February 28, 2017

Coordination, the underused “C” word

I’d like to argue that a single frame can be used to view a lot of the issues that we think about. Specifically, I’m referring to coordination, which I think is a clearer way of characterizing much of what we commonly call communication or collaboration.

It’s easy to argue that computing, to an overwhelming extent, is really about communication. Most obviously:

Indeed, it’s reasonable to claim:

A little less obvious is the much of this communication could be alternatively described as coordination. Some communication has pure consumer value, such as when we talk/email/Facebook/Snapchat/FaceTime with loved ones. But much of the rest is for the purpose of coordinating business or technical processes.

Among the technical categories that boil down to coordination are:

That’s a lot of the value in “platform” IT right there. 

Meanwhile, in pre-internet apps:

This also all fits with the “route” part of my claim that “historically, application software has existed mainly to record and route information.”

And in the internet era:

This all ties into one of the key underlying subjects to modern politics and economics, namely the future of work.

By now, I hope it’s clear that “coordination” covers a whole lot of IT. So why do I think using a term with such broad application adds any clarity? I’ve already given some examples above, in that:

Further — even when we focus on the analytic realm, the emphasis on “coordination” has value. A big part of analytic value comes in determining when to do something. Specifically that arises when:

I’d also say that most recommendation/personalization fits into the “coordination” area, but that’s a bit more of a stretch; you’re welcome to disagree.

I do not claim that analytics’ value can be wholly captured by the “coordination” theme. Decisions about whether to do something major — or about what to do — are typically made by small numbers of people; they turn into major coordination exercises only after a project gets its green light. But such cases, while important, are pretty rare. For the most part, analytic results serve as inputs to business processes. And business processes, on the whole, typically have a lot to do with coordination.

Bottom line: Most of what’s valuable in IT relates to communication or coordination. Apparent counterexamples should be viewed with caution.

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3 Responses to “Coordination, the underused “C” word”

  1. Neil Hepburn on March 2nd, 2017 4:00 pm

    I have concluded that the problem is that we do not manage data as a modular asset with a defined: architecture; interfaces; and standards.

    I have a developed a solution for a modular data integration function, and will be publishing a paper on this very soon.

    To give you a preview, the fundamental problem is that firstly most data integration is done through JOINing (as opposed to SEMI-JOIN) and secondly, data is managed in databases as opposed to portable data files. Both of these concepts are counter-intuitive to most data professionals.

    To be continued…

  2. Curt Monash on March 2nd, 2017 9:52 pm


    Well, you certainly saw one of my main unspoken points — modularity is a key way to address difficulties in coordination. But I doubt any one kind of refactoring is enough to solve “the” one and only modularity problem. 😉

  3. Neil Hepburn on August 26th, 2017 4:12 pm

    Hi Curt,
    While I agree that there are limits to modularization, I argue in my paper that a huge unforced error we continue to make is the “Fan Trap” problem introduced by normal JOINs (which I compare to lead). I spend much of the paper explaining: this problem; why the problem is holding us back; and how if we switch to from JOINs to “SEMI-JOINs” as the de facto operator for data integration that it then becomes possible to realize a modular data system.

    The paper itself is here:

    I have since provided an example of how this modular approach could be applied to a Digital Marketing Agency to build a specific modular data system for common analytical scenarios:

    If you have any questions or concerns about this, feel free to e-mail me them and I would be happy to respond with another example.

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