Savvy Enterprise Transformation

What do we mean by savvy? Why have we used this term? And what do we mean by brain savvy, systems savvy, change savvy?

Synonyms for savvy include … shrewdness, astuteness, sharp-wittedness, sharpness, acuteness, acumen, acuity, intelligence, wit, canniness, common sense, discernment, insight, understanding, penetration, perception, perceptiveness, perspicacity, knowledge, sagacity, sageness
For us, ‘savvy’ reflects the degree to which we understand ‘things’ and can apply our knowledge and understanding to “things” and how we create, maintain and use these ‘things’.

Brain savvy reflects how well we understand our brains and how we use that understanding.

Systems savvy reflects how well we understand the systems we encounter and the systems we conceive, design, create, maintain and use.

Another way we express this is by talking about how we, as individuals and collectively, make sense of ‘things’ and how they work or how they should work.

Now, because of the way that our brains work, we face limits on what we perceive and how we make sense of ‘things’. One way of compensating for this limitation is to draw on the perceptions and ways that others make sense of the same ‘thing’.

So, collectives help individuals make sense of things, and individuals help collectives to make sense of things.

Brain Savvy Principles

The brain savvy leader of the future will be on the lookout for ways to minimise threat and promote a towards-state (reward). Neuroscience tells us that a towards-state promotes a more positive mood and better access to the pre-frontal cortex. This, in turn, helps us to think better, learn more effectively and improves our sociability.

We know that getting brain science to matter to managers and executives requires practical approaches. By asking a simple question ‘What’s the hardest thing you’ve got to be doing right now?’ we can start to show why better brain function will help them deal with what is on their plate. It’s as simple as picking just one or two things to start to better manage stress and boost cognitive health.

  • Working with the brain in mind benefits individuals, teams and organisations. It leads to improved accomplishment, innovation and achievement. In today’s fast paced environment, it’s about cultivating growth mindsets, adopting an ‘always improving’ mindset and thinking agility.
  • No brain is the same – experience and education are different and so are we
  • If we have a brain – we are biased
  • When it comes to understanding our brain – biology is vital. We are more than just our brains and our heads. We are very much bodies of interconnected systems that cannot be dissected into separate compartments. Head, heart and gut are all required for brain savvy.
  • A high functioning brain is a leader’s most effective tool!
  • We are much more predisposed to threat (fear) than reward (brave). We have 5 times the real estate in the brain to identify threat than we do reward
  • It’s much easier to learn and re-learn than it is to unlearn. Strongly mapped neural pathways don’t disappear, they become less used as we learn and re-learn
  • Memory is very flawed – the more we recall and restore – the more we change our memory
  • You can’t change people’s minds, they have to do that themselves. This is achieved through insights, and insights are a process that can be driven
    Not everyone’s brains are optimally healthy (addiction element/psychopathy)

System Savvy Principles

  • Social systems have a number of distinctive characteristics which require different understandings and practices (as compared to inanimate systems). Key systems savvy principles include:
  • Systems are figments of our imagination ie systems are perceived differently by each individual, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in not so subtle ways
  • System outcomes emerge from the whole (not the parts) and are realised through the use of the system
  • The dynamic nature of system interactions requires attention to balance between parts and wholes, whether our focus is on the system-as-part or system-as-whole
  • Social systems entail dynamic interactions as part of the ‘containing’ systems or environment
  • Social systems are self-organising, self-architecting, self-designing, self-adapting, self-replicating (unlike inanimate systems)
  • We each bring meaning into our conception of reality which impacts on our conception and perception of systems
  • We each apply purpose and intent to the systems we encounter, so any system can have multiple different purposes from different stakeholder perspectives and can be re-purposed
  • Our capacity to bring purpose to parts and wholes offers us a choice – to change the means or change the ends, to change our objectives or to change our strategies.
  • The act of making choices is an act of design.
Brain 5 Funadmental Discoveries

Organisations and leaders of the future know that they need to get their, and other people’s, brains in the game. Advances in neuroscience are changing the landscape of leadership development and change management.

Through neuroscience, we are now gaining insights into how people respond to stress, learn and remember, manage emotions and behave in the moment. All of these are important for building long term resiliency and growth.

Through brain imagery, we are now able to better see and understand neural networks – how they form, how they decay, how they can be rebuilt and enhanced. We know more about which parts of our brains are responsible for which functions and how new regions of the brain can be established to replace damaged areas. The human brain is fragile, and also resilient.

Rapid technological advances and, as a result, increased societal expectations, means that we need to incorporate new ways of thinking and doing. Indeed, automation has led to a significant change in the work that we do, and, the way in which we do it. This is seen by some as a great (rewarding) thing, and for many others, it can result in an undercurrent of anxiety and fear. Causing us to ask questions like, ‘will I lose my job?’, ‘how do I stay relevant?’, ‘what will conditions be like in 2, 5, 10 years time?’, ‘what does the future of work look like and how do I future proof myself?’, and ‘who can even imagine what it will mean for my children and grandchildren?’.

