Enterprise Architects often face challenges when trying to justify the relevance of their discipline. Architecture models, unless created in an architecture metadata eco-system, have limited usability. In addition to the challenge to keep models current and relevant, it is difficult to portray the complexity of modern data centers without ending up with very complicated models or many different viewpoints that increases the number of models to be kept up to date. 
The reasons architectural models are often not seen as valuable or relevant are:
  • Enterprise modeling predominantly uses modeling languages designed for a two-dimensional space.
  • An increase in complexity causes two-dimensional models to grow dramatically in size. We have all seen diagrams that are so complex that railway-style lines end up running down the side or middle of a diagram to show all the relevant relationships. Again, opting for multiple viewpoints to cut down on complexity only creates more models to maintain. 
  • The complexity in diagrams eventually constitutes a crisis as architects start to fall behind or spend more and more of their time updating existing models. 
  • As the number and complexity of models increase, architects switch to reporting the news, always chasing the current state - as opposed to leading design.
  • Ultimately as architects fall behind, their diagrams are ignored.
However, the real problem goes beyond complexity. Even within IT departments, non-architect groups often feel indifferent towards architecture models. This even includes IT management, the group that ultimately decides on the future of an architecture program. For this reason, architects often add informal graphical elements to diagrams to make it more visually appealing and to extend the ability of the diagram to be useful to non-architects.
Even if architecture models are current and generally understood, the usability of these artifacts is often limited to explaining a current or future state of a solution, but once that solution is implemented an IT department uses other products to understand the complexity of production systems. CMDB and Performance Monitoring suites are used to track production metrics and business transaction throughput of a new solution. The architecture model of an implemented solution is rarely referenced on so-called plateaus between changes. This lack of relevance points to the general disconnected nature of architecture models. A disconnect from the on-going maintenance, monitoring and production support of the actual system. 
Introducing a Different Approach
A disruption is needed in the field of IT architecture. For us to create more durable artifacts that can be used throughout the life-cycle of a system, we need to embrace different approaches and different technology than what we have traditionally seen in this space. 
1. Embracing the third dimension
Extending architectural modeling to the third dimension has the potential of being able to show very complex designs in an environment where the observer can benefit from the non-static viewpoint. A non-static viewpoint means the observer can move around the model. 
Figure 1: 3D Modeling Environment
2. Adopting different ways to observe models
Two-dimensional models are created using computer screens and sometimes printed out. In practice, large models must be printed on expensive plotters, and printed models have a limited lifespan. Moreover, many companies use metadata repositories where artifacts are part of an ecosystem. Therefore architectural models are most often presented in electronic form, either as part of a Solution Architecture document or via a web portal. 
In a 3D world, it becomes possible to use other ways to view a model. Augmented and Virtual Reality have become mainstream technologies that are used in other applications to create an immersive experience. These technologies could also be used to model or view architectural models. 
Figure 2: Using Virtual Reality to Create Models
3. Using cutting-edge technology
To create a 3D modeling environment that is accessible from computer screens, as well as via augmented and virtual reality, requires a different type of execution environment. The technology leaders in this space are game engines. These engines allow rich 3D experiences and augmented or virtual reality interfaces are often available to any application by default without requiring additional coding. These high-performance graphics environments can deliver a truly immersive experience with impressive graphical performance. 
4. Switching to Living Models
There are arguably few depictions that more effectively communicate the business, application and technology aspects of a solution, and how those levels depend on each other, than the architectural modeling languages used by IT architects. And yet once a solution is in production, we revert to less effective ways to show the performance of these layers. By adopting an approach to show performance metrics of a system in the same 3D space where the architecture model exists, it turns architecture artifacts into living models with enduring value. Context is always instantly available by observing the relationships between the entities in the 3D model.
Figure 3: Layering Performance Metrics over Models
In addition to performance metrics, business transaction monitoring can be visualized by using graphical techniques that will depict streams of business transactions entering the virtual world and filtering through the architectural layers of the model. This approach will be able to reveal all the layers of software and applications that modern transactions must traverse. Moreover, any break in the stream of transactions will be very apparent and should shorten the time to detect problems and issues. The key is that all this happens around the original architectural model that is still just as effective in communicating the architecture, while also showing real-time statistics. 
5. The Mind Palace approach and why it works
A mind palace is a memory technique to use an imaginary space to place objects that represent facts. Whenever we need to recall anything we can go to the mind palace and have the imaginary objects serve as a reminder. To understand why this technique works we must remember that one of the last steps of evolution was when primitive human beings had to survive in environments that were often dense with vegetation. We evolved to become pattern-seeking and meaning-making beings. We were constantly searching to find the patterns of faces in the vegetation around us because a face could be a predator. Similarly, our hearing adapted not only to be able to tell us which direction a sound came from, but it would also give us a good indication of how close that sound was. 
The 3D virtual world described in this article is a return to the jungle in a sense. In this world, we can see all the information we need about a solution, depicted in a way that makes it easy to take in the basic characteristics of a solution in a single view. The mind palace is in a way the picture we subconsciously form in our mind as we get introduced to a solution. The IT world is very abstract. Software doesn’t have a shape. Complex interactions between an API Gateway, Enterprise Service Bus, Application Server, and Database can only be understood by creating a picture in our mind. In a way we have never left the jungle, we still think in pictures. The mind palace makes what is abstract concrete again and saves us from doing that translation in our minds. 
6. Is there sound?
Performance metrics are augmented with special engineered sounds that are location-based, meaning the sound is only audible in the vicinity of the component that is emitting it. The sound will change as workload increases. Just like we are so used to the sound of our vehicle’s engine that we don’t hear it anymore; these sounds will become predictable for a production system and will, therefore, be filtered out by our minds. However, just as in real life, if a sudden change in the sound of a vehicle’s engine will be alarming enough to get our attention, any changes in the expected performance of a solution will be noticeable as our evolutionary skills pick up the difference in sound. 
Figure 4: The Mind Palace with Performance Metrics and Visualized Business Transactions
Final thoughts
The mind palace is not a product per se; it is an approach. As the advanced capabilities of platforms like gaming engines breach into the traditional IT market, the possibilities of what can be done with these new capabilities will lead to a host of disrupting products. Moreover, it is anticipated that the Internet of Things will bring additional requirements to be able to visualize complex solutions. The Mind Palace approach provides a way to layer performance and business transaction information over architectural models to create a virtual world where our natural abilities can process the vast amount of concrete information via sight and sound. 
Company Overview
Augmented Enterprise, Inc. creates enterprise applications with cutting-edge technology that has, until now, only been seen in the gaming and CGI movie industry. We fuse enterprise computing and gaming technology to deliver value and solutions that have been impossible with traditional enterprise software technology. Augmented Enterprise is currently seeking investors for its Mind Palace product suite. 
Authored by:
Corneel Booysen, CEO, Augmented Enterprise


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