veryard projects - innovation for demanding changesystems engineering for business process change

three principles of articulation

on this page
data structure example

distribution and workflow example

business structure example

legacy systems often lack articulation

component-based business

on other pages
veryard projects home page

systems engineering for business process change


component-based business

contact us

Business systems should be articulated in the same way that a large truck is articulated. There is a flexible joint connecting the cab part with the trailer part. Among other things, this helps the truck to negotiate corners.

Articulation means both separation of parts and connection of parts - decoupling and recoupling. Many writers refer to this (rather imprecisely) as loose coupling.

Separation of parts

Connection between parts

In other contexts, articulation also means clear expression. This gives us a third principle of articulation.

Clarity of structure - this demands models of various kinds.

This is perhaps what analysis is all about.

Examples of these principles range from small data structures to large corporate business structures.

data structure example
(credit card)

This example is based on something that happened to me a few years ago, when I moved back to the UK after working in the USA. It illustrates a class of problems that I have encountered in just about every financial sector organization I have ever worked with, as well as in other industries.

without articulation

Customer is identified by credit card number. In other words, the customer is regarded as identical to the account.
Billing currency is hard-coded into credit card number.  In other words, a credit card cannot change its billing currency.
Customer moves from USA to UK - wants to change billing currency. (But wants to keep credit card.) From the perspective of the credit card organization, this is an event, followed by a demand.
In order to respond to this demanding event, the credit card organization was obliged to cancel the old card, issue a new card, and transfer the balance. This inflexible structure does not allow the customer to change billing currency.
Any useful customer history is probably lost. Even if the old and new accounts are linked, what are the chances that any MIS program or enquiry will trace the link and reconstruct the customer information?

with articulation

Many software engineers, especially those with data modelling training or experience, will recognize the potential improvements of the following data structure. These structural improvements are often expressed in terms of an obscure technical theory known as normalization. Instead of using this theory, we characterize these improvements here in terms of articulation: separation and connection.

Separation of customer from account
Connection of same customer to many accounts 
  • at the same time
  • at different times
Separation of billing currency from credit card number - now we can change billing currency on the same credit card 

business objects

Business objects are often confused, and the business can benefit from better articulation - connecting and separating. Here are two examples.
PRODUCT and BRAND The same goods and services are presented to the customer under multiple brand identities. 

For example, a joint venture between a supermarket and a bank may result in the bank's financial products being sold to customers under the supermarket's brand name.

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP and CUSTOMER INFORMATION Customer information can be easily bought and sold. Customer relationships are not so easy to transfer. Many business IT strategies either confuse or disconnect these two important business objects.

workflow example
(designer proxy)

In a small company, sales and design staff can work together in small teams. In a larger company, the close coupling between sales and design staff may cause problems, and lead to inflexibility, both in short-term work scheduling and in longer-term work organization.

Workflow management systems can help articulate the relationship between sales staff and design staff, using the concept of proxy to channel communications effectively in both directions.

For an elaborated example, see the Liam O'Croder case study (pdf).

For a more general discussion of workflow, workload and work control, see the workflow factsheet (html).

business structure examples

Similar principles of articulation can be found in managing very large-scale organizations, delivering greater levels of flexibility to corporate strategy.
Oil Company Separating "upstream" from "downstream" operations.
Insurance Company Separating "manufacture" (building insurance products) from "retail" (selling insurance).

For some companies, the primary strategic challenge appears to be connecting that which is separated, to deliver the benefits of synergy, economies of scale, and so on, especially following a merger. For other companies, the primary strategic challenge appears to be separating that which is connected, to enable more rapid and flexible response to customer demands and market conditions. The principles of articulation aim to keep these two challenges in balance.

The principles of articulation also give us a useful perspective on several questions of business structure and strategy. Enterprise models can help determine whether a given strategy is balanced or imbalanced.

Integration  Supply Chain Integration, Vertical Integration, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Channels e-commerce, Disintermediation, Reintermediation

legacy systems often lack articulation

Typically, one of the main constraints of legacy computer systems, as well as legacy procedures and working practices, is that they lack articulation.

This lack of articulation can be experienced in several aspects:

The key challenge for managing the evolution of systems is to remove these and other sources of inflexibility.

component-based business

Component-based business entails a fully-articulated business structure, supported by fully articulated software and work systems.
As in many fields of science and technology, the relationship between the whole (holism) and the part (reductionism) is crucial. Douglas Flemons (p 33) describes this relationship as complementary, and quotes from Francisco Varela (Principles of Biological Autonomy, p102):

further reading

Hylton Boothroyd, Articulate Intervention: The Interface of Science, Mathematics and Administration (London: Taylor & Francis, 1978) Brilliant and practical notes on the building and use of models, with important discussion on the inclusion of the modeller and modelling process in the model. 

(Long out of print, but a few libraries have copies; if you ever come across a copy in a second-hand bookshop, snap it up.)

Douglas Flemons, Completing Distinctions (Shambala, Boston & London, 1991) An eclectic and convoluted book, drawing on Gregory Bateson and Eastern thought. Contains some rare insights, but be prepared for wide-ranging allusion and fancy notations. 

(out of print)


home page

contact us

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change
This page last updated on September 1st 1999.
Technical update March 28th, 2001.
Copyright © 1999 Veryard Projects Ltd