Shifting the Focus from Infrastructure to Architecture

    Technology will always play a central role in the enterprise data environment, but going forward the true challenge will not be finding and implementing the most cutting-edge systems but architecting available technologies in ways that support a successful business model.

    This focus on architecture is in stark contrast to just a few years ago when the entire concept was on the wane. As KPMG noted in its latest study, Enterprise Architecture (EA) has become one of the most in-demand skillsets of the year, up 26 percent compared to the year earlier, edging out functions like business process management and data analytics. While part of this surge in interest can be attributed to the growing complexity of the IT landscape, equally important is the way in which EA has evolved from simply wiring up infrastructure to integrating technology, applications, services and people under a common operational framework.

    Another factor in the re-emergence of EA as a strategic priority is the increasing realization that investment in technology is pointless unless it contributes real value to the enterprise’s core mission. In health care, for example, top providers have endured years of ambiguous requirements, inadequate prioritization and ongoing imbalance between demand and resources, says Change Healthcare VP Bob Hoover. But with a proper architecture stressing things like business and IT alignment, change management and transparency, organizations can build a solid, lasting data ecosystem – just as a good set of blueprints is needed to build a proper house.

    This is not as easy as it sounds, however, particularly given the speed at which technology and data infrastructure is evolving. This is why companies like CompTIA stress the planning aspects of EA and the need to incorporate the plan into the broader digital transformation of the entire business model. This may prove to be a significant challenge for large organizations in particular, given the usual preference for short-term planning over long-term. But even though emerging software-defined infrastructure makes it easier to build up and tear down key data architectures, and thus reinforces short-term thinking, IT executives should keep in mind that with every change there are still the tricky matters of data migration, security maintenance and business continuity to deal with.

    For companies expanding their IoT footprints, which should be virtually every company by now, establishing a proper architecture can mean the difference between success and failure in a connected world. Leanix’ Lesa Moné lays out the case for a four-layer architecture involving sensors and actuators, the internet gateway, edge IT systems and centralized cloud and data center infrastructure. A key element in this set-up is the ability to analyze data on the fly to determine what is to be kept on the periphery and what should make its way to the center. And since the IoT is still relatively undeveloped, the time for architectural planning is now.

    Undoubtedly, the enterprise will have to endure a fair amount of trial and error in devising the perfect Goldilocks architecture – not too rigid, not too flexible; not too simple, not too complex – and ultimately the finer details will be as uniquely crafted as the data requirements they support.

    But the first step in any recovery is to admit you have a problem. And for far too long, the enterprise’s biggest problem has been the disjointed, silo-laden infrastructure underlying its data-driven processes. Now that these processes are making the change from a supporting role in the business model to a core, revenue-generating role, the time to build a more effective, integrated data ecosystem has arrived.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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