Chaos and Order

, Oct 15, 2007

Steve Jones does not agree with my assertion that companies face problems similar to those of the Web, and that the support of chaos inherent in Web architecture thus makes it a good match for enterprise IT:

It is true that IT unfortunately does create IT estates that are a mess and which have in the main part been driven by people who focused on the technologies first. This isn’t however true for the businesses that they support, there is the ability in companies to compel change and to enforce conformity. Companies establish procurement departments, HR departments and even IT departments with these aims. Taking the Web view and applying it to business seems to imply that the chaotic nature of the web is the correct approach to take in creating an IT estate that works for the business. This doesn’t make sense.

I did not intend to say that all companies work chaotically. My slightly lame attempt at humor was this one:

Q. What’s the difference between the Internet and the Enterprise?
A. One is a gigantic, uncontrollable anarchy of heterogeneous systems with varying quality that evolve independently and constantly get connected in new and unexpected ways. The other is a worldwide, publicly accessible series of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP).

Maybe the “uncontrollable” isn’t 100% true in every company, but the opposite — the idea of being able to centrally control a non-trivial IT landscape — is at least as wrong.

On October 16, 2007 10:14 PM, Steve Jones said:

The question isn’t to completely control, its whether there can be central guiding principles and enforcement. Quite clearly this is how businesses work today, the CEO clearly can do this, as does the CFO when it comes to spending money. Why can’t the IT department have the same professionalism and sophistication as the business?

A principle of the Web is the lack of known quality and the lack of enforcement, this is the opposite of how businesses normally work, they have known contracts, known risks and have defined enforcement policies.

Put it this way, how many companies don’t have enforcement and control when it comes to spending money?

On October 16, 2007 10:28 PM, Stefan Tilkov said:

We actually agree, we just value the Web differently. To me, its architecture is actually exactly what you describe — central agreement on some principles that ensures interop, details left to those who implement.

On October 17, 2007 11:21 AM, Steve Jones said:

Procurement doesn’t leave the details to the people who implement, it enforces the details and manages the process. Businesses don’t just agree on principles, they agree on actions, policy and enforcement.

In the web nothings stops anyone adding anything they want, in businesses there are lots of things stopping that.

I think there is a bit of danger of “hammer” mentality in applying Web principles to business :)

On October 20, 2007 11:35 PM, Benjamin Carlyle said:

To describe the web as chaotic is, I think, simply underselling it. Pretty-much any browser on the Web can access pretty-much any server, and they can successfully exchange data. Data formats and protocols are controlled by a small number of standards bodies that are able to successfully evolve the overall architecture in a very simple and stable way. It is astounding that given the number of participants in the Web architecture we see such organised and deliberate progress in standards development.

Compare this to the average enterprise. I think this is where you will find the chaotic, ad hoc approach that leads to architecture components that just can’t talk to each other. The Web is a paradise by comparison. It gets the job done better, cheaper, and more sustainably.

Applying the same approach that lead to our current predicament from higher up the chain won’t solve the enterprise problem. The right approach is to learn lessons from the architecture that has demonstrably solved these problems already.