This requires thinking from different parts and systems in the brain to improve decision making, risk-taking and leadership activity

For more information please Contact Us


Banning IT Projects

Back in 2012, I attended an IT Governance seminar where Jane Treadwell, former CIO for the Government of Victoria (in Australia) started her presentation with three key assertions:

  • There are no IT projects – there are only business projects
  • There is no IT versus business – IT is part of the business
  • IT Governance by itself is misdirected

So my provocative title is more about the focus and management of projects than about banning IT.

Recently, I started a series of articles on business analysis, including:

These articles were prompted by a range of issues which I have encountered, oftentimes as a result of dealing with “IT Projects” that should be “Business Projects”. In these articles, I have explored some aspects of the relationship between what I called the “trinity of systems”:

  • Business systems (or organisations or enterprises)
  • Information systems
  • IT systems

My recent reading of “Systems Engineering: A 21st Century Systems Methodology” by Derek Hitchins has added some further understanding in this area and prompted the development of this article.

There are numerous definitions of systems – see Enterprises as Systems for further elaboration. For the purposes of this article, the following elements are important:

  • A system is a whole consisting of two or more interacting parts
  • Each part can affect the behaviour of the whole


It is important to understand the implications of this definition, made clearer to me in reading systems engineering papers and books. Derek Hitchins explains it this way:

Similarly, it is not helpful to think of an automobile as a system; without the driver and passengers, it is an artifact, contrivance, or — if you like — an incomplete whole. By itself, it exhibits no purpose, it does nothing, and it is inactive, inert. Add the driver, spouse and children, perhaps, and we have a socio-technical system which travels, seeks out destinations, achieves goals, observes traffic regulations — most of the time — creates a comfortable environment with constantly changing scenery, steers, accelerates and decelerates, etc; none of which the car-as-an-artifact can do on its own. And which, come to that, precious little of which the driver could do as well on his/her own. Bring the two parts together and the whole exhibits properties, capabilities and behaviors … that are, by definition, emergent, since none can be attributed exclusively to either of the rationally separable parts — automobile or driver.

The same line of argument applies to IT systems:

  • An IT system is an incomplete whole without the people who use the IT system, those who create and use information captured, stored, processed and managed by the IT system
  • The IT system may well source information from other devices and process this information into a form more usable by those using the IT system, but the IT system, like the car, is an incomplete whole without people interacting with and using the system

This is also made clear by Peter Checkland in his development of the Soft Systems Methodology, where he makes clear that people are an inherent part of an information system, as it is only people who can apply meaning to the information within the system, and hence to the information and data managed within the IT system. As outlined in Trinity of Systems, people are an intrinsic part of the information systems that enterprises establish. It is really only the enterprise-as-system that is the whole, with the IT system being a critical and integral element, but only a part of the enterprise.


There are a number of critical implications that arise from this understanding:

  • an IT system cannot be successfully created and implemented in isolation of the containing business system (enterprise)
  • the use of an IT system must always be considered in the context of the containing business system
  • the benefits of an IT system enabling and supporting the containing business system are largely realised by the business system


In designing an IT system, account needs to be taken of how the IT system will be used. This requires the designer to conceive of the different ways in which the IT system might be used, and particularly to appreciate those ways which will be regarded as:

  • more convenient
  • more valuable

Prospective users are more likely to use the system if it is easy and convenient to use. This is part of what is considered through the lens of user experience.

Prospective users are more likely to use the system if it delivers value, either by better meeting their needs (effectiveness) and more easily meeting their needs (efficiency).


Not only does the use of the IT system need to be considered in the context of the business function and objective it is supporting, but there is also a need to consider the “future” of the business function.

If the function does not deliver sufficient value, it may be targeted for change, possibly eliminating the need for the supporting IT system.

If the IT system substitutes for the business function, this will change the dynamics of the broader system of which the business function is part. Consideration will need to be given to the impacts on “other parts” within the broader business system or enterprise.


Since the value of an IT system is derived through use of the system, the primary benefits of the system are realised by the business users of the IT system.

In the past, it was often assumed that the IT organisation unit should be accountable for realising the benefits of the IT system that they delivered. Now, it is more appropriately appreciated that the business users (and business owner) are the people who have the capacity to realise the benefits. This is directing greater attention to ensuring that business practices change such that optimum value is realised through use of the IT system.


Organisations that:

  • bring a stronger business focus
  • consider the business systems being enabled by the IT systems
  • ensure the business owner and users make judgements about the value they can derive from the investment in establishing and maintaining and IT system
  • hold the business owner accountable for the benefits of an IT system

are more successful in establishing, maintaining and using IT systems that deliver greater value to their enterprise.

Being clear that they are undertaking a business project is a helpful step towards doing this.

Authored by Peter Murchland

Enterprises system-of-systems

This article on enterprises as a system is part of a series that seeks to make Enterprise Architecture ‘plain and simple’.

