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