Architecting Context Quadrant
By Roderick Lim Banda

I've put together this quadrant and page to support the discussion started by James Lapalme (2011) on Enterprise Architecture based on a podcast by Grady Booch (2010) on the distinction between "Enterprise Architecture" and "Technical Architecture".

Click to go to Discussion on LinkedIN

Architecting Context Quadrant

The quadrant is based on the distinction between "Enterprise" and "Technical" architectures as well as the context of "Organization" and "Society". The context is based on two (i.e. Organization, Society) of the four context levels (i.e. Society, Organization, Group/Activity and Individual) proposed by Korpela et al. (2001, 2006) for contextual analysis. The model by Korpela et al. is based on Walsham (1995) and applied to activity based research and modeling.

The use of "organization" and "social" context is also in support of the definition of enterprise architecture from a group of South Africans which was submitted to the Open Group. As discussed by Booch and in James Lapalme's discussion (Lapalme, 2011; Booch, 2010;) it states that ...

"Enterprise Architecture is the continuous practice of describing the essential elements of a sociotechnical organization, their relationships to each other and to the environment, in order to understand complexity and manage change." (Enterprise Architecture Research Forum, 2010).


The characters used to illustrate the placement of architects within the above quadrant are not real persons but based loosely on experience and individuals who I have come across and their particular architecture focus and activity. The context of these characters below is intended to illustrate the various activities involving architecture (other than building/spatial and with a focus on enterprise and technical software intensive systems) as discussed by Booch. I've put this together for interspection and to see if readers can identify with one or more of these characters. It is a way of illustrating that there are different focus areas as reflected upon by Booch and that this does not invalidate one or another form of "architecture" activity.

Dave Dave represents an Enterprise Architect engaging at the strategic level and working with C-Level (CEO/CIO) executives. EA forms part of a broader strategy and program development initiative. Budgets are set based in part on a program that is informed by the EA roadmap and priorities.

Dave is at the upper left of the quadrant where the activity involves engaging with stakeholders and helping to define a program based on an operating model and enterprise architecture as the foundation for execution (Ross et al., 2006). Dave is highly focused on the enterprise as an organization and is pre-occupied in internal issues. The external environment is regarded as a context to strategy development. Dave works with external consultants, including Gartner. He reports into the executive level to help define the 3-5 year programs and budgets. His team has just completed an 8 month exercise to support an increase in capital and operational budgets for growing 3 revenue generating divisions.

Dave helps the CIO and other executives to prepare and engage with board members on the broader enterprise program. Dave hardly ever mentions Enterprise Architecture but uses a set of frameworks including Zachman (Zachman, 1997, 2009) and TOGAF (Open Group, 2009, 2010). A structured approach to gathering information and analysis helps to engage teams in developing a holistic perspective while delving into the detail of projects and operational imperatives. The enterprise program spans process re-engineering intiatives, re-structures of organizational units as well as the cost implication of information systems and technology to support the business change.

Gavin Gavin is what many may term as a "Business Architect" but he does not like titles and finds himself in the role of program and project manager. He is a practitioner of Enterprise Architecture and is associated with the group EA team. His activities involve visual modeling and documentation but in the past few years has found himself gradually being shifted from an Information Technology focus to being involved in the management of the business. Having worked for the company for nearly 10 years, Gavin has tried to avoid a purely management role and has insisted on maintaining his technical skills and focus. But having developed a good understanding of the business and being a trusted person in the organization, he has been asked to lead and manage functions, business units and projects that are either in transition or where gaps have existed.

Gavin like Dave is deeply embedded in the "Enterprise". But his dealings with operational areas such as Customer Services and working with Customer Relationship Management processes and systems, he has also become increasingly aware of the external stakeholders of the organization such as customers and partners. More importantly, while still being focused on the internal organization and process of the enterprise, he is helping to drive the transition of the enterprise to develop a model that incorporates brand loyalty and communities with the advent of social media and the impact of digital channels in the way the businesses markets and generates sales.

Mark Mark has been involved in systems integration and transaction management for most of his IT career. Since the advent of Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) he has found himself increasingly working across the business organization while still very focused on systems and technology. Over the past 4 years, he has increasingly been involved with less technical issues such as governance and standardization procedures.

Mark is at the boundary of the enterprise and technical architecture. Having come from a software development background, Mark sometimes misses being more involved in the development of applications. Ironically, while he is more involved in the way the enterprise operates as a business, he has less interactions with teams and finds himself having to deal with systems to system interfaces and has not developed a user interface and supported user functions for over 3 years. He does however spend a lot of time trying to get business units to standardize their information and has had to deal with years of badly structured data. The recent upgrade of the billing systems and implementation of new provisioning services on a new technology platform has occupied much of his time. It has had a much wider impact and has taken more effort and time than expected despite the ease of integration promised by the vendors.

