September 25, 2009

Nanotechnology and Enterprise Architecture

“Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. In its original sense, 'nanotechnology' refers to the ability to construct items from the bottom up.” (Center for Responsible Nanotechnology)

Two examples of nanotechnology include the manufacturing of super strength polymers, and the design of computer chips at the molecular level (quantum computing). This is related to biotechnology, where technology is applied to living systems, such as recombinant DNA, biopharmaceuticals, or gene therapy.

How do we apply nanotechnology concepts to User-centric EA?
  • Integration vs. Decomposition: Traditional EA has looked at things from the top-down, where we decompose business functions into processes, information flows, and systems into services. But nanotechnology, from a process perspective, shows us that there is an alternate approach, where we integrate or build up from the bottom-up. This concept of integration can be used, for example, to connect activities into capabilities, and capabilities into competencies. These competencies are then the basis for building competitive advantage or carrying out mission execution.
  • Big is out, small is in: As we architect business processes, information sharing, and IT systems, we need to think “smaller”. Users are looking to shed the monolithic technology solutions of yesteryear for smaller, agile, and more mobile solutions today. For example, centralized cloud computing services replacing hundreds and thousands of redundant instances of individuals systems and infrastructure silos, smaller sized but larger capacity storage solutions, and ever more sleek personal digital assistants that pack in the functionality of cellphones, email, web browsing, cameras, ipods, and more.
  • Imagination and the Future State: As architects, we are concerned not only with the as-is, but also with the to-be state (many would say this is the primary reason for EA, and I would agree, although you can't establish a very effective transition plan without knowing where your coming from and going to). As we plan for the future state of things, we need to let our imagination soar. Moore’s Law, which is a view into the pace of technological change, is that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 24 months. With the rapid pace of technological change, it is difficult for architects to truly imagine what the true possibilities are 3-5 years out--but that can't stop of from trying based on analysis, trends, forecasts, emerging technologies, competitive assessments, and best practice research.

The field of information technology, like that of nanotechnology and biotechnology is not only evolving, but is moving so quickly as to seem almost revolutionary at times. So in enterprise architecture, we need to use lots of imagination in thinking about the future and target state. Additionally, we need to think not only in terms of traditional architecture decomposition (a top-down view), but also integration (a bottom-up view) of the organization, its processes, information shares, and technologies. And finally, we need to constantly remain nimble and agile in the globalized, competitive marketplace where change is a constant.


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