People & ethics: The fifth layer in enterprise architecture

Architecture frameworks such as NORA (The architecture standard of the Dutch government), DYA, TOGAF often have four architecture layers to describe changes. These are: business, information, application and technology (often we add pillars for information security and management). In this blog I advocate making the human and ethical side of change an integral part of the architecture. Separately in a new layer: 'Human & Ethics'.

Integrating Human & Ethical Dimensions in IT Architecture Frameworks

In my practice, I regularly encounter various questions in which, if you think further, ethical and human issues are central. For example, consider questions such as:

  • How far can I go in profiling in the context of surveillance and smart policing?
  • What is the impact on the user if I introduce a thumbs down icon on the portal?
  • How do I handle the use of algorithms in case law when determining sentencing?
  • Do I sell more online if I enable 'post-payment'?
  • How do I use home automation (cameras, sensors) for monitoring patients. And what do I do with the historical data?

Each question and associated solution, of course, requires its own considerations.

The existing architecture frameworks are no longer adequate

In the existing four architecture layers, we find a substantive description of the change for the renewal process. This means that the architect describes the processes. He also describes which information and systems the users use within the process and the technical facilities required. Within these four layers, until now we are not used to describing the human attitude toward processes, information and systems, let alone considering possible ethical dilemmas.

Without attention to the human and ethical aspects of a solution or change, organizations and administrators are increasingly at risk of social discontent. Improper deployment and use by users or a faltering service quickly puts the organization in the negative news. After all, the increasing attention to social responsibility created by technology is great. Just think of cameras in the restroom of a nightclub, profiling by police systems ... the newspapers headlined chocolate letters.

A fifth layer offers solace

This is why I advocate the development of a fifth architectural layer, in which we jointly describe the themes of people and ethics. By adding this fifth layer to the architectural frameworks, we give users of the framework a reminder to bring up these topics as well. It facilitates the discussion about the relationship between the system world and the living world. After all, a change is not only about adjusting the system world of rules, processes, information and systems, but also the living world of the users. After all, in the new living world, architects adapt processes that are carried out by people and users must learn to deal with the new systems.

One option, of course, is to express the aspects around people & ethics in (architectural) principles. For example, as a business principle: "We deploy IT to increase quality, not to make people redundant." But this approach offers a shortcoming. After all, we derive architecture principles from organizational strategy or from descriptions of architecture layers. Therefore, if both do not address human and ethical issues, these topics do not end up in architecture principles either.

Human: Knowledge, attitude and behavior

Changes mean adjustments for users not only on subject matter such as other laws and regulations, processes and systems but also on soft-skills such as knowledge and skills to deal with the new systems. But in order for the user to go through this change, the user must have the conviction that the change is good or a benefit. You do this by paying attention to communication: why is the new functionality or system needed, what problem does it solve, and what does it benefit the user. In short, explaining the importance of the change is crucial to its acceptance. In addition, the user must be facilitated as much as possible to actually realize the change, think of a clear explanation, work instructions, etc. But also think of the role of management. They must show exemplary behavior and motivate and address employees on the desirable and undesirable behavior.

The above examples are all aspects that should be reflected in the People & Ethics architecture layer. By describing the required knowledge of the process and its applications, for example, it is possible to make a proposal for training and guiding people toward the new way of working.

Ethics: ethical considerations.

The Ethics section of the People & Ethics architecture layer describes the ethical aspects of change brought about by the project or program. By identifying ethical dilemmas early on, architects are able to support decision makers in the suitability assessment of (possible) solutions.

But what does ethics really mean? Ethics is the clear and concrete description and recording of the moral principles for human action as we use them within the organization. Here it is important to capture views of the organization that underlie the change. Describing these views ensures that they are understandable and that when the change is realized, the organization respects, defends, discusses or adapts the views.

In many changes we deploy today, we find ethical aspects. So it is important as an architect to have the moral principles of an organization clear before you start working on the architecture.


Because of the social responsibility of many organizations, it is important for architects to think about the human and ethical aspects of change early on. We should no longer only make factual descriptions of the changes in the process, information, applications and technical set-up within the architecture, but we should also make an analysis of the human and ethical changes that the new solution brings. Think about aspects such as knowledge, attitude and behavior of employees regarding the solution. Also ethical questions such as: at what point do we advise the user to use the solution and when not, we must formulate an answer within the architecture. A description of the architecture in the fifth architecture layer People & Ethics provides insight into additional requirements for the new solution, but also provides insight into the necessary training and guidance of users in their new system and living environment. And in doing so, architects really help users move forward!

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