Motion) has written a series of posts on Holism and Enterprise 2.0

For Rex, holism gives you "a complete unified end-to-end understanding of your company, products/services, processes and customers". Rex sees complexity as the enemy of holism.

"Complexity ends up destroying our ability to achieve a complete holistic (end-to-end) understanding of the company, the products/services, and its customers. ... The bigger the organization and the larger the hierarchy, the more difficult it is to truly understand the entire business. This lack of holism, eventually results in decisions and ideas that may be good for a small group but is actually not the best option for the larger group."

But this seems to be based on a thoroughly confused notion of holism. What I think Rex is talking about here isn't holism at all, but panorama. A panoramic view is a complete or wide-angled view of a situation, sometimes called "The Big Picture".

Holism is something quite different. Holism addresses the inherent complexity and irreducibility of systems. An holistic view may perceive fractal patterns, with the same structures recurring at many different scales and levels: this certainly seems to be relevant to SOA. An analyst who adopts an holistic approach may perceive a problem in one system as a reflection of a problem in a much larger system. An SOA architect needs to address problems at different levels of abstraction, and to understand how these are all interconnected and integrated.

If the people talking about holism understand this kind of thing, why aren't they talking about it? And why do they use the word "holism" as if it were just a fancy synonym for "whole"?

No comments: