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InfoQ Homepage News Reactions to Gartner’s Suggestion to Use an “Emergent Architecture”

Reactions to Gartner’s Suggestion to Use an “Emergent Architecture”

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Gartner proposed a new approach to Enterprise Architecture (EA) during Gartner EA Summit that took place in London this month: Emergent Architecture. Mike Rollings, Burton Group, remarks that this approach is not new at all and Gartner is just waking up to see it. Dion Hinchcliffe considers the Emerging Architecture approach is about bridging the gap between the IT and business.

Bruce Robertson, Research Vice President at Gartner, has summarized the Emergent Architecture with:

’architect the lines, not the boxes’, which means managing the connections between different parts of the business rather than the actual parts of the business themselves.

The second key characteristic is that it models all relationships as interactions via some set of interfaces, which can be completely informal and manual – for example, sending handwritten invitations to a party via postal letters - to highly formal and automated, such as credit-card transactions across the Visa network.

Garner has also outlined 7 properties of Emergent Architecture:

1. Non-deterministic - In the past, enterprise architects applied centralized decision-making to design outcomes. Using emergent architecture, they instead must decentralize decision-making to enable innovation.
2. Autonomous actors - Enterprise architects can no longer control all aspects of architecture as they once did. They must now recognize the broader business ecosystem and devolve control to constituents.
3. Rule-bound actors - Where in the past enterprise architects provided detailed design specifications for all aspects of the EA, they must now define a minimal set of rules and enable choice.
4. Goal-oriented actors - Previously, the only goals that mattered were the corporate goals but this has now shifted to each constituent acting in their own best interests.
5. Local Influences: Actors are influenced by local interactions and limited information. Feedback within their sphere of communication alters the behavior of individuals. No individual actor has data about all of an emergent system. EA must increasingly coordinate.
6. Dynamic or Adaptive Systems: The system (the individual actors as well as the environment) changes over time. EA must design emergent systems sense and respond to changes in their environment.
7. Resource-Constrained Environment: An environment of abundance does not enable emergence; rather, the scarcity of resources drives emergence.

Architects are suggested to accept an “inversion of control”:

Where in the past, they controlled all EA decision making, they must now accept that that business units demand more autonomy. For example, they must understand that employees demand that they can use their personal devices, there is increased integration with partners and suppliers, customers demand access to information using the technology of their choice, and regulators require more information.

Mike Rollings, Research Director for Burton Group's Enterprise Architecture, considers that Gartner has finally woken out “of an EA induced coma” and he comments the 7 properties proposed by Gartner:

1. Non-deterministic – Effective enterprise architects always foster decentralized decision-making to enable innovation.

2. Autonomous actors - Enterprise architects NEVER controlled all aspects of architecture.

3. Rule-bound actors - If enterprise architects provided detailed design specifications for all aspects of the EA, they became bogged down in boiling the ocean and were grossly ineffective.

4. Goal-oriented actors – Gartner still misses the point - being business outcome focused and having a clear view of the business operating model is the key.

5. Local Influences: EA has always required the facilitation of behavior change – especially when it comes to implementing EA on projects.  Enforcement is the route to failure and collaboration has led to success. BTW, this is why Burton Group looks to sociology and other disciplines to understand human adaptation and learning.

6. Dynamic or Adaptive Systems: Responsive to change – I think John Zachman has been saying this since the 60’s.

7. Resource-Constrained Environment: Did they just realize that we are in a recession?  Many are in need of transformation and doing more with what they have.

After pondering that we don’t need a new term (Emergent Architecture), Rollings makes a number of suggestions for architects:

Rule-Breaking: Re-examine policies, standards and other rules. Make sure that they have a clear connection to business outcomes and things you truly want and need to govern. If rules are being broken it can signal outdated thinking and the need for something different. Real collaboration provides the ability to come to a common understanding -- maybe the existing rules are only important to you. It is time for transformation and the time to question assumptions. Assumptions, feelings of futility, and other phantoms reinforce status quo and are roadblocks to transformative discussions. Stagnation - the lack of innovation and agility - happens when you become married to your phantoms.

Entrepreneurial: Seeking out new opportunities is the essence of generating value. … value of IT comes from being transparent about your business contribution.

Self-Educating: Yes, it is important for a person to stretch their knowledge, but don't feel you have to be the font of all knowledge. Embrace varying ideas, collaborate vigorously and respectfully, assure that you tap into the variety of perspectives that exist. Architecture is an active sport and requires broad communication and collaboration to be successful.

Bonding: INFLUENCE! If you take one thing away it should be that the lack of influence is probably a main cause of your EA coma. As for facilitating the conversation -- If you focus on the problem, examine the decisions that need to be made and by whom, you have a greater chance of matching the way you describe the issue to the audience's context. Also, I have found that the more I understand how humans perceive, learn, and make memories that it opens new avenues to help organizations change behavior.  Behavior is at the center of transformation - societal, organizational and personal transformation.

Revolutionary: Encourage transformation and new thinking. When the assumptions fundamentally shift, incremental improvement that addresses “change” is the less-able brother of transformation. … Beware of new stickers that suggest doing the same thing will give you a new result.

Visionary: Help your organization create its future. Alan Kay said "The best way to predict the future is to create it". Don't wait till GAME OVER! Get connected to business outcomes and understanding the dependencies, implications and constraints.  Be a leader, be a team player, participate and collaborate.

Dion Hinchcliffe, an Enterprise Architect and business strategist, wrote about new models in EA, mentioning that Gartner is “just beginning to map this trend”, but is having a different approach to Emergent Architecture than Rollings:

Increasingly, in some IT departments and business units around the world, a closer new relationship is forming in which technology is deeply interwoven into continuous joint business processes of creation, change, and adaptation. Like so many grassroots tech culture movements, this one doesn’t yet have a formal name, but increasingly some are calling it emergent architecture.

The first seeds of this change began to be felt with advent of agile development processes a few years ago along with the subsequent rise of software mashups, and the popularity of user-distributable widgets, badges, and gadgets. These technology approaches combined with emerging business trends such as tacit interactions and pull-based systems driven from with bottom-up within organizations, particularly when co-existing with social computing and Enterprise 2.0.

The result: A new environment for creating technology-driven business solutions using different, more open communication channels with richer information and ground truth as well as significantly more adaptive technology elements often strongly influenced by the Web 2.0 world.

Hinchcliffe details on 6 aspects of the Emergent Architecture:

  1. Community-driven architecture. The growth of online communities within organizations are allowing workers to come together and solve problems in a much more ad hoc fashion and respond to change and opportunities more quickly than ever before. Technical architecture is also melding with business architecture to a higher degree than before in community settings, reflecting a more cosmopolitan make-up of solution participants and broader, non-technical inputs.
  2. Autonomous stakeholders. Workers and projects have more freedom to make business, design, and technology decisions. The center of the organization can now monitor, engage, and/or participate more easily at the edge to ensure its essential requirements are met, but otherwise get out of the way of progress.
  3. Adaptive processes. In today’s much more continuous and intense environments with tremendous streams of real-time information, businesses are increasingly required to respond quickly to suddenly developing conditions that are both highly impactful and well outside the traditional (read: lengthy) response times of traditional solutions development. Adaptive processes use change as a key input and also expect disruption and other unusual forms of input and even outright interference as normal. The key is to flexibly introduce frequent course corrections that respond appropriately to external changes. This rapidly often leads to multiple emergent outcomes to solve problems that are uncovered, teased apart, and then dealt with along the way.
  4. Resource constraints. Web startups have long discovered that too many resources ensures that enormous waste is allowed, even encouraged. Scarce resources encourages reuse, collaboration, sharing, and innovation in solving problems. Resource excess tends to encourage autonomy and not-invented-here thinking and drives the motivation out of many emergent outcomes. The “less is more” mantra seems to be very true when it comes to information rich, yet resource balanced environments.
  5. Decentralized solutions. The result of applying emergent architecture tends to be a software solution well-integrated across the systems and involving many data sources and other organizational attributes of value (in particular, its people). Emergent architecture naturally results in mashups and similar lightweight, highly composite SOA solutions that build upon existing resources to solve new business problems. Silos can still form and political fiefdoms can still block global progress, but the increased visibility of environments favorable to emergent architecture encourage the opposite.
  6. Emergent outcomes. The highly deterministic outcomes of traditional, directed IT solutions are being replaced by many more numerous but smaller solutions that tackle the large problems in a more distributed, organic though still systemic manner.

While some of the properties and the term, Emergent Architecture, mentioned by Gartner in their press release are nothing new, the process of closing the gap between IT and businesses is going on all over the world.

