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Epistemic Arrogance – Opportunities and Threats in Software Development February 10, 2006

Posted by poseidongroove in Absolutism, Chaos, Collaboration, e-WorkPlace, Edge Thinking, ESB, eWorkPlace, Graveyard Portal, Magic Quadrant Syndrome, Mashup, Mashup SOA, Social Software, Web Services.
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It’s not often you listen to a podcast two or more times except, it’s a music mix. I found myself replaying an excellent podcast by Nassim Nicholas Taleb titled What Do We Know – The Scandal of Prediction from the IT Conversations Feed. I listened to the podcast several times today as it brings to the fore something I often remind myself. We’re prone to making assumptions and are more conservative than we’re prepared to admit in the software business.

I like to ask myself frequently what do I not know? What I don’t know now might be relevant in affecting a significant change in my design pattern or an accepted architectural orthodoxy. Therefore, I cannot make a prediction that what I know now is the only and best answer for the problem. I guess, that’s why I’m not hung up on any specific software platform. It’s also meant, I’ve worked on several platforms in my career. We can’t afford to be arrogant about what we think we know.

Once, we’ve come up with a design pattern or architecture, we think job done and there’s not much else to add. The edge thinkers are more or less excluded once the mainstream conventional thinkers have had their say. It’s this predictability that makes the Magic Quadrant by Gartner and such likes a bore. Once Fortune 500 companies have looked at it and decided the supplier based on analyst predictions end of story, innovation isn’t coming from anywhere else.

The freshest thing about the social networking phenomenon is the ease with which ideas can be shared, learned and debated. I’ve never known a time when application development was such an innovative activity. As an Architect that specialises in Collaborative Technologies and Web Applications Development it’s fascinating to see that finally, we can eliminate the “limits of scale” of organisational intelligence as described by Tom Gruber the inventor of Intraspect now owned by Vignette.

It’s with this in mind that the edge part of my brain didn’t like Web 2.0 and SOA as mutually exclusive technologies or what ever you wish to call them. The collaborative part of my brain and the Enterprise Architecture part tell me that SOA is meaningless unless it has a social context and is a means to this social end. That end is as a consumable service beyond UDDI Directory to end user at home and at work in anything from cars to Media Players.

Social Networks are viral. SOA can become viral and useful in an organisational and Web 2.0 context. I’ve been working on an Idea I can only describe here as the Collaborative Services Description Language (CSDL). I’ll develop this in another post. There is a fantastic opportunity for IT to finally become a “necessary good”.

SOA must become pervasive. Our conventional thinking right now means we’re building Enterprise Service Buses expecting UDDI to be relevant beyond the IT department. I think not. Right now, were building or thinking more of hard core business processes. Very little attention is paid to exceptions to the process. These classes of activities that fall through the design crack are actually the ones we need to be conscious of the most. They are the ones that end users will most benefit from. It’s also where the social context exists. They are very coarse grained e.g. Dispute Resolution Team Room between suppliers, an Ideas Generation, Document Approval Process, Brand Management, Drugs Discovery, etc.

These class of processes are not best served by hard edged SAP, eCRM type applications such as salesforce.com, it’s only possible to create such applications using a class of platforms that have agile written all over them.

Would it not be nice if we had a common language that allows Business Processes and Collaborative Work Processes to be orchestrable and re-useable regardless of CRM, ERP Platforms. This means, a create Team Room or Document Approval Request can be propagated from SAP to the e-WorkPlace application bundling the meta data associated with the request, an event message to the SIP compliant platform, a bunch of documents and video files associated with for example, an Invoice in Dispute into an RSS Feed. SOA patterns sometimes describes it as Workflow Automation. I think this is a cop out. Oh It’s too amophorous lets leave it out !!

Folks lets stop the bigoted arrogance of our conventional thinking, we got work to do.

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