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Architecture Made Easy, Part 12
The New Philosophy of Enterprise Architecture

by Sean Kimball, James Luisi, Manish Munshi
Published: August 1, 2011
James Luisi, Sean Kimball and Manish Munshi look at the changing world of enterprise architecture and provide tips for developing architectural frameworks for IT that address the critical needs of the business.

A sailboat surges forward more the better the wind fills its sails. In a race, a subtle adjustment of a rope and the rudder cannot be made by committee.

Whether it is to meet competitive pressures or simply a desire to control your own destiny, the motivation to make decisions as locally as possible will always be strong. At the same time, in a place far away from the front lines of the business, centralized areas will yearn to control many of the same decisions to orchestrate an overall strategy.

That said, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong; however, once the appropriate principles have been identified, the answer is simple.

The Overview

As a teenager in the ‘70s my girlfriend’s dad invited me to tour where he worked, Loeb, Rhoades & Company, one of the last big brokerage firms that operated without automation. Up the elevator we went, eventually entering a large smoke-filled room of people arranged in a grid of desks with no partitions, where people were answering phones to accept orders from customers.

Orders were hand-written on multi-part carbon paper ticket books, which were systematically collected by someone running up and down the aisles for collation and distribution to folks in the next room, where they were written into journals before they were bundled together for delivery to the exchange floor.

A Decade Later – The ‘80s

In my first Wall Street position after graduating college I found users typing into bulky 3270 displays that gave them access to CICS applications on IBM mainframes. By this time, keyed items into a list of fields on a display screen that scrolled down and/or across and then pressed Enter. This is how a user would explain the business to someone.

With the exception of some old-timers, business users had little knowledge of what happened after they entered data, except for the stack of hard-to-read printouts they would receive the next day from a dot matrix printer.

I now know I had experienced a rare glimpse into history a decade earlier, having had witnessed the last ‘users’ that actually lived the business and performed all of the rules manually. If only I had known at that time, I would have hurriedly interviewed them, taken group pictures, and tried to chronicle the many activities being performed among the sea of desks as paper sailed from room to room.

Another Decade Later – The ‘90s

The explosion of midrange computers occurred in the ‘90s, spreading data over the computing landscape. Large personal computers were either under or on top the desk, but their hard drives were still so small that they were mostly used to write correspondence or house small amounts of data.

That said, business users began originating data on multiple computers, and increasing amounts of data were being copied across the computing landscape to generate reports.

Business rules were buried in applications across the landscape and data was everywhere. To accomplish their objectives, a number of business operations quietly began developing their own shadow IT organizations using desktop tools such as Lotus Notes, MS Access, and Microsoft Excel.

Complexity started shooting through the roof in the form of computing platforms, databases, data files, data structures, data formats, application encoded data values, data replication, data aging, data lineage, and data quality, along with the developed and purchased applications, technologies, and tools.

One Decade Later – The New Millennium

Laptops were rapidly replacing personal desk computers. Data increasingly spread across hundreds and thousands of Lotus Notes, MS Access, and Microsoft Excel applications. The shadow IT organization had no source code control, used no testing process, and operated from non-Production equipment which had no disaster recovery.

The first enterprise architects completed their initial assessment of IT and reported back, “We’re starting to sink.”

Another Decade Later – Today

Laptop computers are being replaced by virtual, thin, client desktop architectures across the company. Smartphones and smart tablets have exploded into the computing landscape, and they are being connected to the network.

A new breed of enterprise architect emerges with a new philosophy of what enterprise architecture is, and develops a plan to transform the role of IT.

The New Philosophy of Enterprise Architecture


Early enterprise architecture (EA) teams began by concentrating on application portfolio management and technology portfolio management, and sometimes worked their way into application architecture for homegrown and purchased automation, as well as computing infrastructure. Regardless of the combination of the particular activities, EA restricted its focus on IT, sometimes drawing rudimentary business architecture diagrams as well.

Eventually it dawned upon enterprise architects that it would help if they understood the direction of the business as well as their existing pain points. Only then could they develop architectural frameworks for IT that might actually address the critical needs of the business, in contrast to the otherwise endless number of low value IT initiatives in search of budget.

Enterprise Architecture Nouveau

The first of the new breed of enterprise architects completed their initial assessment of IT and reported back, “We’re sinking fast, and the regulators are approaching with their guns trained on us.”

The new philosophy of enterprise architecture is different in a number of ways.

  • Key Differentiator I The new enterprise architecture group starts by integrating strong business knowledge into the enterprise architecture team. A small number of business industry experts render in-depth business knowledge to business users and architects–such as enterprise architects, information architects, application architects, content management architects, compliance architects, data obfuscation architects, and data security architects.