Mary Mary has been involved in software development and has become a capable systems analyst and application architect. Mary works on both the development and maintenance of in-house applications and the customization of off-the-shelf software intensive systems and solutions. Over the past 2 years, she has been involved in the re-architecture and refactoring of a set of core software assets that make up the foundation libraries used across internal software applications. Many of the current legacy systems were built as stand alone systems and do not have much re-use and have been built on different technologies and languages. To ease the future maintenance of these applications, common and shared functions are being replaced and centralized.

Mary is embedded in the lower left "technical" block of the quadrant. Her daily activities involve working with underlying component and software dependencies of a number of applications and her challenge is understanding the dependencies and impact of change on a number of applications. Her aim is to minimize the impact and risk on operational areas. She works with a group of project managers, business analysts and operational support teams to manage configuration and change. She spends much of her time on testing systems and has helped to organize responsibilities and ownership of software assets across various agile teams while delivering and maintaining a set of core components.

Ted Ted is the lead software architect for a software development company. He has been working on a set of Java libraries, frameworks and technologies that form the building blocks of all software developed by the company. He is not directly involved in the projects to custom develop software systems but supports the teams that do. He was instrumental in establishing the Software Product Line (SPL) model used by the company to deliver software products. His main focus is on the underlying core architecture, software assets and platforms.

Ted and his team work with other development product and project teams in the company. He does ongoing research and development work aimed at improving the software components and frameworks used to support the software intensive products that the company develops. More recently, the company has made a strategic decision to offer a "Software as a Service" (SaaS) model and increase the number of application the company has deployed on the Cloud. Traditionally, the company has focused on enterprise applications and has deployed mobile solutions in the past 5 years. Ted has more recently led a pilot to deploy a financial system on the cloud for a corporate client with business units across 3 continents.

Judy Judy is in the health care sector and has been working in the field of primary care for the past 7 years. She has recently completed a Masters based on work she has done in putting a mobile solution in place to assist health care practitioners in rural communities.

Judy is interested in the way systems and services are design to meet social needs and is in the upper right block of the quadrant. Judy started her career as a business analyst who took to Enterprise Architecture in the late 1990s and then decided to study Systems Thinking and Knowledge Management. She has worked in both the public and private sector and has spent 12 years in total in the health care sector. More recently, she has been interested in Service Design and how social services can be developed from the perspective of the care seeker and citizen.

William William is an entrepreneur and Chief Technology Officer for an internet start-up company. He has developed and architected a software intensive service for Geo-referencing political unrest across the globe by gathering data using mobile technologies, the internet, social networks and non-governmental organizations around the world.

William is in the lower block of the quadrant. He believes in social innovation and seeks to deliver innovative products that have a social value. He is a technologist and a Social Entrepreneur. For the last 10 years he has turned his back on corporate enterprise. After developing his skills in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in Canada, he moved to the Middle East to see how technology could be used to help communities that are constantly under the threat of violence. His work has been partly funded by non-profit organizations associated with the World Bank monitoring security policies in the Middle East.

Emerging Organizational and Social Context in EA

The "Ted" character is drawn from the centre of the quadrant by the need for specialization to deal with increased scale and complexity. As Gooch points out the focus of a Technical Architect is on the software intensive system and while the social and business application is relevant and needs to be understood, the dominant activity is technical.

Programmers have this challenge of taming the machine, working in machine language and are often so pre-occupied with this activity that it becomes difficult to shift in thinking when interacting with people or dealing with organizational issues. Software is structured and an extension of the "machine". The enterprise as a structure has been around since early civilization but it has changed and with that change comes new scope for learning.

But there is also something happening on a wider context that impacts these characters and defines the way we architect and the degree to which we separate activities and functions. This was evident from the discussion I had with John Zachman on social theories and the applicability of architectural theories such as Modernism and Postmodernism to enterprise, systems and software architecture.

An extract from John's email reply ... “I have no idea what ‘modernism’ and ‘postmodernism’ means. However, I like what you have observed below. I think you understand well what I have been arguing for many years ... the issue is not related to systems or technologies, it is THE ENTERPRISE. The problem is, for the last 75 years or so, those of us who come from a community that would have even a remote interest in architectural ideas, that is, the Information Community or even more basically, the IT community, we have been wholly focused on productivity improvements ... using the technology to improve productivity ... to use machines to perform the processes rather than people because machines are better, faster and cheaper than people. This drives us to a very implementation-dominant focus ... the end object is to get the system implemented as soon as possible because every minute the system is NOT implemented it is COSTING you quality, time and money! (Better, faster and cheaper).”

