In the course of my industrial career I have gradually become interested in the role that System Architecture may play in defining new or improving existing systems (products & services). During most of my working life, my daily activities have somehow dealt with the domain of transport physics (fluids, mass, heat), in which I started as a specialist in industrial R&D environments after finishing my Ph.D. In industrial applications this often means the understanding and optimization of the thermal behavior of complex devices.
During 2001-2005, my work at Philips Research (NatLab) at the Software Architecture Group (led by Jaap van der Heijden) was a first, different experience, in which I became introduced to concepts and methods used in architecting systems and software. I also met and got inspired by Gerrit Muller (the CAFCR approach) there for the first time.
Subsequently my family and I moved to Sweden for a ten year's stay and work at ABB (topped up with two years of Germany), returning to the familiar domain of heat and mass transfer. At ABB I got involved with the cooling design of large power transformers. These complex devices are an important part of a power transmission network.
Starting at Corporate Research on power transformer cooling modeling approaches, I gradually entered the ABB's business unit and finally became part of the global architecture team of ABB's Medium & Large Power Transformer product group. There I was globally responsible for the thermal architecture as an integral part of its TrafoStar architecture platform.
During that journey I discovered that the system architecture concepts I was introduced to during my time at Philips were quite helpful to structure my thoughts when managing my work at ABB. The Philips experience also helped in defining work strategies when helping out with strategic design reviews and discussing with electrical designers on their design requirements. In the latter cases, these requirements had to be balanced with many others (insulation, mechanics, losses etc.) often already in the early and short tender design stage. Additionally, the System Architecture concepts also helped to think about my role as part of the architecture team in an organization where the architect role was not formally defined nor recognized, and where the word "architecture" was often related only to the software domain. In fact, out of the roles that I fulfilled at ABB (project leader, specialist, competence coordinator, and architect) I enjoyed the "invisible" latter the most, as it helped me to structure my communication. To me, architecture is as much about communication (in the sense of communicating with the right groups of people on the right abstraction level) and human organization structure (i.e. the roles that are needed in an organisation for proper information transfer) as it is about eliciting the shape, function and interfaces of components in a system.
Returning from Sweden to the northern part of the Netherlands, I came to realize that in that area there exists a large number of small, often specialized enterprises on a limited set of application domains. System Architecture is recognized by the large companies as important, but should it not be equally important for small businesses as well? Could this approach help to substantially increase their innovation potential?
In this blog I present a number of discussion articles (white papers etc.) that address a number of key issues in innovation of (small) businesses in the technical domain. I hope it inspires others working in the system architecture domain and helps to enables a form of cooperation in further developing this field. Please contact me (see menu at the right or bottom) if you feel that there may be a basis for discussion here!
This section provides the foreword to the publication that I have started to write to structure my thoughts regarding system architecting:
Innovative systems architecting for small enterprises and startups in a fluid world
This publication addresses you as a present or future owner or employee of a small enterprise, a start-up or similar, who wants to make a difference by contributing to society in new innovative ways that are adapted to emergent societal needs. Or you may be involved in the education and training of the future workforce for those enterprises and want to receive guidance on principles that will shape the student’s role in innovation.
Small and medium sized businesses are generally considered to be the innovation motors of the economy. They are often pitted against the large decades-old enterprises as being more flexible and outward-looking. Therefore they can be more perceptive to finding customer needs and translating them into products that add real value. The lack of many levels of decision-making management structures potentially gives them a head start in carrying an idea to a tested product, going through a rapid cycle of innovation steps in order to have a first-to-market product. Even discovering new markets is a challenge likely most suitable for a small fresh start-up enterprise.
Yet, only very few small enterprises manage to expand to a next level where they affect the economy on a national or even international level, let alone survive for more than a few years. After all, there are many advantages to being big. First of all it’s a matter of resources: large companies have the cash to explore new areas and the facilities to produce and deliver. It’s about experience: they have an established organization with defined processes and roles that structure their behavior. They are part of established networks which can be used to tap any information deemed relevant for innovation-oriented strategy decision-making. They can split up parts of their organization in order to form teams that can act swiftly as well. So, at first sight it seems like it’s really the big ones that are at a winner’s position regarding innovation, contrary to our earlier statement.
I have discovered during my career working on product innovation in both small and large engineering-oriented companies that the above depictions are too simplistic. These depictions are based on an implicit assumption that the people that are responsible for innovation in the enterprise – whatever size – always and consciously take up a number of formally, well-defined, complete and consistent set of roles as part of an innovation-oriented process that is called systems architecting. In practice I have learned that this assumption often breaks at one of the following realities:
- There may not be a single, consistent description of a system architecture for a product, a product group or a product family. Consequently the roles that are necessary of or its definition and maintenance (and thereby strategy and road map definition) are not formally and clearly defined either. As a consequence, strategic opportunities are missed.
- The role of a systems architect may not be formally defined. Consequently a holistic view on a product or even product market is lacking, both at the product design level and at the strategic decision-making and resource allocation level.
- A formal architecture team may be absent. Instead a number of specialists are in charge of defining the product’s roadmap, leading to a severe reduction of information flow on critical cross-cutting issues in the architecture and thereby obscuring the necessity of critical design decisions. Also, a tendency of looking for short-term approaches based on existing solutions may be present.
