Why we’ll never stop asking “How do you model this?”

A journey of continuous improvement

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There's an analogy that I've used more than a few times when it comes to enterprise modeling. I often say that modeling an organization is like joining a gym. First of all, you have the organizations who'll buy a modeling tool and stop using it after the first two weeks – usually because it's too complicated or the user interface is too unfriendly. They're like people who sign up for a gym membership as a new year’s resolution, but then never actually go to that gym.

Then there are the organizations that engage in a massive effort to document their current state, before moving everyone on to other efforts. These organizations are like the people who sign up for the gym, spend a whole load of effort getting into shape, and then stop going because other things in their life intrude. A regrettably small number of organizations create their models, populate their tool, and then manage the models effectively on an ongoing basis. These are like the people who sign up for a gym, get into shape, and then keep going to maintain their level of fitness.

So it seems that enterprise modeling is a road that never ends – to push the exercise analogy to breaking point, it's a treadmill that never stops. However, while this might seem a demoralizing thought, this is actually something to be enthusiastic about. We create enterprise models in order to gain insight into a complex and uncertain environment. The reason why we need enterprise models, is because we're in this complex and uncertain environment – we don't create them for recreation.

Why should we be so enthusiastic about being in a complex and uncertain environment? There's an economic model for where everything is known and where the best way to deliver the product is known – it's called 'perfect competition'. That model predicts a world where every customer can go elsewhere and obtain the same goods and services. It also predicts a world where no company can possibly stand out from the crowd and there's no opportunities for innovation to add value. It's almost a form of communism for the free market – everyone is equal and being different automatically means being less effective…

So why is it good to live in a complex and uncertain environment?

Because it means that there are still opportunities to do things better than the competition. Because it shows that innovation is still continuing in this area. Because, bluntly, the topic in question has not been made so well understood that it can be made predictable and standardized, enough so that it can be automated or turned into manual, unskilled labor.

So this is why an organization needs enterprise modeling – because it needs uncertainty and complexity in order to have opportunity. Enterprise modeling is not a way to eliminate complexity, but to embrace it. It's not a sunk cost. Done with skill, it's a differentiator in the ebb and flow that's inherent in a world where there are still things left to understand, and still things left to improve.

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