Redeeming Conceptual Debts

Preamble

To take advantage of their immersion into digital environments enterprises have to differentiate between data (environment’s facts), information (systems’ representations), and knowledge (enterprise behavior).

Outside / Insight (Anna Hulacova)

That cannot be achieved without ironing out the semantic discrepancies between corresponding representations.

Symbolic Representations

Along with the Symbolic System modeling paradigm, the aim of computer systems is to manage the symbolic representations of business objects and processes pertaining to enterprises contexts and concerns. That view can be summarized in terms of maps and territories:

Maps and territories of systems and their environment

Behind the various labels and modus operandi, maps can be defined on three basic layers:

  • Conceptual models, targeting enterprises organization and business independently of supporting systems.
  • Logical models, targeting the symbolic objects managed by supporting systems as surrogates of business objects and activities.
  • Physical models, targeting the actual implementation of symbolic surrogates as binary objects.

Pagoda Architecture Blueprint

These maps can be aligned with commonly agreed enterprise architecture layers, respectively for organizations and processes, systems functionalities, and platforms, with a fourth added for analytical models of business environments.

Conceptual Debt

Ideally, that alignment should pave the way to the integration of systems and knowledge architectures, as represented by the Pagoda blueprint:

Insofar as systems engineering is concerned, that would require two kinds of transformations: from conceptual to logical models (aka analysis), and from logical to physical models (aka design).

While the latter is just a matter of expertise (thank to the GoF), that’s not the case for the former which has to deal with a semantic gap between descriptions of specific and changing business domains and organizations on one side, generic and stable systems architectures on the other side.

As a result, what can be termed a conceptual debt has accumulated with the the number of logical models supporting physical ones without the backing of relevant ones for business or organization. The objective is therefore to bring all models into a broader knowledge architecture.

Models & Ontologies

As introduced by Greek philosophers, ontologies are systematic accounts of whatever is known about a domain of concern. From that point, three basic observations can be made:

  1. Ontologies are made of categories of things, beings, or phenomena; as such they may range from lexicon or simple catalogs to philosophical doctrines.
  2. Ontologies are driven by cognitive (i.e non empirical) purposes, namely the validity and consistency of symbolic representations.
  3. Ontologies are meant to be directed at specific domains of concerns, whatever their epistemic nature: engineering, business, politics, religions, mythologies, astrology, etc.

With regard to models, only the second observation puts ontologies apart: compared to models, ontologies are about understanding and are not necessarily driven by empirical purposes.

On that account ontologies appear as an option of choice for the integration of symbolic representations:

  • Data: instances identified at territory level, associated with terms or labels; they are mapped to business intelligence (environments) and operational (systems) models.
  • Information: categories associated with sets of instances; categories can be used for requirements analysis or software design.
  • Knowledge: ideas or concepts connect changing and overlapping sets of terms and categories; documents can be associated to any kind of item.

With models consistently mapped to ontologies, the conceptual debt could be restructured in the broader context of enterprise knowledge architecture.

Ontologies & Knowledge

As expounded by Davis, Shrobe, and Szolovits in their pivotal article, knowledge is made of five constituents:

  1. Surrogates, used as symbolic counterparts of actual objects and phenomena.
  2. Ontological commitments defining the categories of things that may exist in the domain under consideration.
  3. Fragmentary theory of intelligent reasoning defining what things can do or can be done with.
  4. Medium making knowledge understandable by computers.
  5. Medium making knowledge understandable by humans.

Points 1 and 5 are not concerned by the conceptual gap, the former being dealt with through the anchoring of identified individuals to surrogates (see below), and the latter being with human interfaces. That leaves points 2-4 as the conceptual hub where information models have to be integrated into knowledge architecture.

Assuming RDF (Resource Description Framework) graphs are used for knowledge representation (point 4), and taking a restaurant for example, the contents of information models (point 2) will be denoted by:

  • Primary nodes (rectangles), for elements specific to cooking and customers relationship management, to be decorated with features (bottom right).
  • Connection nodes (circles and arrows), for semantically neutral (aka syntactic) associations to be uniformly implemented across domains, e.g with predicate calculus (bottom left).
  • Semantic connectors supporting both syntactic and semantic associations (bottom, middle). 

Inserting information into knowledge architecture

Using ontologies to integrate models into knowledge architecture is to enable the restructuring of the conceptual debt.

