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Technology Dependent Enterprises

I've been thinking about the evolving relationship between enterprises and technology platforms. As I continue developing the "Post Modern Enterprise Architecture" approach, it becomes clear that this relationship needs to be well understood to be able to select an enterprise architecture methodology.

There have been four major generations of technology adoption. The first is the base state, prior to the adoption of technology, when companies were essentially technology free. (In this context "technology" explicitly means digital computational technology, not steam engines or the like.) The second generation, which corresponds with the emergence of enterprise architecture, was the "technology enhanced" enterprise. Technology enhanced enterprises have a small subset of business capabilities automated, but generally can survive on manual processes if that automation fails, or at least have very forgiving deadlines for the automation to complete (think batch jobs and daily reports).

The next generation is where things start getting more interesting. "Technology enabled" enterprises have some, but not all, of their services that cannot be offered without technology. The enterprise is not completely dependent on technology, because it still has offerings that are not based on technology, but customers will be inconvenienced when the technology fails. This is one of the hallmarks of moving to "technology enabled" - that customers will see the impact of a technology outage (think banks with ATM networks, but also branch offices).

The final generation is where enterprises would not be commercially viable without technology. These "technology dependent" enterprises are often disruptive in their sectors, or create new ones. Challenger banks (online only, no branches), social networks, and streaming video platforms are all technology dependent enterprises. The emergence of the technology dependent enterprise corresponds with a number of other evolutions: modernization of development platforms and methodologies, availability of off the shelf vendor solutions, and institutional knowledge of technology. These are very different companies than the ones that were well supported by existing methodologies.

Enterprise architecture methodologies need to embrace this evolution of the enterprises we talk about. The debate about whether we should be considering technology as a part of our practice is moot when the companies that we support wouldn't exist without technology. More on these topics to come.


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