    With few exceptions (e.g., line managers running operational business areas), detailed business knowledge of processes is scarce across the business community. Business users that knew the business were replaced by business users who only had to understand what information to capture and how. With barely enough time to manage their business operations during the day, the few line managers that know the business have no time for IT, unless of course they desperately need something from them.

    Today, line managers are among the few that have the need and interest to read the appropriate books and legislation. In contrast, it would be prohibitively expensive to repopulate the business community with experts in their respective areas of the business.

  • Key Differentiator II – The new enterprise architecture organization requires a dynamic and adaptive SWAT team approach that assembles those skills necessary to address the most critical needs being faced by the business in the marketplace. The goal is to work well within existing budgets and timeframes to acquire the architects with the skills necessary to achieve your objectives.

  • Key Differentiator III – To maximize flexibility, instead of hiring a large staff of full time employees, staffing is accomplished with temporary consultants that are industry experts in their architectural discipline.

    It is beneficial to establish a consulting staff of architects in the pertinent areas with the most immediate needs, such as in BPM technology, workflow automation, information architecture, data obfuscation, data security, data warehousing, content management, or the steadfast technology portfolio and application portfolio management disciplines. These individuals help build a strong foundation of policies and frameworks that guide IT and the business community.

  • Key Differentiator IV – In contrast to hiring many data stewards to support the various business areas, an approach with a modest footprint is to leverage a business user in each business area with a training program in which business cooperation and participation may be actively solicited.

    If an IT data steward were required to interface with a line of business, establishing a training program to utilize a business user supporting each business capability therein may be a better way to manage the data while minimizing enterprise architecture personnel.

  • Key Differentiator V – Recognizing and creating a distinction between the more standard architectural disciplines of enterprise architecture and the architectural disciplines related to IT operations is an excellent approach to ensure that architecture has the appropriate coverage of skill sets and bandwidth across the organization.

    As an example, an operations architecture team focuses upon infrastructure architecture, including servers, networks, CITRIX, and thin client architecture; disaster recovery architecture, including database and application server replication to a disaster recovery site; data center job scheduling technologies facilitating what-if scenarios to illustrate the impact of proposed job stream changes; architecture and governance of LDAP, including authentication and authorization, platforms and applications, user provisioning and administration, password management, roles based access control and segregation of duty; and monitoring of applications and infrastructure components, including the tracking and management of changes across the environment.

  • Key Differentiator VI – Today’s tech-savvy business users are able to form strong opinions on the use of specific tools and technologies. As such, it is imperative that their opinions be respected as well as appropriately challenged. Management on both fronts (IT and Business) must respect dissenting opinions and evaluate solutions strictly on merit and architectural feasibility within a given environment as opposed to considerations of turf.

    Business should not have to fund an ever-increasing inventory of IT services, such as ad-hoc and lower-level BI reporting. The new model is for IT to empower the business to be more competitive by encouraging the notion that IT get out of the way of the business, and that the business should take back control of the appropriate capabilities.

    Once business is properly empowered, both sides provide the appropriate checks and balances for the other to act beneficially to the overall company. Business project managers will partner with IT to leverage their architectural knowledge and technology capabilities. As a result, IT should not be expending resources on initiatives that the business does not understand or agree with.

  • Key Differentiator VII – Business and IT must have representation on the executive leadership team. While business should have representation from finance, business origination, business servicing, business risk management and compliance, IT should have representation from architecture (enterprise and operations architecture), IT operations, and application services (development and maintenance services).

    Using this model is important to create and maintain the perception that IT and business are inseparable partners with a shared awareness of business direction and pain points.

  • Key Differentiator VIII – The new breed of Enterprise Architect recognizes how critical  IT expense transparency is to the business, as well as business expense transparency to IT. Transparency fosters a trusting and cooperative relationship between business and IT, provides insight into the ways that automation can assist the overall company incompetitiveness, and helps keep expenses in check for the activities in both IT and business.

    The notion that IT is a financial black hole is about as counterproductive as the notion of business having a shadow IT organization hiding IT resources.

    Both business and IT must clearly define each and every initiative in a consistent manner for presentation to a combination of business and IT management for financial and architectural approval.

  • Key Differentiator IX – The new-age Enterprise Architect openly confronts the attitude of entitlement within IT, trying to position IT as resources hired to empower and service business, as opposed to business being there to simply fund IT to fulfill their life-long IT fantasies.

    In this new competitive age, IT staff must forge a completely new type of relationship with the business and IT initiatives must be flexible to address the ability to gain effective and actionable advantage in the competitive marketplace.

  • Key Differentiator X –  Enterprise architecture can no longer sit back and simply write standards and design frameworks. Enterprise architecture organization must now become an integral part of solutions transforming the organization to its desired future state.

