When we use the word “System” we use it to refer to anything. Literally any Thing.

¨      Physical things like a car, a boat, a molecule, a planet, etc.

¨      Things that are not physical such as processes, thoughts, computer programs, etc.

¨      Things which are a mixture of the two, e.g. an Enterprise or part of an Enterprise.

Whatever the System is, that System always exists within a Context.

The Context is not a thing in itself but instead is formed by other Systems (in part or in whole) that are not considered to be part of that System, but have some connection or relationship to it, for example influence it, or are influenced by it.

This basic concept of a System existing within a context is also defined in an International Standard - ISO42010. Its title is “Systems and Software Engineering”, its scope is “Architecture description”, and there are numerous and constant references to and examples of IT Systems. Despite this, 95% of it applies equally to Systems in any domain. It is just unfortunate that it is so IT focussed and disastrous that it perpetuates the common myth that Enterprise Architecture is only about IT and the things connected to IT.

The overwhelming desire of any system is one of self-preservation, which includes preservation of its structure - which is why many systems (and the people that operate within them) resist change.

A key thing to understand about any system is that it WILL be abused, especially any system that people participate in. Be it at work, the tax system, the healthcare system, the social care system, etc.

People who are responsible for a system (e.g. management) tend to make two invalid and deeply damaging assumptions:

1)    They assume that the system they have put in place will not be abused (they may or may not have thought about how the system will be abused and have put in place things to stop that abuse) instead accepting that even with all the measures they have put in place that the system will still be abused.

2)    They think that when new types of abuse are exposed, that the solution to that problem is to put in place more and more detailed checks and balances instead of realising that they are increasing complexity and as complexity rises so does the opportunity for abuse, instead of looking more at the fundamentals and reducing the complexity thereby reducing the opportunity for abuse.

So if we accept that the number of opportunities to abuse a system that Actually Exists  is always larger than the number of opportunities that we Think Exists and have catered for, there will always be a number of Opportunities for Abuse. The only argument is what is the relationship between the number that we Think Exists vs the number that Actually Exists. I suspect the function is definitely not linear and more likely of a polynomial nature. This is illustrated in the table below. As we can see things break down pretty rapidly. You could argue that a polynomial function is not the correct function to apply but one thing you have to admit is that the opportunity to abuse a system is always greater than the opportunities we have removed.

Think Exists

Actually Exists

Opportunities for Abuse




















What Systems does your Enterprise use and operate that are not IT Systems?

Has anyone outside of IT heard of or read ISO42010?

If not, who will you introduce ISO42010 to tomorrow?

When correcting problems, does your Enterprise add complexity or reduce it?

What function would you use to relate the number of opportunities for abusing a system to the number of opportunities we think exists and have catered for?

You are a System. What makes up your context?


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