Review: The Open Group’s Digital Practitioner Body of Knowledge Standard

With The Open Group’s increasing penetration into upstream IT (OSDU, OPAF) the Digital Practitioner Body of Knowledge Standard is a timely compendium of TOG’s output. The 520 Page publication addresses the interface between IT and academia and attempts to formalize the sometimes rather nebulous concepts that confront the digital practitioner.

As The Open Group is increasingly present in oil and gas, with the Open Process Automation Forum and the Open Subsurface Data Universe (and also with Shell’s reported use of TOG’s IT4IT framework – see elsewhere in this issue) the release of a new publication should be of interest to those participating or thinking of participating in such initiatives. The Open Group’s Digital Practitioner Body of Knowledge is an imposing, 520 page publication* and a free download for evaluation. The DPBoK builds on other TOG work (Architecture, Open Platform 3.0 and IT4IT) and is in part, derived from Charles Betz’ software engineering program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The introduction has it that ‘applied computing’ aka ‘digital technology’, is ‘transforming economies and societies worldwide’. (University) computing programs worldwide are under pressure to produce an increasing number of qualified professionals to meet ‘voracious workforce demand’. And skill requirements have undergone a seismic shift over the past 20 years. ‘Digital Practitioners require a wide variety of skills and competencies, including cloud architecture and operations, continuous delivery and deployment, collaboration, Agile and Lean methods, product management, and more. Industry guidance has over the years become fragmented into many overlapping and sometimes conflicting bodies of knowledge, frameworks, and industry standards. The emergence of Agile and DevOps as dominant delivery forms has thrown this already fractured ecosystem of industry guidance into chaos’.

DPBoK has it that ‘In the computing and digital professions, there is currently a significant and destructive gap between academic theory and research and industrial practice. In the interest of narrowing this gap, this document shall be verifiable […] Its structure, principles, practices, and concepts must be falsifiable. It shall be open to rational skepticism and criticism’. Interestingly DPBoK ‘must not fall into the trap of excessive semantic debate and the fruitless search for universally applicable abstract ontologies. A framework with recognized inconsistencies but well- grounded in industry domain language is preferable to a perfectly consistent framework based on conjectural concepts’.

Verifiability and falsifiability are tall orders for a field as prone to marketing hype as IT and the digital transformation. DPBoK attempts to address these issues with sub sections on ‘evidence of notability’ for its definitions. What constitutes ‘evidence of notability’? DPBoK proposes the following ‘heuristics’, the existence of an organized community, […] practitioners self-identifying under its banner and […] attending local, national, or international events [… the availability of … ] books on the topic from reputable publishers, media and analyst coverage. This is all very well, but such lines of evidence neglect the impact of marketing on IT, and of the trendiness and nebulous nature of many concepts.

For ‘Agile’, evidence of notability is cited as the fact that it has a large, active, and highly visible community and is increasingly influential on non-software activities as well. There are some 289 references to ‘Agile’ in DPBoK. Agile is defined a) what it is not (the Waterfall method of software development) and b) by the touchy-feely stuff of the ‘Agile Manifesto’ which inter alia values ‘individuals and interactions over processes and tools’ and ‘customer collaboration over contract negotiation’. DPBoK has it that ‘Agile is at its strongest in the cohesive team context. It does not have the same level of consensus or clarity in larger contexts, and the topic of scaling Agile is controversial’. Notwithstanding this, DPBoK advocates a shift to a ‘more Agile style in the Enterprise Architecture capability’ with the application of other TOG standards like TOGAF and ArchiMate.

DPBoK covers topics including virtualization, containers and Kubernetes and cloud services. Despite their novelty, ‘The idea of running IT completely as a utility service goes back at least to 1965’ but it took till around 2010 to deliver the true multi-tenancy cloud. ‘The future of cloud computing appears assured, but computing and digital competencies also extend to edge devices and in-house computing. The extent to which organizations will retain in-house computing is a topic of industry debate’. It would be interesting to hear more of this debate as we have seen ‘edge’ computing covering stuff from embedded devices, a server or … a desktop!

Our experience of IT goes back quite a long way and we have always considered the Unix shell to be something of a high point in the development of computing. DPBoK agrees that ‘shell scripts can create and destroy virtual servers and containers, install and remove software, set up and delete users, check on the status of running processes, and much more.’ On the other hand, we learn that ‘the state of the art in infrastructure configuration is not to use shell scripts at all but either policy-based infrastructure management or container definition approaches’. So much for the Unix shell!

As a quick test of DPBoK, we looked-up ‘microservices’. A ‘microservices-based architecture’ is presented (by Schlumberger in Delfi and in ODSU promotional material) as some kind of holy grail of IT. But what are they exactly? DPBoK starts well with the observation that ‘Other than the “branding”, there is no clear definition or a list of characteristics for “microservices”.’ There follow some defining criteria. A microservice ‘performs an atomic function’, is ‘elastic, resilient, complete, and composable’ and is not OS programming language-dependent’. Their use ‘should be well thought out and justifiable’. A bit further on DPBoK concludes that ‘when all of these aspects are considered and solved, microservices definitely helps the organization to be nimble in responding to user expectation changes or business logic changes.’ Sounds like a return to the ‘branding’, which we take to be a polite way of saying, ‘it’s just marketing stuff’.

If the 500 pages of DPBoK are not enough for you, there are over 300 ‘informative references’ for your further enjoyment. A couple of our favorites were missing, no mention of IT stalwarts like Brian Kernighan or Les Hatton. But even more telling, there are no references at all to the true drivers of digital practice – FUD and FOMO**!

* The Open Group Digital Practitioner Body of Knowledge Standard. Document Number: C196. ISBN: 1-947754-33-1. Published by The Open Group, July 2019.

** Fear uncertainty and doubt and Fear of missing out.

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