Enterprise Linguistics Revised

Had a quick email discussion thread with peers and friends last night, It brought to mind a presentation I did for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in the 80s, “Enterprise Linguistics –A factor in Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM)”.

It was one of my first official speaking engagements as an IBM Employee. I believe it was the first public engagement. I had been a professional hire, so I’d already been speaking at conferences. However, this was different. I was speaking as IBM; suddenly the whole nature of speaking took on a new weight. I felt like the entire world was watching me including Executives from my company and clients. I was a nervous wreck and mulled over in my mind “please god, don’t let me make a fool of myself in front of everyone”. I promised myself if I got though this in once piece I’d join Toastmasters or some other public speaker training group –never did, it’s still on my to do list.

I approached the stage, somehow the lights appeared much brighter than previous times and the room was so quiet it seemed deafening. I started out with what felt like to me a voice several octaves higher than my usual pitch. About mid-sentence I looked at the front row to see one of my peers, Joan Heil, smiling at me. Joan was a brilliant younger woman who had a Masters from University of Michigan Ann Arbor in Engineering specializing in Thermodynamics that joined IBM as a Marketing Representative. Needless to say, there was serious brainpower behind that smile.

About that time I realized she and the rest of the audience had come to hear me speak, not present, and there is a difference in my mind. I did something then that was totally unIBMish. I took off my tie, unbuttoned my top button and sat in front of the podium, rather than use it as a crutch as my nerves were about to have me do. I began just talking. I threw out my prepared script and just talked with the audience about the insights I had working in various portions of companies the past decade.

My career had been rather eclectic; recruiter-speak for lots of different roles, many lateral, rather than climbing the ladder. I later learned IBM and other corporations did that as grooming for future executives, so they would have an appreciation for all parts of the business. In IBM they called some of these career assignments “FastPath” or stretch assignments. Up to that moment I felt as stretched as I’d ever wanted to be.

Back to the conference. I remembered some advice I was given by several of my mentors; take a breath, slow down, look at individuals not the crowd. All of that but look at individuals went out the window. As I continued my dialog with the audience I stated my observations and asked questions back. Instead of a lecture my presentation turned into a great conversation. Soon I had various members of the audience chiming in with their experiences as proof points to my premise: An Enterprise is like the world. Throughout this little world people speak different languages. I know each sound like English but it’s not. I myself am fluent in four languages: Manufacturing, Engineering, Information Technology and Marketing.

I bring this point up in regards to enterprise architecture, ontology and taxonomy research this blog is about as a point to remember that meanings to terms throughout the enterprise change with context. So a term in Engineering may mean something different to a term in Manufacturing or Accounting. Computer Applications that cross functional boundaries need to be award of this when being developed. I have had people change me on this statement. The proof point is easy: Look at how many definitions an organization has for the term customer. I know is several of the companies I’ve worked in definitions to that one term exceeded ten and in many cases the concepts those terms represented had other terms associated with them depending upon the context. Are you a customer or a partner? It depends who’s asking the question.

So the area of taxonomy is often dependent upon ontology. These are linked methods to understanding and organizing our worlds.

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