Saturday, August 17, 2013

Enterprise Architecture as Science?

It is common to describe Enterprise Architecture as a science. Here are a few examples.

  • We see enterprise architecture (EA) as a scientific sub-discipline both of computer science and business management. The twice mentioned word “science” here emphasizes our certainty that EA is an exact discipline able to produce precise approaches and solutions. Wolf Rivkin, Enterprise Architecture and the Elegant Enterprise (Architecture and Governance 5-3)

A few years ago, I discussed this question with @RSessions


Roger is one of the few people I know who is seriously committed to empirical investigation of EA. I believe he shares my view that much EA falls woefully short of anything like scientific method. To my eye, many knowledge-claims within the EA world look more like religion or mediaeval scholastic philosophy than empirically verifiable science.

But why does it matter anyway? Why would people be so keen to claim EA as a science? Here is what Foucault had to say to those who wished to claim Marxism (or psychoanalysis) as a science.

"When I see you trying to prove that Marxism is a science, to tell the truth, I do not really see you trying to demonstrate once and for all that Marxism has a rational structure and that its propositions are therefore the products of verification procedures. I see you, first and foremost, doing something different. I see you connecting the Marxist discourse, and I see you assigning to those who speak that discourse the power-effects that the West has, ever since the Middle Ages, ascribed to a science and reserved for those who speak a scientific discourse." Michel Foucault, Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Coll├Ęge de France, 1975-76 (English translation by David Macey, 2003)

In other words, claiming EA as a science is not about the rational basis for its knowledge-claims but about its authority, or what Foucault (in David Macey's translation) calls Power-Effects. Thus instead of claiming EA as a science, one might follow Gartner in claiming EA as a discipline.

Enterprise architecture (EA) is a discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces by identifying and analyzing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes. EA delivers value by presenting business and IT leaders with signature-ready recommendations for adjusting policies and projects to achieve target business outcomes that capitalize on relevant business disruptions. EA is used to steer decision making toward the evolution of the future state architecture. (Gartner website, retrieved 17 August 2013)

Foucault characterizes a discipline in terms of the selection, normalization, hierarchicalization and centralization of knowledge. We can surely recognize these processes in the formation and maintenance of EA frameworks such as TOGAF and PEAF, as well as various attempts to construct Bodies of Knowledge. Foucault notes that "the progress of reason" necessitates "the disciplinarization of polymorphous and heterogeneous knowledge". This might lead us to expect some institutional resistance to heterodox ideas, as well as the marginalization of "amateur scholars".

Foucault is interested in ways that people and organizations can respond to disruptive forces large and small, from "great radical ruptures, massive binary divisions" to "mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings".

Just as the network of power relations ends by forming a dense web that passes through apparatuses and institutions, without being exactly localized in them, so too the swarm of points of resistance traverses social stratifications and individual unities. And it is doubtless the strategic codification of these points of resistance that makes a revolution possible. [Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol 1.]

Gartner's notion of EA-as-discipline seems quite consistent with this. It is focused on mobilizing the response to disruptive forces (for which Gartner uses the rather strange word "nexus"). EA gains its power from a kind of strategic codification (or discursive practice), allowing the enterprise to "harness the nexus", thereby "revolutionizing business and society, disrupting old business models and creating new leaders". (Gartner website, retrieved 17 August 2013)



Update

@tetradian commented on the dangers of spurious 'authority' - 'spurious' in sense of claiming an aura of 'authority' when there's none to be had (b/c it isn't 'science' anyway)

I agree that claims of scientific status or method in the EA world are generally spurious. But there are other ways of asserting authority. For me, the key question is why (and on what grounds) should anyone trust the pronouncements of EA. It is not just about danger versus safety, but about authority versus authenticity.

No comments: