Thursday, June 23, 2016

Architecture in Digital World

It always makes me think about the differences between the architectures in digital world (e.g. for digital enterprise/entities, solutions, and systems) and the architectures in physical world (e.g. for buildings and cities). The later has mature disciplines with less changeable targets, while the former does not have such fortunate. On another hand, the former also provides more opportunities to explore, to make progress, and to evolve towards maturity and discipline.

For architecture in digital world, the aspects to explore include:

1)     The Conceptual Model
This is the starting point and also the foundation layer for architecture creation. The architecture concept generation for digital world entity construction is more abstract than the one for physical world. In addition, it also has to consider the interconnections and mutual relationships among the widely-networked entities, as indicated earlier in my article “Inter-Enterprise Architecture”. A well-established conceptual model has to consider this world-wide networked environment with shared economy, as well as potential activity models.

2)     Open and Flexibility
Open and flexibility are characteristics must to have for architectures in digital world, due to the continuous advancement in technologies, business requirements, and people behaviors in the inter-connected environments. Architectures must be able to evolve along the way. Open and flexibility are usually associated with technology-agnostic concepts, models, and solutions. To enable them, the creative, well-thought-of, and solid conceptual and logical architectures and frameworks should be in place, before they can be further developed and be implemented by various technology options.

3)     Guidance + Governance vs. Organic Growth
It is the intrinsic role of architecture to provide guidance and governance for its engineering construction, as is in physical world. However, in digital world, there should be a balance between architectural guidance + governance and organic growth, due to human limitations in comprehend the widely-connected big pictures in digital world. If it is too strong in guidance + governance, human limitations could restrict the meaningful natural growth for further advancement. If there is too much in organic growth without regulation and guidance, things may end up in a place where we don’t want to be, or even be dangerous considering the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines with self-learning capabilities.

4)     On-Demand Requirements
Standardized production is mainly associated with Industrial Age, while Digital Age is associated with on-demand production and services. Product and service tends to be provided in on-demand fashion to meet the specific requirements, which are one-on-one based, instead of mass production. The architectures have to enable such capabilities, which means unique in creation and flexible in customization.

5)     Discipline vs. Standard
Architecture practice should form discipline to become mature. However, it may be hard to imagine any standards to form. Actually, we don’t have standards for building architectures or for city planning in physical world either, which is how we get landmark buildings and new cities, although we do need and have standards for engineering. Current architecture practices in digital world are lean to engineering aspects too much, which lost their own identities as architecture practices in certain degree.

In summary: architectures in digital world have both similarities and differences from the ones in physical world. For architectures in digital world, we have seen too much influence from engineering disciplines, instead of forming one for its own. It is worthwhile to explore the discipline of architectures for the continuous evolving digital world.

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