In exploring what is encompassed within the description of an architecture, the conceptual framework provided by ISO 42010 – Architecture Description is referenced which includes:

• An architecture description expresses an architecture
• A system exhibits an architecture

Enterprise architecture is predicated on the notion of an enterprise being viewed as a system (which exhibits an architecture). This posting explores some of the implications of viewing an enterprise as a system. It is my view that this is an important foundation stone for enterprise architecture, and that there are significant opportunities for enterprise improvement simply through better understanding systems and system principles, without the necessity to understand or change the structure and architecture of an enterprise.

There are a wide range of views in relation to systems and extensive writings and analysis of this topic. I do not pretend to be an expert in this area or to have read widely on the topic. Our understanding of the concept of system is critical to our view of:

• the architecture exhibited by a system
• the approaches available or required to change a system
• the elements to consider and reflect in our architecture descriptions
• the nature and scope of enterprise architecture

In my view, the following are key factors in some of the differing perspectives on enterprise architecture.

• Enterprises are social systems, with most being socio-technical systems
• Enterprises are systems of systems
• Systems are intrinsically tied to our mental models and our use of language

My Journey

My ‘systems architecture’ journey over the last forty years started in the world of operations research as it was applied to improving policing systems. This included being part of a multi-disciplinary group with sociologists, psychologists, demographers, criminologists, statisticians, mathematicians and computing specialists. It included measuring behaviours and modeling systems to inform options for changing systems. In particular, it was an introduction to dynamic systems and their use of mechanistic systems.

During the middle years, my time was spent with designing information systems and IT systems, and acting as a facilitator to help business people understand IT systems and IT people to understand business systems and enterprises. In more recent years, I have started exploring fields such as systems thinking to broaden my understanding and ability to change socio-technical systems more effectively and successfully. This has included reading:

Thinking about Systems – Donnella Meadows
The Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge
The Fractal Organisation – Patrick Hoverstadt
Recreating the Corporation – Russell Ackoff
Beyond Alignment – Applying Systems Thinking in Architecting Enterprises – John Gotze (editor)

Social and socio-technical systems

I have found the definitions of systems provided by Russell Ackoff to be helpful. (If you want to appreciate how many different definitions there are of systems, then you may wish to refer to the Encyclopaedia on Systems and Cybernetics under S and view items 3322 to 3421) Ackoff also provides a classification of systems with respect to whether the parts or whole are purposeful, where a purposeful entity is one which has the capacity to change both ends and means in differing environments (ie it is more than simply having a purpose). This results in the following system classes:

For me, this was quite helpful in appreciating the differences between deterministic systems (in which I have had significant involvement through information systems and IT systems) and social systems. The former are designed and architected by people but do not have people as elements. Whereas the latter are composed of people, and therefore are self-architecting, self-designing, self-organising. This has significant implications for the architecture as it can be changed by any member of the social system.

Socio-technical systems then brings together the notion of social systems (enterprises) and their use of technical systems, being a wide ranging form of machines and technologies, leading into the space of empowering enterprises to realise their goals and aspirations through effective use of technologies, and ICT (information and communication technologies) in particular.

Systems of systems

Another feature of enterprises is that they are systems of systems. I wonder whether there is a tendency to think of this as a hierarchical structure where there is a progressive breakdown of the enterprise into sub-systems, sub-sub-systems, etc, whereas I am conscious that there are a range of overlaying systems, possibly viewed as a mixture of horizontal and vertical systems, but perhaps more appropriately seen as a network of systems and their subsystems.

If nothing else, this warrants careful attention to the ‘system of interest’ in this complex web of systems, such that our discussion and exploration of the exhibited or intended architectures are related to a common entity of interest. Much confusion and debate arises through our different assumptions and perspectives on the nature and focus of the system, and requires us to provide visual aids, examples and supporting narrative to establish common understanding (whether that be amongst different members of an enterprise or amongst EA professionals).
The feature of systems of systems also gives rise to the fractal nature of the models that we develop to better understand the systems of which we are part and which we seek to change and improve.

Systems, models and language

Our understanding, communication and collaboration to give effect to enterprises and to change them to better realise the goals and aspirations we hold for them draws upon the models we develop to reflect these systems. This, in turn, draws upon our own mental models and our use of language as a key means for the way in which we think and communicate about our enterprise.

One line of thinking from the field of systems thinking holds that systems exist only in our minds. Adopting this as a principle which underpins enterprises and their architectures has offered me helpful new perspectives and insights into the challenges of effecting change in enterprises. A range of experiences reinforce the value of this principle and the way in which it ‘makes sense to me’.

One aspect of this dimension of enterprises is reflected in my characterisation of one of the roles that I perform as being an ‘enterprise babelfish’. This role is one in which attention is given to the different terms and language used by those within the enterprise to speak and describe their enterprise, and to be able to differentiate and distinguish the different meanings being applied to these terms. By helping enterprises to better understand the different ways in which members conceive of their enterprise, it is possible to develop a clearer, shared understanding which enables members to engage and collaborate more effectively.

The way in which an enterprise thinks and speaks of itself/themselves is an important dimension in developing descriptions of the current, transition or intended architectures of the enterprise. This falls into the realm of enterprise ontology (although that is not an expression used in conversation with clients!!).

As you might expect, much more could be (and will be) said on each of these topics.

Authored by Peter Murchland