Enterprise Architecture – Is It Worth The Cost?

Tuesday 1st August, 2017

Intentional Design Or IT Evolution? The Role Of The Enterprise Architect

Has your organisation recently thought about how your IT systems have developed to their current state? Often organisations let their systems evolve, which is great for a couple of years as systems get established, but they then may need redesigning - or risk being irrelevant to the modern organisation. Compare these two approaches that I’ve witnessed over the years:

Intentional Design:

A university campus where the developer put no footpaths in - just left the grass to be worn where people trod, then after a year concreted those paths. This meant there were no unused paths laid.

Evolution:

I once worked with a knitting manufacturer where they took the raw wool into the factory at one place (near the gate) and spun it. They then wheeled barrow loads to the dyeing tanks at the other end of the site (near the river). Once dyed, the wool needed taking back to the beginning of the site to be knitted into the various end products. The storage for the intermediate products was again in different places.

My question for the company was, “Why spend so much time moving the materials around site”? The answer was obvious - wool came in the gate because the original steam engine that powered the knitting, weaving and spinning machines was once put there. The water supply (river) for the dying was in another area, and various stores had sprung up to service the needs. The functions were still where they were even though the steam had been replaced with electricity and the water was in a pipe!

The whole site was inefficient because of the way it had evolved, and it had not been redesigned even though technology had changed.

Has Your IT Evolved Or Is Your Design Intentional?

This can serve as a lesson to other organisations. IT once evolved can be hard to change – companies may have changed platforms, operating systems and applications, but still be using the same procedures and locations as 30 years ago.

Organisations need to ask themselves: “Do we want our businesses to evolve down a blind alley (like the knitting company), or do we want to design our architecture to better organise the processes, procedures and storage for the system?”

Do we hang on to old systems ‘because they work’, ‘because it was once a brilliant solution’ or ‘because the boss designed it’?

At some stage evolution must stop for an organisation and intentional design must be put in place – even if this means knocking down the buildings and starting again. This is architectural design, and this is where the Enterprise Architect (EA) comes in.

The Role Of The Enterprise Architect

There must be someone who manages the overall plan, who sets strategic direction and the principles underlying the rest of the design. It may be the business owner or someone he appoints – the Enterprise Architect (EA).

The principles given by the EA should rarely be broken – these may be the dictates of what systems to use. There are principles that need to be documented for your enterprise architecture. Microsoft or Linux (remember VMS anyone?)? He will need to think about system longevity and long-term roadmaps.

The EA may simply designate certain areas for certain functions – the equivalent of the different IT systems such as business applications, payroll, general ledger, marketing, HR etc. Each of those systems should have designers & architects for the specific applications.

These will be supported by communications and services – the infrastructure designs such as storage, networks and compute to get the information to the desks of the management, employees and customers. And to customers in different areas – designing the networks. Are the networks still going the right directions with sufficient capacity as 30 years ago?

Finally, since change is a constant in business, the role of the EA is to keep abreast of planned business changes and align them with IT roadmaps. EAs need to plan major changes in the systems, such as changing the finance system because the company has outgrown it, or replacing old systems due to compliance reasons. The EA should coordinate the architects, designers and developers with the new principles to follow.