The Business is Evolving and EA should too!
Enterprise Architecture (EA) discipline has become an enduring, but one of the most challenged IT concepts of our time. The last two decades heralded it as the latest in the intellectual realm of enterprise technology that would bring order to chaos, explain complexity, and ensure delivery of intricate systems in the enterprise. Frameworks, processes, methodologies and practices ensued. Millions of pages on the internet are dedicated to the subject, hundreds of thousands of white papers were written and hundreds of software systems have been built. Yet, we haven’t addressed complexity or ensured a high probability of on-time and on budget delivery with our IT initiatives.
Our organizational processes and efforts to build automated and productive systems, while often linked and coordinated, cannot react simultaneously to changes. Human thinking is not able to comprehend and explain multiple and complex systems easily and clearly. We cannot describe or design systems with a lesser degree of complexity than they possess in reality which has forced us towards trivializing concepts, designs and paradigms.
The business enterprise is progressing faster and growing far more complex than our thinking when it comes to EA as a discipline. Our attempts to simplify technology systems by depicting them as simpler than what they are has created an increasingly wider gap between our understanding and reality of systems our customers need.
Has EA failed as a concept? Have we all become a modern day Sisyphus punished by our own urge for order, classification, nomenclature, tidiness of our artifacts, concepts, design and solutions? Will we watch the enormous burden of this monumental task roll down the hill of enterprise growth and prosperity while we try again and again?
We didn’t quite fail. The business enterprises, as a product of our efforts to satisfy the ever-growing needs, have evolved to expansive and inconceivably intricate ecosystems. They are intertwined internally and externally and their complexity has increased by many orders of magnitude.
The results of our decades of hard work are mixed, but we should not be discouraged. We just have to evolve our thinking more rapidly, with highly dynamic, all-encompassing frameworks, via agile and responsive processes, supported by progressive methodologies and practices that reflect the technology and business reality.
The gap of understanding and describing the systems is wide. We need to focus at the technologist level by scrutinizing the macro and micro picture in its dynamic and evolving nature, and grow the complexity of our thinking to keep up with the business and its technological and socio-economical attributes. Knowing more about less and less and decanting that knowledge into EA reference models, design principles and solution delivery systems is required in today’s EA practices thinking to fill in the gap. Otherwise, the business will collapse under the weight of its colossal technological systems grown out of control, with no logical design and with poor physical representation of the business needs.
The pace of innovation has increased. The most innovative business model or business unit survives. Innovation is adaptability to a higher level change. That is a fundamental principle EA should adopt to become an instrument for business growth. Enterprise architects need to channel their inherent curiosity and technical knowhow to investigate, mobilize and harness new technological advancements to create competitive advantage for organizations.
Organizations take technology for granted nowadays and rightly so. Companies used to be held hostage by IT’s inability to deliver, hence EA was tasked to ensure fast and cost effective solutions. That drove simplification and conceptual understanding of technology systems without much depth and comprehension. Today, we are being asked to be agile in our thinking and delivery as technologists. EA and IT as a whole, is expected to deliver highly complex, high quality systems, in a fast and economically attractive way. We have no recourse but to do just that.
Our business partners challenge us to build better and more robust systems that keep pace with the increasing complexity and scale of their business plans. The technology we support must either reflect their demands or risk becoming irrelevant. Hence, EA needs to reinvent itself fast and often, just like the business world around us does.
EA should anticipate, accommodate and deliver change. The business needs are constantly changing. That is reflected in what we often say without hiding our frustration, “the business is changing its mind”. They do not change their mind. They evolve their thinking based on the information they have available at the time. To produce revenue and manage cost, the business finds new ways to do things and they think fast, differently and comprehensively. IT and EA as a practice should reflect and support that type of thinking and enable it. Architecture drives design. Design requires imaginative, cutting edge, big picture and deep, complex thinking.
The EA role has to anticipate and secure the viability of operations. Planning of processes, personnel and technology start with EA and gives the organization visibility, horizon, assurances and expectation. Production management ensures uninterrupted business and its revenue stream. The production system and operational processes are what the majority of the business experiences on daily basis. We live in an era of 100 percent reliability, peak performance and instantaneous response. Good EA practices must ensure all of that.
Overall, the old, metaphysical and simplistic thinking is not what EA should be but rather different and complex thinking producing unique approaches. EA must come up with creative solutions, using the global knowledge pouring into Internet every second, the “flatness” of the economic world and the evolution of the most advanced intellectual thinking. EA should not be afraid of complexity. Life and nature are complex and they do not give up their most precious secrets easily. We have to think and work hard to gain access to them.