Bridging Semantic Gaps

Keeping with the financial metaphor, conceptual debts can be expressed in terms of spreads between models, and as such could be restructured through models transformation.

To begin with, all representations have to be anchored to environments through identified (#) instances.


Anchoring systems to their environment

Then, instances are to be associated to categories according to features
(properties or relationships) :

  • Customers, reservations, tables, and waiters are identified individuals managed through symbolic surrogates.
  • Names of dishes and ingredients do not refer to symbolic surrogates representing business objects, but are just labels pointing to recipes (documents).
  • Idem for the names of wines, except for exceptional vintages with identified bottles to be managed through symbolic surrogates.

As defined above, these models can be equivalently expressed as ontologies:

  • Properties are single-valued attributes.
  • Relationships define links between categories.
  • Aspects are structured sets of features meant to be valued through category instances.
  • Documents are contents to be accessed directly or through networks, (e.g preparations or wine reviews).
Fleshing out model backbone with features, relationships, and documents (black, italic)

It must be noted that the distinction between neutral and specific contents is not meant to be universal but be justified by pragmatic concerns, for instance:

  • Addresses are not defined as aspects but as category instances so that surrogates of actual addresses can be used to optimize deliveries.
  • Links to customers and addresses, being self-explanatory, can be defined as non specific.
  • The relationship from dishes to ingredients is structured and specific.

Sorting out truth-preserving constructs from domain specific ones is a key success factor for models transformation, and consequently debt restructuring.

Restructuring The Debts

Restructuring financial debts means redefining assets and incomes; with regard to systems it would mean reassessing architectures with regard to value chains.

To begin with, the Pagoda blueprint central pillar is to support the integration of systems and knowledge architectures and consequently the dynamic alignment of systems capabilities, meant to be stable and shared, with business opportunities, by nature changing and specific.

Then, the pairing of systems and knowledge architectures, like a DNA double helix, is to be used to restructure both technical and conceptual debts.


Pairing assets and incomes across architectures

With regard to technical debts, restructuring isn’t to present significant difficulties:

  • Pairing income flows (applications) to tangible assets (platforms) can be done at data level.
  • Model transformations between data (code) and information (models) levels can be achieved using homogeneous domain specific and programming languages.

Things are more complex with conceptual debts, for pairing as well as transformations:

  • There is no direct pairing because value chains (processes) are set across assets (organization).
  • Model transformations are to bridge the semantic gap between the
    symbolic representations of environments (knowledge) and systems (information) .

Nonetheless, these difficulties can be overcame combining integrated architectures and ontologies.

Regarding the structure of the conceptual debt, the income part is to be defined through business objectives (customers, products, channels, supply chin, etc.), and assets to be defined by corresponding enterprise architectures capabilities.

How to mind the gap between external and systems representations.

Regarding models transformations, ontologies will be used to mind the semantic gap between environments (knowledge) and systems (information) representations:

  • Power-types: describe instances of categories (age, income, education, …).
  • Specialization and generalization: defined with regard of intent, subsets for individuals (wine, gender), sub-types for aspects (temperature, serve in menu).
  • Knowledge based relationships (dashed line): used to describe objects and phenomena, actual, planned, or expected (face recognition of customers, influence of weather on dishes, association of wines and dishes, …
  • Concepts: introduced to relate information and knowledge: gourmet.
Ontological descriptions

With the backbones of symbolic representations soundly anchored to environment, it would be possible to complement functional and logical models with their conceptual counterpart and by doing so to eliminate conceptual debts. A symmetric policy could be applied to refactoring in order to redeem the technical debt associated to legacy code.

Further Reading

Squared Outline: States

States are used to describe relevant aspects in contexts and how the changes are to affect systems representations and behaviors.

On that account, events and states are complementary: the former are to notify relevant changes, the latter are to represent the partitions (²) that makes these changes relevant. Transitions are used to map the causes and effects of changes.

  1. State of physical objects.
  2. State of processes’ execution.
  3. State of actors’ expectations.
  4. State of symbolic representations.

Beside alignment with events, defining states consistently across objects, processes, and actors is to significantly enhance the traceability and transparency of architectures designs.

FURTHER READINGS

EA & The Pagoda Blueprint

“The little reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed over”

Aesop

Resilience and adaptability to changing environments (Masao Ido)

Preamble

The consequences of digital environments go well beyond a simple adjustment of business processes and call for an in-depth transformation of enterprise architectures. 

