The Information Revolution

Written by John A. Zachman on Wednesday, 16 September 2015. Posted in Zachman International

Peter Drucker points out that that this is not the first Information Revolution, this is "The NEXT Information Revolution,"(1) the fourth Information Revolution.

“The next information revolution is well underway. But it is not happening where information scientists, information executives, and the information industry in general are looking for it. It is not a revolution in technology, machinery, techniques, software or speed. It is a revolution in CONCEPTS.”

He observes that the first information revolution was the invention of writing 5 or 6 thousand years ago originally in Mesopotamia, the second was the invention of books (scrolls), originally in China as early as 1300 B.C., and the third, Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and movable type between 1450 and 1455. We know little about the first two revolutions but in the third revolution, the cost and price reductions and the speed and extent of its spread were at least as great as those of the present, the fourth information revolution. He observes:

“(This) next information revolution asks, What is the MEANING of information, and what is its PURPOSE? And this is leading rapidly to redefining the tasks to be done with the help of information, and with it, to redefining the institutions that do these tasks.

“...It is forcing us to redefine what business enterprise actually is and should be.

“...(This) next information revolution has so far been largely ignored by the information establishment.

“The printing revolution (the Gutenberg press) immediately created a new and unprecedented class of information technologists ... in 1455 (the printers) flourished throughout Europe ... became great stars ... well known and revered all over Europe ... just as the names of the leading computer and software firms are recognized worldwide today. ... By 1580 or so, the printers, with their focus on technology had become ordinary craftsmen, respectable tradesmen to be sure, but definitely not of the upper class. ... This shift got underway the moment the new technology began to have an impact on the MEANING of information, and with it, on the meaning and function of the 15th century’s key institutions such as the church and universities. It thus began at the same juncture at which we now find ourselves in the present information revolution as we undergo the shift in business information and, with it, the redefinition of the function and purpose of business.

“Is there a lesson in this for today’s information technologists, the CIO’s in organizations, the software designers and developers, the devotees of Moore’s Law?”

Dick Nolan of Harvard Business School, postulated “the Four Stages of EDP Growth”(2) in 1973 where an Enterprise learning to install and manage the computer technology follows a classic four stage learning curve. He traced four “Growth Processes” over the four stages illustrating how they changed from Stage 1 Initiation through Stage 4 Maturity. In 1975, Dick extended the first Four Stages learning curve of “Assimilation of Computer Technology” to Six Stages(3) as in the Third Stage, a new learning curve is Initiated relating to the ”Assimilation of Database Technology”.

I would submit from my perspective forty years later, that the first curve is learning how to build and run systems whereas the second learning curve is learning how to design and manufacture the Enterprise (which requires a database to store the engineering design artifacts, the descriptive representations that constitute Enterprise Architecture). There is a “paradigm shift” from the technology (the container) to the Enterprise (the database contents of the container) just as observed by Drucker, the shift from the technologist to the content owner(1).

As long as the objective is to build and run systems, by definition, the proponents of such, the implementers, are relegated to entering into the “Service Cycle.”

In that case, IT will always be a “solution in search of a problem.” No wonder there is a perpetual “Alignment” problem. Engineering and Manufacturing Enterprises is vastly different from Building and Running Systems ... “who designed the Enterprise that the Manager runs?”(4)

Diagnosing Problems and Prescribing Solutions is the domain of the Professional whereas Implementing Systems and evaluating Results is the domain of the Trade, the Technologist. It is the advent of the Enterprise Ontology, the Zachman Framework, that makes Diagnosis and Prescription possible. Until an Ontology exists, there is no science, no discipline. Nothing is predictable and nothing is repeatable. All learning is by trial and error ... the processes are “best practices” ... what a person can learn by trial and error in a single lifetime.

Peter Drucker points out at the beginning of the Technology Revolution, the Technologists are hailed as heros and courted by Kings and Princes ... however, shortly they become common labor. It is the Content owners that are the prevailing Professionals. And, the “Next Information Revolution” is a revolution of Concepts ... not of technologies.

Drucker also points out in the article that the technology prognosticators including himself, made a fundamental error in judgement at the advent of the computer. They all predicted the computer would change the behavior of management. It didn’t change the behavior of management at all. It changed the behavior of operations, not management. The computer became an accounting machine, processing the transactions of the Enterprise. It has not contributed to defining the next product, the changes in the market, where to invest capital, etc. These management issues are within the purview of “The Next Information Revolution” ... that is, in “forcing us to redefine what business enterprise actually is and should be”, as depicted in its Enterprise Architecture.

I submit: Enterprise Architecture IS the “Issue of the Century”.(5)

We must change the perception of Enterprise Architecture from one of being an IT model building exercise to be one of redefining the Enterprise and solving General Management problems and oh, by the way, in the process of solving General Management problems, defining Enterprise Architecture, engineering and then manufacturing the Enterprise to accommodate the dramatic increases in complexity and dramatic escalation of the rate of change that so dominate discussions of the Information Age, the “Next Information Revolution”.

