Hidden Structure: Using Network Methods to Map System Architecture

41 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2013 Last revised: 29 Apr 2014

See all articles by Carliss Y. Baldwin

Carliss Y. Baldwin

Harvard Business School, Finance Unit

Alan MacCormack

Harvard Business School

John Rusnak

Harvard Business School

Date Written: April 29, 2014

Abstract

In this paper, we describe an operational methodology for characterising the architecture of complex technical systems and demonstrate its application to a large sample of software releases. Our methodology is based upon directed network graphs, which allows us to identify all of the direct and indirect linkages between the components in a system. We use this approach to define three fundamental architectural patterns, which we label core-periphery, multi-core, and hierarchical. Applying our methodology to a sample of 1,286 software releases from 17 applications, we find that the majority of releases possess a “core-periphery” structure. This architecture is characterized by a single dominant cyclic group of components (the “Core”) that is large relative to the system as a whole as well as to other cyclic groups in the system. We show that the size of the Core varies widely, even for systems that perform the same function. These differences appear to be associated with different models of development — open, distributed organizations develop systems with smaller Cores, while closed, co-located organizations develop systems with larger Cores. Our findings establish some “stylized facts” about the fine-grained structure of large, real-world technical systems, serving as a point of departure for future empirical work.

Keywords: Product Design, Architecture, Modularity, Software, Dominant Designs

JEL Classification: D23, L22, L23, M11, O31, O34, P13

Suggested Citation

Baldwin, Carliss Y. and MacCormack, Alan and Rusnak, John, Hidden Structure: Using Network Methods to Map System Architecture (April 29, 2014). Harvard Business School Finance Working Paper No. 13-093, Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 13-093, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2277795 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2277795

Carliss Y. Baldwin (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School, Finance Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Alan MacCormack

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

John Rusnak

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
335
Abstract Views
2,312
rank
97,986
PlumX Metrics