The dual purpose for developing the "Framework for Information Systems Architecture" by Zachman (1987) was to help in both managing the enterprise and building systems. And as acknowledged by Zachman and Spewak (1993), EA roots were in Business Systems Planning and gaining an understanding of how to better implement strategy in the enterprise.

The adoption of EA by the U.S. Government in the 1990s was a turning point. The drive and application of EA on technical standardization led to an explosion of methodologies based in technology, systems and IT (Sessions, 2007; Schekkerman, 2006).

When John Zachman changed the reference of the Zachman Framework from "Information Systems Architecture" to "Enterprise Architecture" it implied a major change in scope. In some ways, it may have been easier to have kept the focus on "information systems" as the concept of what constitutes "an enterprise" was only beginning to shape in business management in the 1990s despite the contribution of thought leaders like Drucker in the 50s and 60s. But rightly so, Zachman wanted to maintain the origin of EA as having originated in the problem domain of strategy and business management. Business management is an important place of origin for EA. But trying to fight for this position meant swimming against the current and flow. If EA were an "Open Source" project, then it was "forked" when the IT community ran away with it in the 1990s.

Turkle's (1995) explanation of Modernism and Postmodernism in computing technology helps to understand why this kind of IT focus tends to be mechanistic and process centric and why it struggles to address the way technology is evolving from a social context.

Modernization and specialization is not altogether bad or good. It simply helps to explain in the context in this discussion why there are different degrees of separation from Enterprise Architecture and the Technical Architecture. The management discipline of manufacturing and production in so-called developed nations like United States and Europe enables many large companies to establish factories in other parts of the world while still maintaining the quality control processes across distributed enterprise structures. Many countries did not benefit from the post industrial revolution and struggle to build the infrastructure to enable large scale production. More critically they lack the experience, specialized skills, maturity of organizational process and management capability to deal with the scale and complexity to the degree that we see in developed countries.

While the benefits of specialization is not achieved to the same degree in emerging and developing countries, the benefit for architects in these regions is the increased likelihood of having to develop multi-disciplinary skills and to be able to work in areas where the organizational-social as well as the enterprise-technical context is likely to converge or overlap. These architects would have the challenge/opportunity to be positioned closer to the centre of the above quadrant where this would be less likely the case because of the required focus as discussed by Booch.

In South Africa, there is the saying in Afrikaans, "Boere maak 'n plan" or "The farmer will make a plan". Using whatever resources are available and having to learn various skills becomes a way of life. I recall how my parents as doctors in Africa would have to deal with an influx of interns from Europe who were keen to get an opportunity to practice in Africa because it would take many years for them to gain the same experience in Europe. You simply could not operate on a patient in Europe without years of experience whereas the need is dire in some rural communities that young doctors were exposed to delivering babies and basic operational procedures in their first few years. My mother and father (both missionary doctors) would constantly have to remind these young doctors that Africa was "not a place to learn but to give".

In the dawn of a new century, software in the context of organization and society is continuing to evolve and converge. Increasingly, software has become a social commodity and pre-occupation to even greater degree than the explosion of PCs in the 90s. There is a 90% penetration of mobile use in Africa. Mobile phones in Africa is what "the PC in every home" was in North America. The degree to which software and society influence each other today is not unlike the social pre-occupation with machines in the last century. The "Judy" and "William" characters embody this context and can be regarded as an emerging breed of enterprise and technical architects (Gartner, 2010) where architecture is driven by the social context.

The definition above of Enterprise Architecture from a group of South Africans illustrates something that I felt was evident in large communities of practitioners such as the Open Group. Living in South Africa with its social history and the glaring gap between rich and poor, makes people more conscious of the social and organizational context. Hopefully, as enterprise and technical architects, the context of organization and society will become more evident and relevant. We may lack the ability to specialize and work at scale to the degree that other architect experience but we have the challenge and opportunity to better understand the emerging social context.


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Korpela, M., Mursu, A. and Soriyan, H.A., 2001. Two Times Four Integrative Levels of Analysis: A Framework. In: IFIP TC8/WG8.2 Working Conference on Realigning Research and Practice in Information Systems Development: The Social and Organizational Perspective, Boise, Idaho, USA. July 2001. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publisher.

Korpela, M., Mursu, A., Soriyan, H.A., de la Harpe, R., Macome, E., 2006. Information systems practice for development in Africa: Results from INDEHELA. In: Trauth, E.M., Howcroft, D., Butler, T., Fitzgerald, B., De Gross, J.I., eds. Social Inclusion: Societal and Organizational Implications for Information Systems, New York, USA. Springer. pp.15-35.

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