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The Adaptive Stack

IT always evolves by building new system layers on top of preceding layers, while concurrently abstracting away from users of these new layers extraneous details of the underlying layers. In the resulting current IT “stack,” we predominantly interact with content and application layers, and when applicable and available, process layers. And we are well on our way toward abstracting away the networking and hardware infrastructure on which our applications run—bundling that big buzzing confusion into “the cloud.”

Much more recently we have begun to add a social layer on top of our other software layers—still a work in progress in most organizations. So far, these social-based systems can more often be considered architectural bolt-ons rather than a truly integral part of the enterprise IT stack. But that is clearly destined to change.

And coming right on the heels of the social layer is the learning layer—the intelligent and adaptive integrator of the social, content, and process layers. The distinguishing characteristic of this layer is its capacity for automatic learning from the collective experiences of users and delivering the learning back to users in a variety of ways.

So this is the new IT stack that is taking shape and that summarizes the enterprise systems architecture of 2011 and beyond. And since auto-learning features promise to be an integral part of every system and device with which we interact, it is the reason that the next major era of IT is most sensibly labeled “the era of adaptation.”

As I discuss in the book, there is something qualitatively different about the combination of these last two layers of the stack—the social and learning layers—in contrast to all the layers that came before. These new layers cause the boundary between systems and people to become much more blurred—it is no longer just a command and response relationship between man and machine, but rather, a mutual learning relationship. And exactly where the learning of the system and the learning of people begins and ends is a bit fuzzy.

Perhaps then, our new stack more accurately summarizes the next generation enterprise architecture, not just the IT architecture–an enterprise architecture of a different nature than that which has come before, one in which learning and adaptation is woven throughout.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joris Claeys (knowledgEnabler) #

    Forward thinking Steve! Nice write-up.
    There is still a long way to go before the extended enterprise levels at IT infrastructure are defined, standardized and reschape the business networking landscape.
    However, the IT infrastructure is seemingly going faster then the business adaptability, thanks to the adoption of the high speed technology progress from the social networking.
    Indeed, the technology is progressing faster then the business is requesting – probably the first time in modern history. However it is essential that business – and in this new economic collaborative age, certainly people – adapt to the new ways of doing their jobs and for any company in the value chain to operate in their extended enterpriese. In all of this, also IT and technology should keep the focus on the CUSTOMER. Maybe today the mass is a bit clueless of what is happening at the CLOUD technology, but tomorrow we all need to be customers of that technology – users … satisfied users.

    Best regards,
    Joris Claeys
    ACCELERATE-gscs
    CAPix-Asia
    Port[Expertise]

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/knowledgenabler

    March 9, 2011
  2. Forward thinking Steve! Nice write-up.
    There is still a long way to go before the extended enterprise levels at IT infrastructure are defined, standardized and reshape the business networking landscape.
    However, the IT infrastructure is seemingly going faster than the business adaptability, thanks to the adoption of the high speed technology progress from the social networking.
    Indeed, the technology is progressing faster than the business is requesting – probably the first time in modern history. However it is essential that business – and in this new economic collaborative age, certainly people – adapt to the new ways of doing their jobs and for any company in the value chain to operate in their extended enterprise. In all of this, also IT and technology should keep the focus on the CUSTOMER. Maybe today the mass is a bit clueless of what is happening at the CLOUD technology, but tomorrow we all need to be customers of that technology – users … satisfied users.

    Best regards,
    Joris Claeys
    ACCELERATE-gscs
    CAPix-Asia
    Port[Expertise]

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/knowledgenabler

    March 9, 2011
  3. Dan #

    The future of the Adaptive Stack will undoubtedly be filled with dynamic effects due to its adaptive feedback property. You said, “Exactly where the learning of the system and the learning of people begins and ends is a bit fuzzy.” As described, it is one “system” after all; and full of dynamic effects. Constraints are not evident except maybe constraints in resources and competitive / cooperative “urge.” The latter is “wetware” / biological and somewhat autonomic–adding further to the mix of dynamic forces at play. Does technology “serve” in this relationship? Or is it an end? Does it serve only to sustain the adaptive, dynamic machine-human process?

    Tangential imaginary analogue: When I go to the beach I walk on the sand, make sand castles, brush it from my feet. When I plug into it (silicon), it sings to me, lets me know I am not alone, comforts me. It floods me with endorphins and makes me believe I am significant. It serves me and I it. But it never speaks to me; it only communicates.

    One of the dangers of a good thing is that it is a good thing. It is possible the system’s emergent properties, the “standard, adpative IT architecture,” may serve nothing in particular — it’s purpose, in all its adaptive, combinatorial reuse, could be entirely random. It actually may not be possible to act purposefully as an enterprise with many dynamic forces at play. This is true now I believe. The trajectory of changes may further granularize the enterprise. The “enterprise” may end up being “what I do when I get up in the morning.”

    These thoughts are “out there,” granted. But I think it may be good to push the limits of the possible in a thought experiment, just to see where the limits might be.

    May 6, 2011

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