- The lack of roles (or their incomplete specification) leads to personal interpretations and pursuance of conflicting goals. The result is the presence of an unofficial organization structure with information flows that can be quite different from the official and envisaged one.
The above makes clear two of my personal standpoints, namely that systems architecting as a process is an absolute precondition for innovative systems design, and that it is a very human activity in the sense of structuring communications between people that are very aware of the explicit and implicit roles that they have in the architecting process. Particularly relevant for small enterprises, the number of people involved in innovation-related activities is small and therefore the number of architectural roles they are expected to take is large. Therefore a main goal of this publication is to expose these roles.
In this publication I will take the “human factor” to an even deeper level: not only do I emphasize the importance of the human factor in the system architecting process and show what this means, I also discuss and develop the qualities of the new to be designed systems in human terms as well. There are several reasons for doing so: It is appropriate to discuss the behavior of future, to-be-designed systems in terms of human qualities as this makes them attractive, appreciated and intuitively “understandable”. Consequently, your (potential) customers will intuitively recognize these qualities as well and this makes it much easier to connect with them at a very early stage, providing you with an important competitive edge. Furthermore, innovation is not limited to technical innovation only, it is more and more related to qualities that are often expressed in human terms: Resilience, flexibility, upgradeability in terms of (self)learning, connectedness, environmental awareness, intelligence, even “soul“, with many of these qualities realized through appropriate services. Since in practice the implementation of a system is often steered by these qualities’ aspects, it is required to safeguard these qualities in the system design from the start. There is however the challenge of technology options to implement these systems: The number of hardware and software options and implementations is enormous, with a number of key Smart Industry related concepts like artificial intelligence, cloud services and 3D-printing being rolled out. An architecting approach that is truly innovative should therefore include a process to evaluate and integrate these technology concepts seamlessly in the resilient system’s architecture, so that the potential advantages that these technologies have for your application are fully realized in your design and maximally monetized during the products lifecycle.
As a consequence this publication covers two major subjects. On one hand, a systems architecting approach is presented that is geared towards small enterprises and start-ups, as discussed beforehand, that focuses on the roles that people should have. Secondly, the Resilient Architecture concept – a so-called reference architecture – is presented that describes the key conceptual structure of any product or system that has the previously mentioned human qualities at its core. It includes processes and concepts to evaluate and integrate the fundamentals of existing, upcoming or even future and nonexistent technologies in a product’s implementation architecture. The reference architecture is complemented with methods to derive actual system designs from it.
Although the focus and application perspective in this book is on engineering, other complex systems in different application domains can be designed with the architecting method as described here as well.
I believe that the human viewpoint on both systems’ behavior and their development process is fundamental in creating truly innovative systems. This publication will provide you with the means to follow that exciting and largely unexplored path.
Copyright: Jurjen Kranenborg 2018
For a while I have been considering a start-up on system architecting services for small businesses ("MKB"). Although this currently has been limited to an exploration only (due to several reasons, therefore I call it a "proto-startup") the activity has been rewarding in giving focus on my thoughts on system architecting in practice. Below is the advertising text on what this enterprise would promise.
Why are we here, and who do we focus on?
We love innovative systems- and machine design, and we think that small enterprises truly can take the innovation lead here for reaching a competitive advantage!
We believe that we always should design a system/machine that we like and appreciate because it has qualities we appreciate in ourselves and we can discuss about in those familiar human terms. As a result, your customer will intuitively recognize its promise and value as well, giving you exactly the competitive advantage from the first point of contact as well as a sound base for future business. We believe that the right direction for innovation always embodies a significant human aspect.
How do we make innovation for you happen?
By taking these desired qualities as the basis of the system design from the start! The basis for this is our Resilient Architecture approach, which allows you and us to systematically reason about these systems in intuitively meaningful ways. The approach relates the desirable qualities and behavior that we want the system to have to useful design concepts and a choice of technology options for implementing them, always in a clear, positive and meaningful way. The approach deals systematically with balancing desires, requirements and boundary conditions in such a way that your system becomes both desirable and truly resilient in operation. Emerging or even future technologies can be directly discussed, evaluated and rated in the Resilient Architecture approach.
For small businesses there is a specific advantage, since the Resilient Architecture approach specifically addresses the human role in the design process. Many small enterprises are in practice hampered in monetizing on their innovation potential by the fact that their organization does not have the right organizational structure. In practice this often boils down to the fact that the many necessary roles of people in the process are not made explicit (does your organization have a formal architect role, for example?). Our approach addresses the roles that all stakeholders can optimally take in this creative process right from the start.
So, with what can and will we help you?
As a start-up were are getting ready for launch, and from that point on we will support you with:
- Advice on system design from the start, with the Resilient Architecture principles in mind, giving clarity on desired system qualities from the beginning of the design process.
- Providing for technological options choices that are both fundamental to the product's long-term ROI success but at the same time are cost-effective from the start.
- Supporting reference sources for use in your architecting and design process
At launch time we want to be ready to get in contact with you. Therefore, if you are truly interested feel free to leave here your motivation of interest and your contact info (email address) and we will get in touch with you! The menu at the right will guide you further in contacting us.
What is the human fabric behind Resilient Architectures?
Meet our founder and get to know his background: Jurjen Kranenborg. In the menu located at the right or below there is a link to his detailed CV.
2018, Copyright: Jurjen Kranenborg