It's been interesting to observe the response to Gartner's recent discussion of a "new" approach to Enterprise Architecture. In the press release titled "Gartner Identifies New Approach for Enterprise Architecture," the analysts assert that Enterprise Architects must "respond to the growing variety and complexity in markets, economies, nations, networks and companies" by adopting a "new style of enterprise architecture" called "emergent architecture." And they describe seven properties that differentiate this "new" style from what they refer to as "the traditional approach to EA." While I find it curious that Gartner considers this a new approach, the analysts' guidance is sound and reflects the "state of the art" in EA leadership. In fact, it's the only style I've personally seen to be effective at all. Essentially, your EA practice should encourage the creation of an empowered organization capable of adaptive and goal-seeking behavior that maximizes effectiveness along the front lines of the business.
In this light, let's take a look at each of their seven properties of "emergent architecture."
1. Non-deterministic - In the past, enterprise architects applied centralized decision-making to design outcomes. Using emergent architecture, they instead must decentralize decision-making to enable innovation.
2. Autonomous actors - Enterprise architects can no longer control all aspects of architecture as they once did. They must now recognise the broader business ecosystem and devolve control to constituents.
5. Local Influences: Actors are influenced by local interactions and limited information. Feedback within their sphere of communication alters the behaviour of individuals. No individual actor has data about all of an emergent system. EA must increasingly coordinate.
6. Dynamic or Adaptive Systems: The system (the individual actors as well as the environment) changes over time. EA must design emergent systems [that] sense and respond to changes in their environment.
7. Resource-Constrained Environment: An environment of abundance does not enable emergence; rather, the scarcity of resources drives emergence.
It's good to see Gartner lend its voice to the value of "emergence" in architecture. Gone are the days where a few of us at the top of an organization can see the future clearly enough to design a top-down response. For the past decade, nearly all the modern management and leadership literature has recognized that it's increasingly necessary to create empowered communities that respond to a vision with heart and passion. Organizations that adopt these principles are able to create, embrace, and capitalize on opportunities. As Enterprise Architects, our role is to help lead the establishment of that vision and create an appropriate context in which those opportunities are readily recognized and embraced with all the energy and intellect of the community.