Enterprise Architecture: Don't Design for Today

Ann All

I think there's been ample warning about the need for IT professionals to improve their "softer," business-oriented skills in addition to their technical chops. Criminy, wake up and smell the Java, people! (As one who comes from a business rather than an IT background, that may be as close as I'll ever come to making an IT funny. Yes, I realize it's lame.)

 

IT Business Edge's Ralph DeFrangesco wrote about reports emanating from this year's Interop conference that data center managers were now seeking job candidates with broad skills sets and a willingness to learn rather than lots of specific technical skills and experience. Ralph found such comments insensitive in light of the large numbers of IT folks who have lost their jobs in the past year. I'm a bit more cynical, so it occurs to me that it might be less expensive to hire bright people with fewer tech certifications and years of experience and give them lots of on-the-job training.

 

If and when cloud computing really takes off, IT pros will be expected to focus more on improving business processesand less on optimizing gear.

 

Positions that, in theory, work directly with the business also must get their acts together. IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson, our resident architecture expert, earlier this year wrote that enterprise architects, who are tasked with marrying business vision with technical infrastructure, are coming under fire for not actually doing anything to help the business. She shared thoughts from IT strategy expert Nagesh V. Anupindi, who said that enterprise architecture has failed to gain broad traction after 30 years of trying. Loraine wrote:

If the goal of EA is to translate business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change, as Anupindi writes, then you can see why business might be disappointed. Thirty years is a long time, even if you shave off 20 for getting up and running. And yet, last time I checked, there was still a lot of chatter about how IT hasn't aligned with the business. At what point do you say-hey, this isn't working?

 

Gartner isn't ready to give up. In a recent Intelligent Enterprise article, it approaches it as a given that enterprise architects are important to business success. It does warn of possible pitfalls in establishing an enterprise architecture program, and surprise (not), they are largely related to ensuring business interests aren't overshadowed by IT.


 

The biggest problem, according to Gartner, is getting the wrong person for the job, one lacking enthusiasm, communication strengths and the ability to think strategically. Other issues:

  • not educating executives so they understand the value of enterprise architecture.
  • not involving business people in creating the architecture.
  • focusing too narrowly on technology.
  • not establishing governance early enough in the process.
  • not establishing integration and interoperability standards for business units linked in the enterprise architecture.
  • emphasizing current rather than future architecture.

 

Regarding the latter point, Inside Architecture blogger Nick Malik wonders why more EAs don't start with the end-state in mind, establish a date-driven schedule for getting there, and then work back in time. Establishing a shelf life for the project is important. If the ideal state cannot be reached in the specified time frame, then EAs must determine what they can achieve during that period. He writes:

All too often, I've seen enterprise architecture described from the "Ideal" state with no respect for time. It is as though the Ideal state is some goal hovering out in the ether, with no connection to reality. Thus, it is easy to criticize EA as being detached from reality, because the models ARE detached from reality.

An even better approach, Malik suggests, is to create multiple possible "future" states and get IT leadership to pick one, rather than having everyone sign off on an ideal state that is "pretty, but unrealistic." Mike Kavis of Kavis Technology Consulting, a commenter on Malik's post, says he begins by envisioning a future state and not worrying about current constraints. Once the future state has been described, he assesses the current state. Though you may realize you can't do everything you want, he says, "at least you are able to get all of the innovative ideas out on the table before any are dismissed."



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