Enterprise architecture must use its architectural capabilities to temporarily build out a tactical solutions team to transition the shadow IT organization out of the business to real IT with the necessary IT disciplines to protect the firm. This involves adherence to standards and frameworks, including such basics as source code control, proper testing, control of production data, standard backup and recovery, disaster recovery, retraining and potentially re-staffing, and then deployment of automation and staffing resources into the appropriate IT department.

Summary

Economic winds and the seas of the marketplace are constantly shifting while competitors jockey for an advantageous position over your company. Long-term success requires alert and nimble EA leadership to make constant adjustments to their course and the trim of their sails, sometimes realizing that the smallest of changes are those responsible for achieving surprisingly positive results.

It is interesting to contrast the perceptions of Enterprise Architects who started their careers in the ‘70s versus the ‘80s versus the ‘90s, and ones who are starting their careers now. Unfortunately, these perceptions manifest themselves in the decisions made by the architects that come from these different periods in time. This may not seem like a significant period of time, but when it comes to evolution, each 2-year period in IT is about equivalent to a million years of evolution in humans.

Some of today’s architects recognize and embrace the fluidity of the technology landscape, economic climate and marketplace, and as such have been extremely successful.

Others, however, are not nimble enough and fail to adapt – sticking to old beliefs, ultimately hurting the companies that employ them. The situation can get a lot worse if there is an abundance of like-minded inflexible personnel – promoting their outdated decisions as well as the ideas of their like-minded colleagues, thereby marginalizing and eliminating new age Enterprise Architects that are heavily oriented toward business.

The advent of the cloud, social networking, online collaboration, smartphones and smart tablets has opened up a world of opportunities. Cheaper, faster and more efficient vendors now have a fighting chance against the high-priced, monopolistic and haughty attitude of the traditional ‘blue-chip’ IT firms. Enterprise Architects that recognize the benefits of new technologies easily outpace their outdated counterparts. They provide their firms with a competitive advantage that can help the firm better compete on price, while maintaining the same – if not better – level of service.

This is not meant to indicate that the long-established ‘blue-chip’ IT firms no longer offer solutions that meet enterprise needs. What it alludes to, however, is the impediments to the new breed of EA have taken their toll on the larger IT organizations, contributing to their stagnation and preventing them from keeping pace with the leading edge of change and competitiveness.

While it is true that IT should be making decisions related to technology while working as a partner with the business, it is also true that every one of these decisions should provide tangible business benefit. If a technology decision cannot demonstrate a clear benefit to the business, it is certainly a decision that needs further investigation. This link, however, between technology decision making and business benefits is something that has been lost as IT has become increasingly controlled by those representing the status quo and the principles of empire building.

In its most simple form, the further away from the business any IT group becomes, the lesser their understanding of business concerns and priorities will be, the more entitled they will feel, and the more they will rely upon bureaucratic systems to retain their control.

Those in tune with business know that with the economic winds there will be periods of time when business does very well and does not question any IT decision. However, there will always be times when the economic winds shift and dissipate and all decisions (business and technology, good and bad, expensive and cheap) – must undergo endless scrutiny. A solid reputation, built on a history of good decision making, can help IT go a long way in getting business support for the right initiatives in tough times. This is also when IT becomes a business ‘partner’ as opposed to a renegade ‘cost center’ with a mind-set of entitlement.

The new philosophy of Enterprise Architecture demands a highly dynamic and adaptive team of new age Enterprise Architects that specialize in the architectural disciplines needed to address the challenges of the business today. The new EA must effectively communicate and educate individuals in both business and IT with strategies and frameworks that focus on the most prominent needs of the business.

Every company has access to the same vast selection of technologies and products. That said, it is the new philosophy of enterprise architecture that should ultimately determine how each company views and coordinates technology to achieve an effective competitive advantage.

Please don’t hesitate to let me know which articles in the “Architecture Made Easy” series are useful to your organization. In addition, corrections, enhancements, and suggestions are always welcome and are requested. 

["The New Philosophy of Enterprise Architecture" is the 12th article in the “Architecture Made Easy” series created by James V. Luisi.]

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Recent articles by Sean Kimball


Recent articles by James Luisi

Sean Kimball - Sean has twenty-five years of experience within the largest financial conglomerates. He was formerly the Chief Enterprise Architect for a large U.S.-based financial conglomerate and is one of the most innovative executives who can be found speaking at select industry conferences.
James Luisi - Jim has thirty years of experience in information architecture, architecture and governance within control and information systems in the financial and defense industries with information in LinkedIn.com. Feel free to send him a link. Jim is an author, speaker at conferences, and enterprise architect at a large financial conglomerate in New York area.

 

Manish Munshi - Manish has ten years of experience within IT and business. Starting his career as a programmer, he followed it up working in business in the field of equity derivatives across different risk-related disciplines. He has a Master's degree in Computer Science and an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business, specializing in finance, quantitative finance and entrepreneurship. He is currently heading operations architecture at a large financial conglomerate.