#entarch Another big discussion on Twitter yesterday about the correct definition (yawn) of Enterprise Architecture (EA). This one was whether EA should be defined as "Architecture of Enterprise" or "Architecture of Enterprise Technology". I mostly saw Tweets voting for the former, so it looked to me like a pretty one-sided discussion but maybe that's just because of the selection of people I follow on Twitter.
Clearly the difference between these two definitions is in the word "Technology". I wonder how many people who contributed to this discussion thought much about this word.
A narrow definition of "technology" from an IT perspective might limit the term to computer hardware and software; a broader definition might include everything from production technologies (e.g. Kanban) to accounting technologies (e.g. double-entry book-keeping), covering the strategic choices made in everything from transportation (oil tanker versus pipeline) to warfare (air bombardment versus ground forces). Followers of Lewis Mumford might define technology even more broadly (see for example his "Myth of the Machine") while followers of Bruno Latour would have a more subtle take on the whole subject. For my part, I have no wish to produce a single definition of technology; I merely wish to point out that the boundaries of "technology" may be as debatable as the boundaries of "enterprise architecture". The game of definition has no end.
But in any case, I wonder about the purpose and usefulness of this kind of definition. People often put an extraordinary amount of energy into definitions as if they thought that the simple act of defining something made it true. There are different forms of authority underpinning such definitions - for example the reputation of a well-known writer or organization, the emerging consensus of a group or community, or the negotiated standards of some industry body - and we may sometimes be able to achieve some kind of convergence as to what some term is supposed to mean.
But even if we could achieve a universal definition of what the term "enterprise architecture" is supposed to mean, that would be a pretty empty victory if the definition failed to reflect reality - either what enterprise architects actually do, or what they are capable of doing.
The reason I think this kind of definition can never satisfactorily reflect reality is that it is monothetic - in other words, it defines a concept in terms of specific features it must or mustn't have. Inspired by Wittgenstein, the anthropologist Rodney Needham introduced the concept of polythetic definition - defining a concept in terms of characteristic features it might have. Thus instead of debating endlessly whether enterprise architecture should be either A or B, and whether to adopt a narrow or broad definition of technology, we can start to make useful (and hopefully less dogmatic) statements about enterprise architecture and technology in the real world and the relationship between them.
Rodney Needham's paper Polythetic Classification - Convergence and Consequences. is now available on Scribd. In my book Information Modelling - Practical Guidance (Prentice-Hall 1992, pp 99-100) I outlined the relevance of this notion in business modelling.