EA Symbolic Twins

[Enterprise architects] “…are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismantle it in dry dock and reconstruct it from the best components.”

Otto Neurath

Symbolic Twins (Navajo sand painting)


Beyond labels (layers, levels, views, tiers, …) and perspectives (business, data, applications, technologies, …), there is a broad consensus around a ternary divide of enterprise architectures. That divide can also be aligned with the traditional one between models: conceptual and organisational, logical and functional, and physical and operational.

A Shift in Paradigm

The immersion of enterprises in digital environments and the spreading of AI technologies call for a change of paradigm that could take into account the difference between data (facts), managed information (categories), and knowledge (concepts).

A symbolic bridge between EA and environments

Such a shift can be achieved by a change of perspective from traditional layered pyramids to faceted prisms that would ensure:

  • A separate yet integrated management of symbolic resources (data), assets (information), and services (knowledge)
  • A symbolic anchoring of enterprise architectures with their environments
  • The integration and interoperability of traditional and AI technologies
A Structural view of EA Symbolic Twin

That integration of symbolic (blueprints) and actual (architecture) artefacts would pave the way to actionable architectures befitting Otto Neurath’s appraisal quoted above. To that effect symbolic prisms must enable a functional integration of basic EA use cases:

  • Requirements (managed facts)
  • Data analytics (environment facts)
  • Business analysis (facts/concepts)
  • Business intelligence (concepts)
  • Strategic planning (concepts/categories)
  • Systems engineering (facts/categories)
  • Systems modeling (categories)
A Functional view of EA Symbolic Twin

The structural and functional integration of symbolic prisms can be further developed into digital twins achieving osmosis and homeostasis.

From Symbolic Twins to “Brain of the Firm”

Immersed in digital environments, EA symbolic prisms can be turned into digital twins:

  • Ontologies ensure a comprehensive and consistent symbolic representation of the enterprise architectures’ symbolic assets
  • Gears are provided by organisation (knowledge/information systems), operations (information systems/data), and processes (knowledge/data)
  • Osmosis can be achieved with Machine learning employed between facts and business models (data mining), and between facts and systems (process mining)
  • Homeostasis can be achieved through Knowledge graphs bringing together business models and enterprise governance
From Symbolic to Digital Twin

That combination of sensory-motor systems immersed in digital environments on the one hand, a collective intelligence with reasoning, judgment, and learning capabilities on the other hand, mirrors the three fundamental cognitive capabilities:

  • Understanding of contexts and opportunities (business intelligence)
  • Symbolic representation of relevant aspects of contexts and opportunities (system modeling)
  • Symbolic representation of virtual aspects of contexts and opportunities (planning)

That gives a new relevance to Stafford Beer’s vision of a “Brain of the Firm”.




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