Social Transformation

by Andre Milchman
The first thing I noticed, when I began to study objects which have life, was that they all contain different scales. In my new language, I would now say that the centers these objects are made of tend to have a beautiful range of sizes, and that these sizes exist in a series of well-marked levels, with definite jumps between them.
- Christopher Alexander -

“In short,” further explains Alexander in his book, The Phenomenon of Life: Nature of Order, there are big centers, middle-sized centers, small centers, and very small centers. In the language I used at that time, I would simply have said that I noticed a great variety of well-formed wholes of many different sizes and that this was often the first thing one noticed about those things which have great life in them.

One of the main tasks of enterprise (re)engineering is to define appropriate levels of scale and design balanced, flexible, and adaptable structures at each level, where each structure is implemented as a network of strong centers capable of performing complex computational activities.

The enterprise can use principles of the enterprise engineering framework (EEF) to execute the social transformation phase of enterprise reengineering. This phase establishes the human architecture of the enterprise by creating a clear and elegant two-level enterprise structure. This sets the scene for further enterprise transformation, which includes formalization of units' boundaries, optimization of enterprise coordination and enterprise communication, and internal transformation of each enterprise unit.

A two-level enterprise
Figure 2.1. A two-level enterprise.

The Current State

Figure 2.2 shows a flattened structure of a contemporary enterprise, which is traditionally viewed as a multi-level hierarchy with power, control, and access to resources unevenly distributed between the levels of the hierarchy. Although—as some studies show—hierarchy is absolutely inevitable, and hierarchical organization of the enterprise has obvious advantages, from the enterprise engineering perspective, the classic Taylorist org-chart view of the enterprise has caused so much unnecessary ambiguity and confusion that, according to John A. Zachman, even though IT has been manufacturing the Enterprise (building systems) for 70 years or so... the Enterprise was never engineered.

A contemporary enterprise
Figure 2.2. A contemporary enterprise.

If we believe that after 100+ years since Taylor laid the foundation for scientific management the second decade of the 21st century is the right time for engineering the Enterprise (creating digital constructs for the Enterprise itself), then we should consider building the Enterprise as either (1) a layered construct, (2) a nested construct, or (3) a networked construct:

The Future State

It doesn't take more than a quick look at Figure 2.5 to notice that the network construct contains not only strong centers, but also weak centers (human agents), marked red on the following diagram.

Weak Centers
Figure 2.6. Weak centers

As mentioned earlier, hierarchy is inevitable, and (orange) links on the diagram signify hierarchical relationships between the centers. Even in the flat hierarchy shown on the diagram, the "higher level" centers become responsible (and accountable) for "lower level" centers contributing their best to the success of the whole. Ironically, the executive core that is responsible for the success of the entire enterprise, in most, if not all organizations, is implemented as a network of weak centers.

Executive Core As a Network of Weak Centers
Figure 2.7. Executive core as a network of weak centers.

Weak centers negatively affect the effectiveness and efficiency of enterprise functioning because they (1) have limited computational capability, (2) cannot ensure sufficient quality of service (availability, response time, reliability, performance, etc.), (3) slow down information flow, (4) fail to establish formal decision interfaces, and (5) fail to record, maintain, and learn from the history of their decisions.

The EEF solves these problems strengthening or aggregating several existing weak centers into more complex strong centers called units.

Strengthened Networked Construct
Figure 2.7. Enterprise as a strengthened networked construct.

The Process

Social transformation is a recursive decomposition of the Enterprise into a network of executive and functional units—a process that can be qualitatively explained as follows:

The result of the completed recursive decomposition should look similar to one on Figure 2.7—a network of strong centers with the executive core and functional periphery.

Benefits of Social Transformation

The main goal of the social transformation phase of enterprise transformation is to reduce the complexity of the Enterprise. Social transformation