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Anatomy of Agile Enterprise

Janne J. Korhonen

System Views Revisited: Systemic-Structural Underpinnings

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In my latest blog post, I outlined a five-scale classification of system views and discussed tentatively how those system views would pertain to Enterprise Architecture. In the following, I will elaborate on the systemic-structural underpinnings of each view and relate the ideas to a business organization.

In their groundbreaking work in systems biology, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela made an important distinction between the organization and the structure of the system. The organization of the system defines its identity in terms of inter-component relationships. It specifies a category, which can be realized through specific structures. A system is organized of subsystems, each of which, from the parent system's point of view, represents the externally manifest structure, and, from its own perspective, recursively, has an internal organization. A system may change its structure without loss of identity, as long as its organization is maintained. The concepts of organization and structure are illustrated in Figure 1.

In the context of a business organization, for instance, the systemic structure would comprise of relatively independent yet interrelated organizational sub-domains, e.g. capabilities, business processes, business system domains -- depending on how you slice it. Change any of these subsystems or replace it with a commensurate structure -- an improved capability, an outsourced business function -- and the system retains its systemic organization and its fundamental identity. Remove such a subsystem, however, add one and/or fundamentally alter the constellation of subsystems, and you will essentially change the organization of the system.

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Figure 1. Systemic-structural underpinnings of system views

It appears that the progressively sophisticated system views can be described in terms of structural and organizational change and transformation:

In the Static view, both the systemic structure and organization are invariant. This can be characterized as "stability in change". In this view, change is limited to optimizing the existing structure to produce a prescribed output.

The Reactive view is about "change in stability". Change is seen as something external that needs to be "managed". This view recognizes structural change -- improvement and adaptation of work practices and quality standards -- but does not yet allow for re-conceptualization of work systems (i.e. structural transformation).

The Responsive view could be characterized as "adaptability in change". Change is imposed from the outside and calls for effective adaptation. The view allows for major structural transformations, e.g. introduction of an ERP system, but the systemic organization remains invariant.

The Proactive view represents "change in adaptability". Change can be endogenously initiated by the system and directed to developmental ends. In this view, change in the systemic organization is possible. In the context of a business organization, this could, for instance, be manifested as re-engineering end-to-end business processes or introducing new products and services.

The Evolving system view addresses organizational transformation. Change, in this view, is an incessant, all-permeating reality. The system is able to transform its systemic organization, accordingly. For instance, a business organization may transform its very business model and propagate requisite organizational and structural changes throughout the system.

Janne J. Korhonen provides insights into how information technology can be applied strategically to catalyze organizational change and responsiveness. Drawing from both theory and practice, he discusses agile enterprise and its governance.

Janne J. Korhonen

Janne J. Korhonen is an independent business and IT consultant,specializing in enterprise architecture, business process management,service-oriented architecture and pertinent governance models. He has over ten years of experience as an architect and consultant in a variety of extensive and mission-critical IT projects. With strong theoretical underpinnings, his consulting encompasses systemic co-development of business, organization and information technology.

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