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There is a great post by Lorinda Brandon (@lindybrandon) of SmartBear on ProgrammableWeb today called Governance vs Innovation: Do They Have to be Enemies?.  She continues a conversation, from API Strategy & Practice around the word "governance", and how in the API space, this is often considered a bad word.  

I was moderating the questions for Alistair Farquharson (@afarqu) CTO of SOA Software, when Irakli Nadareishvili (@inadarei) of NPR actually agreed that it is a bad word and asked if we need to evolve beyond it and not embrace it.  I totally agree with Lorinda's approach to walking the line between governance and innovation, and look forward to more discussion around how to analyze API vs SOA principles within the enterprise--striking a balance that works for each individual approach.

To help stimulate this conversation I wanted to break down the word, governance.  In the context of IT, governance is:

a concept used for activities related to exercising control over services in a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The definitions of SOA governance agree in its purpose of exercising control, but differ in the responsibilities it should have. Some narrow definitions focus on imposing policies and monitoring services, while other definitions use a broader business-oriented perspective

With general definitions being:

  1. the persons who make up a body for the purpose of administering something
  2. the act of governing; exercising authority

I think the illness around the word, when it is applied to APIs becomes clear when you start looking at the synonyms:

  • Governance - administration, authority, bureaucracy, command, control, direction, domination, dominion, empire, execution, executive, guidance, influence, jurisdiction, law, ministry, patronage, political practice, politics, polity, power, powers-that-be, predominanc
  • Management - administration, care, charge, command, conduct, control, direction, governance , government, guidance, handling, intendance, manipulation, operation, oversight, rule, superintendence, superintendency, supervision
  • Regulation - adjustment, administration, arrangement, classification, codification, control, coordination, direction, governance , governing, government, guidance, handling, management, moderation, modulation, reconciliation, regimentation, reorganization, settlement, standardization, superintendence, supervision, systematization, tuning

Let's separate the potentially bad synonyms:

  • administration
  • authority
  • bureaucracy
  • command
  • control
  • domination
  • dominion
  • empire
  • power
  • politics
  • control
  • government
  • manipulation
  • oversight
  • standardization

And the good synonyms:

  • direction
  • execution
  • guidance
  • influence
  • care
  • operation
  • arrangement
  • coordination
  • standardization
  • tuning
  • modulation
  • power

I feel both power and standardization could be both good or evil, so I put in both categories.  But overall you can begin to understand how governance is viewed in negative light in the API approach.  People see it more about power and control, rather than the healthy aspects introduced API innovation.  

In my opinion, this word reflects on why API works in more scenarios than strict SOA.  Too much control can stifle innovation, and if you are controlling for all the wrong reasons, it can be even worse.  APIs require a certain amount of oxygen to grow and evolve before it can achieve a level of innovation, which is an aspect some business leaders have trouble grasping. 

Irakli and I both agreed that we need a new word, something that reflects the bottom up of API, not the top down control of SOA.  Any ideas for a word that can keep be applied in a healthy way, but can institute many of the positive aspects of governance, without the potential innovation killing power and control?




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