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 platforms.

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

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

3. The Innovate Layer 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 IT 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 which 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.

Oracle’s 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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« July 2016