Digital Evolution Architecture

[tl;dr The Digital Evolution Architect drives incremental technology portfolio investment towards achievable digital objectives.]

Enterprise architecture (EA) has been around for quite a few years. It has mostly been discovered by firms which recognised the rising cost of technology and the need to optimise their technology footprint. They recognised that unfettered technology innovation across departments and teams may serve individual fiefdoms in the short term, but does the whole firm no good in the medium and long term.

But those were in the days when (arguably) the biggest competitive concern of organisations was their peers: as long as you did technology better, and more cost effectively, than your peers, then you were golden. So the smarter organisations improved their investment management processes through the introduction of enterprise architecture. Portfolio construction and investment management was not only based on what the firm wanted to do, but how it did it.

All well and good. For those industries that managed to get by so far without enterprise architecture, the drivers for change today are much more insidious. It is no longer your peers that are challenging your status quo: it is smaller, nimbler businesses; it is more demanding user expectations; it is enterprise-grade technology at pay-as-you-go prices; it is digital business processes that massively compress the time it takes to transact; it is regulators that want to know you are in control of those same processes; it is data as a strategic asset, to be protected and used as such.

These digital drivers require firms to adopt a formal digital agenda. This in turn will require firms to rethink how they manage their technology investments, and how they drive those investments through to successful execution.

One thing is clear: firms cannot go digital overnight. Firms have built up substantial value over the last 20 years in their post-mainframe technology portfolios. They support tried-and-tested processes. Now those processes are under stress, and it is not clear which (or any) of these systems (or firms) will have a place in the highly digital environment we can expect to have in the next 5-10 years.

Firms that recognise the challenges have multiple efforts underway within their IT function – including, but not limited to:

  • Reducing the cost of infrastructure through virtualisation and cloud adoption
  • Consolidation & modernisation of application portfolios
  • Investment in mobile development capabilities
  • Investment in ‘big data’ initiatives
  • Increased focus on security management
  • Improved SDLC and operational processes (DevOps)
  • etc

The problem is, all these initiatives tend to take place in their own silos, and end up being disconnected from the ‘big picture’ – if, that is, there is in fact a ‘big picture’ in the first place. Bringing all these disparate efforts together into a cohesive set of capabilities that allow a firm to thrive in a highly digital environment is non-trivial, but must be an explicit goal of any firm that has established a formal digital agenda.

To do this requires the bringing together of some well-established skills and disciplines that most firms do not have, or are still developing capabilities in:

  • strategy development,
  • investment governance,
  • enterprise architecture,
  • (scaled) agile development, and
  • ‘true’ service-oriented architecture.

(‘True’ service-oriented architecture means designing reusable services from the ground-up, rather than just putting a service interface on top of legacy, monolithic, non-cloud architectures. ‘Micro services’ may be an acceptable term for this form of SOA.)

It also requires a recognition that a multi-tiered IT organisation is a necessity – i.e., that the traditional IT organisation cannot retain control over the entire technology spend of a firm, but instead should focus on those capabilities of cross-business significance (beyond obvious functions like HR, Finance, etc), and enable business (revenue)-aligned IT folks to build on top of these capabilities.

A digital architecture cannot be built over-night: the key skill is in understanding what the business needs to do now (i.e., in the timeframe of the next budgeting period), and in continually evolving the architecture to where it needs to be in order to be ‘digital’ through the projects that are commissioned and executed, even as specific business needs will be constantly changing and adapting.

This means that strategies for cloud adoption, application portfolio consolidation and modernisation, mobile app development, big data, security, ‘devops’ etc all need to be implemented incrementally as part of this over-arching digital evolution approach.

The digital evolution architect (DEA) is the role or function that supports the transition, putting legacy applications on a clear evolutionary path, ensuring that progress does not leave its own legacy, and that the overall cost of change is on a fixed downward trend, even in the face of continuous innovation in technology. It is the role described in the ‘Opportunities and Solutions” part of the TOGAF method for enterprise architecture, albeit with a very explicit digital mandate. As such, it requires close collaboration with folks involved in business & data architecture, solution (information systems) architecture and technology architecture. But the DEA is primarily concerned about evolution towards coherent goals, not about deciding what the optimal target state is, and hence cares as much about portfolio management as about architecture.

For larger firms, the enterprise architecture function must identify which DEA’s are needed where, and how they should collaborate. But DEA’s should be accountable to the head of Digital Transformation, if a firm has one. (If a firm doesn’t have or plan to have such a function, then don’t expect it to be competitive or even around in 10 years, regardless of how big it is today.)

This blog will elaborate more on the skills and capabilities of the digital evolution architecture concept over the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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Digital Evolution Architecture

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