This paper is about a partnership between two disciplines: organizational studies and information systems engineering. It is argued that organizational studies has much to benefit from the conceptual development that has been taking place in the representation of organizational processes and enterprise architectures (EA) and that systems engineering can greatly expand its execution capability by absorbing a variety of messages coming from social or organizational theory. The concept of Organizational Self-Awareness (OSA) is offered as the contextual framework for the discussion. OSA is a process which involves, firstly, the efforts of the individual organizational member in getting to know his/her work environment, through sensemaking. Sensemaking is influenced by a number of factors, some related to the individual’s psychological makeup, others related to the individual’s work environment. EAs can play a relevant role in sensemaking. From activity theory the paper highlights the process of consciousness formation in human beings as well as the mediating artefacts that shape and constrain the acquisition, accumulation and development of knowledge and self-knowledge. Among the many mediating artefacts in the work environment EAs are a special type. EAs are also boundary objects due to their distinctive ability to influence perspective making and perspective taking in the process of organizational sensemaking. The paper concludes that the design and use of EAs can play a crucial role in the formation of a collective mind about the state of the organizational processes and therefore about the state of the organization.
The entry of Information Systems (IS) into every walk of life is having a merging effect between the hard and the soft sciences. The new bridge between the two camps comes from the new capability that humans have to represent large chunks of reality in terms of information. Science, including social science, is increasingly about the collection, organization and transformation of information. It is argued that in the 21st century applied computer science is playing the role which mathematics played between the 17th and the 20th centuries, that is, providing an “orderly, formal framework and exploratory apparatus for other sciences” (Foster, 2006: 419).
The pervasive effects of computer science are being felt also in the organization science. Computer-based information systems are having a large impact on the form and effectiveness of organizational design through a host of new capabilities in the coordination and control of organizational processes (Weick, 2001; Malone et al, 2003), competence management (Hoogervorst et al, 2002; Lindgren et al, 2004) strategic alignment (Chan, 2002) or boundary spanning mechanisms (Pawlowski and Robey, 2004; Levina and Vaast, 2005). This body of literature appears against a broader background of intellectual endeavour which brings together a variety of hard and soft characteristics of organization, under the banner of knowledge creation and dynamic capabilities (Kogut and Zander, 1992; Teece et al, 1997; Kogut, 2000; Eisenhardt and Martin, 2000), non-linearity and organizational evolution (Brown and Eisenhard, 1997; Lewin and Volberda, 1999; Lewin et al, 1999); emergence and complexity (McKelvey, 1997, 1999).
This wave of research with a strong emphasis on the need to integrate knowledge from different fields and paradigms has caused a number of new issues to surface. One key issue concerns a topic which has consistently been neglected by the organization sciences over the years – organizational (or business) processes. Processes are the essence of organizations (or their “organization” in the terminology of autopoietic systems) but due to their immateriality and difficulty of representation, processes have been deemed to be a concern of engineering alone. Associated with business processes, a whole new area of organizational representation have emerged which has also eluded the majority of organizational researchers – the area of enterprise architectures (EA). EA were primarily conceived as tools for designing and implementing information systems fully aligned with the design of the organizations, by making explicit the blueprints of the organizational aspects that are concerned with the information system design. In this way, they can be used as important artefacts to improve the effectiveness of organizational designs and eventually for the redesign of existing organizational forms.
Enterprise architectures (EA) aim to be the representation of the organization’s holistic self. They can be viewed along different dimensions, projected in distinct semantic planes, enabling, from such an holistic model, the generation of restricted, specialized views and models, which are adequate to support the different dimensions, functions, departments, specialties that exist in the organization. However, the reverse is not true, i.e. if one is given different enterprise models, each having been built in accordance with different dimensions, functions, departments and specialties, their sum total will not produce a coherent and unified picture of the organization as a whole.
Building on the engineering skills to represent the organization through processes and architectures and on the accumulated knowledge of organization science to understand the social nature of organizational contexts, a host of new research questions can be formulated. For example:
• How might EA be used to influence the level or the quality of sensemaking in the organization (Weick and Roberts, 1993; Weick, 1995; Bohm, 2004)? Given the way that EA makes work and information flows visible, how might such explicitation affect individual and collective understanding of the organization’s state of affairs?
• How does real-time information and communication affect information design? Time has an impact on organizational design (Brown and Eisenhardt, 1997; Orlikowski and Yates, 2002; Lindgren et al, 2004; Crossan et al, 2005). Can EA be used to research the impact of real-time?
• What might be the impact of using EA as a tool for changing our perspective of information systems users, from an individualist user concept to a social actor context. Lamb and Kling (2003) argue that the “socially thin” user construct that most of IS research utilizes, limits our understanding of information, manipulation, communication and exchange within complex social contexts.
In this paper we approach the first question, i.e. given the capability of EAs to make work and information flows visible, how might such explicitation affect individual and collective understanding of the organization’s state of affairs? We propose that EAs can be used as an intervention method for improving the effectiveness of organizational designs and eventually for the redesign of existing organizational forms. Much like in the most conventional and mature engineering fields, the role of enterprise modelling as an activity is to improve the active synchronization of the organization’s human and non-human agents, thus becoming the source of the explicate order which creates the implicate order that we call “organization”. Off line, enterprise models are extremely useful to support reasoning, innovation, conception, design and engineering of the organization, while on line they could become instrumental in monitoring, controlling and auditing the organization’s activities.