To begin with, the generalization of digital environments bears out the Symbolic System modeling paradigm: to stay competitive, enterprises have to manage a relevant, accurate, and up-to-date symbolic representation of their business context and concerns. 

With regard to architectures, it means a seamless integration of systems and knowledge architectures.

With regard to processes it means a built-in ability to learn from environments and act accordingly.

Such requirements for resilience and adaptability in unsettled environments are characteristic of the Pagoda architecture blueprint.

Pagoda Blueprint

As can be observed wherever high buildings are being erected on shaking grounds, Pagoda-like architectures set successive layers around a central pillar providing intrinsic strength and resilience to external upsets while allowing the floors to move with the whole or be modified independently. Applied to enterprise architectures in digital environments, that blueprint can be much more than metaphoric.

The actual relevancy of the pagoda blueprint is best understood when the main of data, information, and knowledge is set across platforms, systems, and organization layers:


Pagoda Architecture Blueprint

That blueprint puts a new light on model based approaches to systems engineering (MBSE):

  • Conceptual models, targeting enterprises organization and business independently of supporting systems.
  • Logical models, targeting the symbolic objects managed by supporting systems as surrogates of business objects and activities.
  • Physical models, targeting the actual implementation of symbolic surrogates as binary objects.

Weaving together enterprises and knowledge architectures would greatly enhance the traceability of transformations induced by the immersion of enterprises in digital environments.

Systems & Knowledge Architectures

If digitized business flows are to pervade enterprise systems and feed decision-making processes, systems and knowledge architectures are to be merged into a single nervous system as materialized by the Pagoda central pillar:

Enterprise Nervous System
  • Ubiquitous, massive, and unrelenting digitized business flows cannot be dealt with lest a clear distinction is maintained between raw data acquired across platforms, and the information (previously data) models which ensure the continuity and consistency of systems.  .  
  • Once structured and refined, business data flows must be blended with information models sustaining systems functionalities.
  • A comprehensive and business driven integration of organization and knowledge could then support strategic and operational decision-making at enterprise level.

Rounding off this nervous system with a brain, ontologies would provide the conceptual frame for models representing enterprises and their environments.

Agile Architectures & Homeostasis

Homeostasis is the ability of a viable organism to learn from their environment and adapt their behavior and structures according to changes.
As such homeostasis can be understood as the eextension of enterprise agility set in digital environments, ensuring:

  • Integrated decision-making processes across concerns (business, systems, platforms), and time-frames (tactical, operational, strategic, … ).
  • Integrated information processing, from data-mining to knowledge management.

To that end, changes should be differentiated with regard to source (business or technology environment, organization, systems) and flows (data, information, knowledge); that would be achieved with a pagoda blueprint.

Resilience and adaptability to changes

Threads of operational and strategic decision-making processes could then be weaved together, combining OODA loops at process level and economic intelligence at enterprise level.

Further Reading

Squared Outline: Layers

The immersion of enterprises into digital environments is blurring the traditional distinctions between architecture layers. Hence the need of clarifying the basic notions.


Pagoda Architecture Blueprint

Beyond the differences in terminologies (layers, levels, tiers, etc), four basic taxonomies can be applied:

  1. Enterprise architecture: business processes and organization, systems, platforms (Pagoda blueprint).
  2. Functional architecture: interfaces, control, persistency, services (Model/View/Controller).
  3. Representation: physical, logical, conceptual (Pagoda blueprint).
  4. Economic intelligence: data, information, knowledge

While some alignments are intrinsic, making explicit use of taxonomies is useful because they serve specific purposes.

n.b. The term “application layer” is usually defined in the context of communication architectures.

Further Reading

2019: Hit The Caminao Ground Running

Hitting the ground running with Caminao is meant to be easy as it relies on
a well-founded modeling paradigm (Stanford Symbolic Systems Program) and a solid and well established reference framework (Zachman’s).

Moving On (Moises Levy)

Secured by these foundations, teams could carry on with agile and MBSE development models, helped, if and when necessary, by a comprehensive and consistent documentation freely available online.

Symbolic Systems Paradigm

The Stanford Symbolic System Program (SSP) is built on clear and incontrovertible evidence: the purpose of computer systems is to manage the symbolic counterparts (aka surrogates) of business objects and activities. Based on that understanding, enterprise architectures can be wholly and consistently defined by maps (the models) and territories (relevant business objects and activities and their symbolic counterparts in systems).