If dramatic escalation of complexity and the rate of change are the predominant characteristics of the Information Age, then clearly, Enterprise Architecture IS the issue of the Century. Seven thousand years of history establish that the only known strategy for accommodating complexity and change is ARCHITECTURE. If the object you are trying to create is complex to the extent that you cannot see it at the level of definition required to create it, you will have to describe it ... ARCHITECTURE. And, if you ever want to change what you have created, the baseline for managing change are the descriptive representations required to create it ... ARCHITECTURE.

ARCHITECTURE is the key to complexity and change.

I hope this gives you a sense of urgency to change your Enterprise Architecture paradigm ... it is NOT about IT building models for implementations!



  • (1) “The Next Information Revolution” by Peter F. Drucker. August 24, 1998. Forbes ASAP. 
  • (2) “Managing the Computer Resource: A Stage Hypothesis” by Richard L. Nolan, Harvard University. Communications of the ACM July 1973 Vol.16 No.7
  • (3) “Thoughts About the Fifth Stage” by Richard L. Nolan ACM SIGMIS Database Vol 7 No. 2 1975
  • (4) “Designing the Future”, a speech by Jay W. Forrester at Seville University 12/15/98.
  • (5) "Enterprise Architecture: The Issue of the Century" by John A. Zachman. Database Programming and Design. 1998. 

About the Author

John A. Zachman

John A. Zachman

John A. Zachman is the originator of the “Framework for Enterprise Architecture” (The Zachman Framework™) which has received broad acceptance around the world as an integrative framework, an ontology for descriptive representations for Enterprises. Mr. Zachman is not only known for this work on Enterprise Architecture, but is also known for his early contributions to IBM’s Information Strategy methodology (Business Systems Planning) as well as to their Executive team planning techniques (Intensive Planning).

Mr. Zachman retired from IBM in 1990, having served them for 26 years. He is Founder and Chairman of his own education and consulting business, Zachman International®. He is also the Executive Director of the Federated Enterprise Architecture Certification Institute (The FEAC® Institute) in Washington, D.C., as well as the Chairman of the Zachman Institute™, a non-profit organization devoted to leveraging Zachman International's vast network of professionals and resources to offer services to small businesses and non-profit organizations as they prepare for and experience growth.

Mr. Zachman serves on the Executive Council for Information Management and Technology (ECIMT) of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and on the Advisory Board of the Data Administration Management Association International (DAMA-I) from whom he was awarded the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award. In August 2015, Mr. Zachman was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for “recognition of his long term impact and contribution to how people think and practice Enterprise Architecture today, leaving his mark on generations to come” by the Global University Alliance and LEADing Practice. He was awarded the 2009 Enterprise Architecture Professional Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for Advancement of the Enterprise Architecture Profession as well as the 2004 Oakland University, Applied Technology in Business (ATIB), Award for IS Excellence and Innovation. In August 2011, he was awarded the Gen. Colin Powell Public Sector Image Award by the Armed Services Alliance Program. In November 2013 he was acknowledged for Achievement and Excellence for Distinguished Innovative Academic Contribution by the IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Society Technical Committees on Enterprise Information Systems and on Enterprise Architecture and Engineering.

Mr. Zachman has been focusing on Enterprise Architecture since 1970 and has written extensively on the subject. He has facilitated innumerable executive team planning sessions. He travels nationally and internationally, teaching and consulting, and is a popular conference speaker, known for his motivating messages on Enterprise Architecture issues. He has spoken to many thousands of enterprise managers and information professionals on every continent.

In addition to his professional activities, Mr. Zachman serves on the Elder Council of the Church on the Way (First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys, California), the Board of Directors of Living Way Ministries, a radio and television ministry of the Church on the Way, the President’s Cabinet of the King’s University, the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Citywide Children’s Christian Choir, the Board of Directors of Heavenworks, an international ministry to the French-speaking world and on the Board of Directors of Native Hope International, a Los Angeles-based ministry to the Native American people.

Prior to joining IBM, Mr. Zachman served as a line officer in the United States Navy and is a retired Commander in the U. S. Naval Reserve. He chaired a panel on "Planning, Development and Maintenance Tools and Methods Integration" for the U. S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. He holds a degree in Chemistry from Northwestern University, has taught at Tufts University, has served on the Board of Councilors for the School of Library and Information Management at the University of Southern California, as a Special Advisor to the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University, on the Advisory Council to the School of Library and Information Management at Dominican University and on the Advisory Board for the Data Resource Management Program at the University of Washington. He has been a Fellow for the College of Business Administration of the University of North Texas and currently is listed in Cambridge Who’s Who.

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