Enterprise Architects should just get over being precious about software

Software is the fabric of the information age. It is eating the machine age. In the end it might even eat itself!  Software is so successful, so pervasive, so adaptable that code, and the ability to code,  are devaluing. Software is the commodity of our age and software development the occupation of the new working class.

Enterprise Architects should just get over being precious about software… and architecture, enterprise architecture, strategic planning etc.   

Architecture is a metaphor that had relevance when software could be funded and managed like other capital investments.  Software — unlike concrete, the fabric of capital investments — never ‘sets’.  It is mostly open and freely shared.  Software to do just about anything is a few clicks away for everyone with an internet connection.

Software never goes to the presses, to be set in hot metal, to be printed on paper, for all time.  When software made large capital investments, Architects were needed to do the ‘town planning’, quality assurance and gate-keeping.  Because software was an expensive, proprietary commodity. 

Software written today is not quite the same as the software of the big capital projects era.  It manipulates components, in frameworks, on platforms, and is just disciplined, structured writing.  Like poets, we try hard to write less of it, not more.  We no longer measure our worth by ‘Lines of Code per Day’. And if we throw bits away from time to time, we dont fret. Like all good writers, we should be prepared to ‘Kill our Darlings’.

Now that software is a commodity — open, and everywhere, people formerly known as ‘Architects’ (Enterprise or other kinds) have a new role.
Enterprise Architects should support Agilists to deliver services at a rapid rate. The Agilists will accumulate a bit of technical debt in the process. But relentless business demand and change will preserve the Agile capability. Paying down the kind of technical debt that matters will happen.

Enterprise Architects should work out how to influence the demand side (The Business) to drive Agile delivery capabilities to deliver outcomes for clients and customers first.  Then indirect customer benefits second (such as business efficiency).

Technical debt minimization is important but it is not Enterprise Architecture’s raison d’être .

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‘Shadow’ technology needs a Shadow Architect

shadow_mangleShadow IT‘ is a term used to describe information systems and solutions built and used inside organisations without explicit organisational approval.  Cloud services, mobility and ‘Bring Your Own Device’ are driving an explosion in Shadow IT.  Shadow IT, like shadow finance and shadow economy suggests noncompliance and illegality.  Unlike the black market, shadow technology notionally unleashes immediate benefits but harbours a latent potential to damage its host.  Quantifying the risk, and getting sufficient attention to do something about it, is the issue.

Technology departments have tried to ‘reign in’ these rogues using the frameworks and processes of Enterprise Architecture, without much success.  One reason for the partial failure is that Enterprise Architects have a propensity to focus on risk management, standards compliance and centralised governance. This narrow ‘old-school’ focus locks them to the core, not the edge of the business where innovation happens. Meanwhile, the business units, driven by digital demand and unaided by their IT counterparts, have initiated their own innovation platforms.  That’s the line taken by Dean Gardiner from Dell Australia in his paper at the Australian Enterprise Architecture Conference (Sydney, October 2015).

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Slipping the noose on IT project benefits

Every business case for a new IT system must identify and argue for resulting benefits. Benefits management is a well-established competency for ensuring benefits are identified, quantified, tracked and realised. Realised benefits justify the initial investment.  Victoria’s State Treasury, which funds some very large IT projects, including a number that have gone off the rails has started providing much-needed guidance on identifying and planning for anticipated system benefits. In light of continuing problems with large public sector IT projects (Queensland Health payroll system, Victoria’s licensing system)  this is important capability-building.

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In the Cloud, no one can hear your integrations scream!

Enterprise software vendors would have us believe that enterprises are flocking to The Cloud, meaning they are subscribing to remotely hosted utility systems and services rather than licensing and hosting them on premise.  The oft-claimed benefits are efficiency (only pay for what you use), simplicity (no more on-premise software) and agility (the software utility can be configured at any time to release new capabilities).

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Where’s the Art in Enterprise Architecture?

Vitruvian canon, re-interpreted by Robert Venturi for the Functionalists (from 'Learning from Las Vegas').

Vitruvian canon, re-interpreted by Robert Venturi for the Functionalists (from ‘Learning from Las Vegas’).

I had the opportunity to attend the First Australian Enterprise Architecture Conference, 19th and 20th November 2013, at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. The conference wrapped up with the traditional panel of luminaries. The session touched on some of the recurring themes and topics of the two days – enterprise architecture definitions, identity, what we are, what we do, what we don’t do, frameworks versus ontology, methods and pitfalls, value propositions and rationale.

As it happened, I got to ask the final question of the conference. The following is an improved, expanded and referenced version of the challenge I put to John Zachman and a number of EA practitioners and consultants.

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A Systemic Perspective to Managing Complexity with Enterprise Architecture

ASystemicPerspectivetoManagingComplexitywithEnterpriseArchitecture-coverPallab Saha’s book on systemic perspectives for managing complexity with enterprise architecture is now officially published by IGI Global.  I have written Chapter 13, ‘Enterprise Architecture’s Identity Crisis: New Approaches to Complexity for a Maturing Discipline’.  The 18 month process was a reminder of the creation cycle times for this type of content. It seems that social media’s immediacy has done little to escalate the pace or compress the effort of producing a traditional academic work of 26 authors.

When I first started collecting thoughts and materials on what I began to understand as enterprise architecture’sidentity crisis’, I was reacting to my perception that IT-centric EA was increasingly facing a crisis of relevance. My experience of the unrealised promise of EA led me to think and discuss questions of theory, practice and purpose. ‘Identity crisis’ seemed an appropriate metaphor for the challenges facing enterprise architecture.

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Can Systems Thinking help to solve problems like people smuggling?

Children overbaord.

Children overboard.

Political, social and economic problems amenable to the application of ‘systems thinking‘ are all around us. Take the Australian Prime Minister’s latest solution to the seemingly insoluble ‘boat people’ dilemma.  ‘Boat people’ are refugees fleeing central or south east Asia who make their way to Indonesia, purchase passage from a ‘people smuggler’ to Australia on a leaky boat, only to find that the tub starts to take water somewhere near Christmas Island. What typically plays out next is a media-driven frenzy of political posturing and talk-back vitriol, while the Australian Navy scoops up the survivors and deposits them in a remote detention centre.

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