A formal as well as pragmatic understanding of Enterprises and Systems

That paradigm is at the same time straightforward and aligned with the formal distinction between extensional and intensional representations, the former for requirements analysis (descriptive models), the latter for systems design (prescriptive models).

Zachman’s Framework

Given its clarity of purpose and concepts, the Zachman Framework is arguably a reference of choice; its core is defined by six columns and five lines, each of them associated with well known concepts:

A clear and compact set of unambiguous concepts encompassing the whole of enterprise architecture.

Yet, the table arrangement comes with some discrepancies:

  • Lines mix architectures artifacts (2-4) with contexts (1) and instances (5).
  • Columns mix capabilities (1-5) with objectives (6).

While keeping the semantics intact, Caminao rearranges the artifacts lines into pentagons:

Changing the format opens the door to enterprise architecture capabilities

That simple transformation significantly improves the transparency of enterprise architectures while bringing a new light on dependencies set across layers and capabilities. As it happens, and not by chance, it neatly fits with the Pagoda architecture blueprint.

Digital Transformation & The Pagoda Blueprint

The generalization of digitical environments bears out the Symbolic System modeling paradigm: to stay competitive, enterprises have to manage a relevant, accurate, and up-to-date symbolic representation of their business context and concerns. On that account, consequences go well beyond a shallow transformation of business processes and call for an in-depth transformation of enterprise architectures that should put the focus on their capacity to refine business data flows into information assets supporting knowledge management and decision-making:

  • Ubiquitous, massive, and unrelentig digitized business flows cannot be dealt with lest a clear distinction is maintained between raw data acquired across platforms and the information (previously data) models ensuring the continuity and consistency of systems.  
  • Once structured and refined, business data flows must be blended with information models sustaining systems functionalities.
  • A comprehensive and business driven integration of organization and knowldege could then support strategic and operational decision-making at enterprise level.

Such an information backbone set across architecture layers tallies with the Pagoda architecture blueprint well known for its resilience and adaptability in unsettled environments.

That blueprint can be much more than metaphoric: applied to enterprise architectures it would greatly enhance the traceability of transformations induced by digital environments.

Proceed With Agile & MBSE

Once set on track with a reliable paradigm and a clear reference framework, teams can carry on with their choice of development models:

  • Agile schemes for business driven applications for which conditions of shared ownership and continuous delivery can be met.
  • Phased schemes for architecture developments set across business processes. 

Whatever the development methods, the modeling paradigm will put enterprise architecture and projects management on a principled basis, and the framework will significantly enhance their integration.

FURTHER READING

 

Squared Outline: Ontologies

The upsurge in the scope and performances of artificial brains sometimes brings a new light on human cognition. Semantic layers and knowledge graphs offer a good example of a return to classics, in that case with Greek philosophers’ ontologies.

According to their philosophical origins, ontologies are systematic accounts of existence for whatever can make sense in an universe of discourse. From that starting point four basic observations can be made:

  1. Ontologies are structured set of names denoting symbolic (aka cognitive) representations.
  2. These representations can stand at different epistemic levels: terms or labels associated to representations (nothing is represented), ideas or concepts (sets of terms), instances of identified objects or phenomena, categories (sets of instances), documents.
  3. Ontologies are solely dedicated to the validity and internal consistency of the representations. Not being concerned with external validity, As they are not meant to support emprical purposes.
  4. Yet, assuming a distinction between epistemic levels, ontologies can be used to support both internl and external consistency of models. 

That makes models a refinement of ontologies as they are meant to be externally consistent and serve a purpose.

FURTHER READING

EXTERNAL LINKS

Squared Outline: Symbolic Systems

“Computer systems, robots, and people are all examples of symbolic systems, agents that use meaningful symbols to represent the world around them so as to communicate and generally act in the world,”

 (Stanford University’s Symbolic Systems Program)

Symbolic Representations Are Concrete Objects (Albert) 

Most of misconceptions about IT systems can be corrected with a proper understanding of symbolic representations:

  1. Symbolic objects are concrete.
  2. Symbolic representations are symbolic objects tied to objects, agents, or phenomena, physically or socially identified within the domain considered.
  3. Surrogates are symbolic representations used to reflect the state of their counterpart in domains.
  4. Systems are containers used to manage surrogates.

These four simple tenets can be used as the pillars and the wheels of the whole discipline.

FURTHER READING