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Community comments

  • Emergent XYZ

    by Udayan Banerjee,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Like 2.0, is this a beginning of a trend where we start attaching "Emergent" to everything?

  • Architecture that never ends...

    by Colin Bowern,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I attended the Gartner EA conference in Las Vegas last year. I walked away with a sense that for most people it was an exercise in writing documentation rather than driving a common set of priciples through the organization. Hopefully the focus continues to center around evolution rather than spending months documenting a moving target.

  • Emergent Architecture - NOT

    by Michael Rollings,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I don't think we need a new term -- "emergent architecture". What EA is about is already confused enough. We don't need a new term, we need a new way of operating. The butterfly has already emerged on making EA effective and it is through a focus on achieving business outcomes.

    You can read more about Burton Group's fundamentally different approach to making architecture relevant at the following links:

  • Practice

    by Maurizio Turatti,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Some analysts talking about enterprise architectures sounds like priest talking about sex and marriage: come on guys, you need some practice before going out giving advice to others...

    Just boring, sterile taxonomies aiming to transform generic concepts into some magic box to sell. What I don't really need is another buzzword.

  • Re: Practice

    by William Martinez,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Just boring, sterile taxonomies aiming to transform generic concepts into some magic box to sell. What I don't really need is another buzzword.


    I did post once about the Case of Emergent Design, and in there the "Emergent" sticky word is explained: do not think in what do you want, just do and then see what it results. Of course, that is too risky for EA.

    ...closing the gap between IT and businesses...

    Hey, that is what I teach my architecture students every day! Emergent idea has nothing to do with that. Good point and principles I see in the article, but that is plain well done architecture administration, nothing new.

    William Martinez Pomares.
    Architect's Thoughts

  • Re: Emergent Architecture - NOT

    by Sean Bethune,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Clearly, we cannot allow an "emergent architecture" gap.

    After working closely with Gartner, I propose a program to relocate our existing EA leaders to secret mine shaft facilities with provisions to survive for a minimum of three years as well as a suitable ratio of nubile women (at a ratio of 4 to 1) to continue the race in the event of a catastrophic IT meltdown due to the recession.

  • Dilbertopia

    by Mark Wutka,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    So now we're into the "decentralize whatever is centralized" bit. It must be tough coming up with new names for it.

  • EA discovers multi-agent systems and distributed AI

    by Peter Evans-Greenwood,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Autonomous actors, rule driven, goal directed, adaptive systems, distributed. By goods! EA has reinvented multi-agent solutions and distributed AI. Perhaps they should look to TROPOS for inspiration.



  • EA = a bust ??????

    by Jim Leonardo,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    One of EA's biggest issues is how to wrestle with the problem of supporting being on the cutting edge... or not too far removed. A 3 year EA initiative to 'standardize the enterprise' is a waste of time, money, and opportunity in my book. By the time it's done, the landscape will have changed so much that what was originally being targeted will have been provided in spades by a vendor or not be relevant anymore.

  • #6 - Dynamic or Adaptive

    by John Quinn,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    "EA must design emergent systems" - um, isn't a designed, emergent system an oxymoron?

    Sounds like a bunch of vague terms that can be interpreted any number of ways. I interpret it as a recipe for a Big Ball of Mud. Where's the governance? I guess it will probably magically emerge.

  • Re: Practice

    by Craig Cameron,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Yeah the concepts are still pretty much the same. The only thing that is emergent are the buzzwords.


  • Emergent Architecture - Short form for "Wait for me, I'm your leader"?

    by Ganesh Prasad,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Is Gartner's model of Emergent Architecture about giving up and making a virtue of necessity? It sounds like "running to stay in front of the parade" or "wait for me, I'm your leader".

    I agree with the Burton analyst who said effective enterprise architects were already engaged in decentralised and collaborative evolution of architecture. In my view, one of the failures of the architecture function is that it is viewed as a promotion up from the technical role of solution designer, whereas we should be looking for independent visionaries and thought leaders to fill this role. Too many architects think like technocrats, whereas they need to understand "systems" (not just information systems), people, markets, organisational dynamics, financing and budgets and old-fashioned politics. Workable systems emerge from such deep wisdom, not from boxes or lines on a whiteboard.

    It's actually Gartner that's always running to stay ahead of the parade.

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