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April 11, 2006

ZenPundit and Art Hutchinson: Resilience and Modularity

Mark at ZenPundit expands on his recent comments about our Development in a Box article with these thoughts about resilience and modularity -- one of the "meta-principles" that he's currently tracking:

...as a parenthetical aside I listed the meta-principles that have globally systemic application in the age of Globalization... Meta-principles, as I conceive the term, are rules that govern the system of systems that we call the world. We see applicability on all levels and domains.

Modularity is well defined at The Modularity Homepage (thanks to Mark for the link).

Mark also links to, and quotes from, this post by Art Hutchinson.  Art writes about the advantages of modularity in scenario planning -- an evolution beyond monolithic, complex scenarios that with size, he says, become increasingly unwieldy, rigid, and disconnected from real-world strategic challenges.

Modularity is central to Enterprise Resilience Management and operates at several different levels.  In a particular implementation, each automated rule set is a module.  This creates multiple advantages.  Because the automated rules are modular and standards-based, they can be deployed across multiple IT systems and invoked on a contingent basis -- "initiate these safety and security procedures if the reactor core temperature exceeds X degrees;" "share these three information packets with this node, which is fully trusted, but only these two with this node, which is partly trusted."  This happens as the resilient system draws on a library of modular, automated rules.  More significantly, each module can be updated as needed -- lifted out and revised or replaced as, for example, a regulation is changed, so that an organization always remains in regulatory compliance. 

The result is tactical and strategic flexibility -- related to the advantages that Art sees in modular scenario planning.  It is not necessary to anticipate every contingency -- the flexibility of the system, which results from the planning methodology and the dynamic, modular, rules-based nature of the system itself, allows it to respond to unforeseen circumstances.

At broader, more conceptual levels, resilient systems can also be described as modular.  A standard procedure or best practice, once automated, is a module that can be deployed throughout an industry, in one organization after another -- either as is, or customized (through the addition or editing of sub-modules) to meet the needs of a particular organization.  This last point suggests a pragmatic advantage -- the modularity of resilient systems makes them cost-effective, since an organization can elect to automate a single process, or to establish only a particular level of compliance, with the option of adding more processes or higher levels of compliance at a later stage.

Art Hutchinson describes traditional scenario planning as "monolithic."  We like to talk about the evolution from the monolith -- the world of siloed, disconnected IT systems -- to the matrix -- the new world in which each department and organization operates as a node on a network.  A standards-based, modular approach is the only way to connect those nodes, secure them, and ensure that they operate with the speed and flexibility that the matrix requires.  In short, we agree -- resilience is modular, and modularity confers resilience.

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