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  • November 8, 2013

Pace Layering Comes Alive

Rick Beers is Senior Director of Product Management for Oracle Fusion
Middleware. Prior to joining Oracle, Rick held a variety of executive
operational positions at Corning, Inc. and Bausch & Lomb.

With a
professional background that includes senior management positions in
manufacturing, supply chain and information technology, Rick brings a unique
set of experiences to cover the impact that technology can have on business
models, processes and organizations.

Rick hosts the IT Leaders
Editorial on a monthly basis.

By now, readers of this column are quite familiar with Oracle AppAdvantage,
a unified framework of middleware technologies, infrastructure and
applications utilizing a pace layered approach to enterprise systems

1. Standardize
and Consolidate
core Enterprise Applications by removing invasive
customizations, costly workarounds and the complexity that multiple instances

2. Move business specific processes and
applications to the Differentiate
, thus creating greater business agility with process extensions and
best of breed applications managed by cross- application process

3. The Innovate
contains all the business capabilities required for engagement,
collaboration and intuitive decision making. This is the layer where innovation will
occur, as people engage one another in a secure yet open and informed way.

4. Simplify
by minimizing complexity, improving performance and lowering cost with
secure, reliable and managed systems across the entire Enterprise.

But what hasn’t been discussed
is the pace layered architecture
that Oracle AppAdvantage adopts. What is it, what are its origins and why is
it relevant to enterprise scale applications and technologies? It’s actually
a fascinating tale that spans the past 20 years and a basic understanding of it
provides a wonderful context to what is evolving as the future of enterprise
systems platforms. It all begins in 1994 with a book by noted architect
Stewart Brand, of ’Whole Earth Catalog’ fame.

In his 1994 book How Buildings Learn, Brand popularized the term ‘Shearing
Layers’, arguing that any building is actually a hierarchy of pieces, each of
which inherently changes at different rates. In 1997 he produced a 6 part BBC Series adapted from the book, in
Part 6 focuses on Shearing Layers. In this segment Brand begins to
introduce the concept of ‘pace’.

Brand further refined this idea in his subsequent book, The Clock of the Long Now, which began to link the concept of
Shearing Layers to computing and introduced the term ‘pace layering’, where he
proposes that: An imperative emerges: an adaptive [system] has to allow
slippage between the differently-paced systems … otherwise the slow systems
block the flow of the quick ones and the quick ones tear up the slow ones
with their constant change. Embedding the systems together may look efficient
at first but over time it is the opposite and destructive as well.”

In 2000, IBM
architects Ian Simmonds and David Ing published a paper entitled
A Shearing Layers Approach to
Information Systems Development
, which applied the concept of Shearing Layers to systems design
and development. It argued that at the time systems were still too rigid;
that they constrained organizations by their inability to adapt to changes. The
findings in the Conclusions section are particularly striking: “Our starting motivation was that
enterprises need to become more adaptive, and that an aspect of doing that is
having adaptable computer systems. The challenge is then to optimize
information systems development for change (high maintenance) rather than
stability (low maintenance). Our response is to make it explicit within
software engineering the notion of shearing layers, and explore it as the
principle that systems should be built to be adaptable in response to the
qualitatively different rates of change to which they will be subjected. This allows us to separate functions that
should legitimately change relatively slowly and at significant cost from
that which should be changeable often, quickly and cheaply

The problem at
the time of course was that this vision of adaptable systems was simply not
possible within the confines of 1st generation ERP, which were conceived,
designed and developed for standardization and compliance. It wasn’t until
the maturity of open, standards based integration, and the middleware
innovation that followed, that pace layering became an achievable goal. And
Oracle is leading the way.

AppAdvantage framework makes pace layering come alive by taking a strategic
vision 20 years in the making and transforming it to a reality. It allows
enterprises to retain and even optimize their existing ERP systems, while
wrapping around those ERP systems three layers of capabilities that
inherently adapt as needed, at a pace that’s optimal for the enterprise.

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