>MSNBC on the ATF and Enterprise Architecture

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>Design and Enterprise Architecture

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Design, style, and innovation are important communication mechanisms and are crucial to User-centric EA. These communication mechanisms are used in information visualization and is heavily used in EA to develop useful and usable information products that can be easily understood and applied.

Increasingly, design is taking center-stage across technical and everyday products in our economy.

The Wall Street Journal, 4 January 2008, reports in no less than three separate articles on the importance of design and style for everyday products from computers to hard drives and even storage containers.

Here are some examples from a front page article titled, “PCs Take a Stylish Turn in Bid to Rival Apple”:

  • “Dell is trying to inject a sense of style into the company’s PCs, with new shapes, sizes, and color.”
  • PC Makers are “racing to replace boring boxes with sexy silhouettes that will differentiate their products, entice new buyers, and command higher prices.”
  • Forrester Research “issued a report last June heralding a new ‘age of style’ in the PC market. It concluded that more attractive models could command $150 to $200 more.”
  • “During most of the industry’s 30-year history, PC makers didn’t worry much about style. A bigger challenge was boosting technical performance and wringing costs from suppliers.” Now an Intel anthropologist states “there is a sense of, ‘Oh my G-d, why does this have to be so ugly?’”
  • Lenovo stated that now “designers have equal weight at the table.”
  • Dell has gone from 6 designers in 2001 to 90 designers now and they are still recruiting.
  • At the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft will hold a PC ‘fashion show’ with judges picking the top three designs.

Additional articles the same day point to the importance of design and style. For example, the article “Can a Hard Drive Make a Fashion Statement” states that Seagate “kicked off a new strategy at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, offering drives with sleek shapes and lights to woo users accustomed to iPod-like elegance.” And in another article titled, “The Struggle to Contain Ourselves,” about the briskly growing $6 billion storage and organization industry where “style is increasingly important” and “once just plastic bins in industrial blue or clear, specialized storage products are now available for most conceivable uses in an array of material, from bamboo to faux leather to sea grass.”

While certainly consumer products are different than information products provided by EA, there is clear understanding now that design, fashion, style, and innovation are critical in reaching out to people, getting them interested in your products (consumer or information), and that design demands a premium in the marketplace. As the Intel anthropologist stated “why does this have to be so ugly?” Similarly, I would ask why do traditional EA products have to so often be so ugly, difficult to understand and apply. Let’s transition the way we do architecture to User-centric EA and design innovative information products that capture our users’ attention, really “talk to them,” clearly identify problem areas, propose alternative solutions, and lead to better decision making. Our executives are busy people with challenging jobs. We owe it to them to provide information in User-centric EA ways.

>Optimizing IT and Enterprise Architecture

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Enterprise Architecture helps to align business strategy and IT implementation. However, one of the big problems for IT these days is that it is viewed as a utility and not as a strategic business partner.

The Wall Street Journal, 10 March 2008, reports that “Too often, there’s a wall between a company’s information technology department and everything else. That wall has to go.”

What’s the problem with how executives view IT?

“Simply put, top executives at most companies fail to recognize the value of IT. It can help a company transform data from its operations, its business partners, and its markets into useful competitive information, It can be the source of profitable innovations in the way a company interacts with its customers and suppliers. But there is still a tendency to think of IT as a basic utility, like plumbing or telephone service.”

IT doesn’t even have a seat at the table!

There is a “metaphysical glass wall that separates the IT group from the rest of the business at most companies. The wall prevents IT from being part of the discussion at the highest levels of company planning, robbing a firm of its full potential.”

Even in the federal government where there is legislation (The Clinger-Cohen Act) to support a CIO reporting directly to the agency head, often the CIO remains buried layers down in the hierarchy.

How can the CIO develop a viable enterprise architecture to support the business with needed technology if IT is viewed as computer geeks and walled off?

IT must become a true partner with the business!

Why is IT walled off and how can this change?

Obstacles:

  • Mind-set—Business is focused on business problems and IT is focused on the technology (instead of focusing on solving the business problems).
  • Language barriers—“much is lost in translation” between IT and business folks.
  • Outsourcing—“IT professionals are almost pitied as dinosaurs whose jobs will soon be sent offshore.”
  • IT governance—isn’t done collaboratively with the business and “the resulting IT failures drive a wedge between senior [business] managers and their IT colleagues.”
  • Rapid pace of technological change—technology “is subject to fads,” which can be confusing in terms of direction, create competitive demands on scarce business resources, and causes IT to lose credibility with each and every subsequent change. Also, IT can be viewed as an endless sinkhole for investment and so the focus becomes not on optimizing value from IT, but rather on containing runaway cost.

Opportunities:

  • Executive commitment—to understand the strategic value of IT and develop effective IT management.
  • Strategic IT leadership—hire an IT leader who understands more than just technology; s/he needs to really understand the business and how IT can enable it.
  • Value IT for its business potential—“managers at all levels across the organization need to be convinced that innovations in IT-related areas such as knowledge management, business intelligence, information security, change management, and process integration are essential to the success of the enterprise.”
  • Translate business to IT and back again—“a company must have people at all levels who can translate IT language for those outside that department and translate the language of management to those in IT.”
  • Sound IT governance—“ensure that every part of the organization that is affected by IT decisions is part of the decision making process…with a full understanding of all their implications.”
  • IT portfolio management—“analyze the costs, benefits and risks of all IT projects to determine how to get the most benefits from the dollars invested in technology.”

Interestingly enough, enterprise architecture plays a key role in almost all the strategies to get IT to become an integral partner with the business:

  • EA helps build executive commitment through effectively communicating the current, target, and transition plan and how it aligns to the business strategy and benefits the mission.
  • The chief enterprise architect is a strategic, big picture, IT leader that focuses on business needs and how IT can solve those with current and emerging technologies as well as process improvement.
  • User-centric EA develops information products for the organization that are useful and usable and support knowledge management, business intelligence, requirements management, change management, and so on.
  • EA synthesizes business and technology information and is a bridge between the two for the organization to understand performance results desired, business processes to produce those, information required by the business processes, and systems and technologies to serve those up.
  • The EA Board supporting the IT Investment Review Board implements sounds IT governance and brings business and technology subject matter experts to the table to vet decisions in the best overall interest of the enterprise.
  • The EA governance process takes into account ROI, risk, strategic alignment, and technical compliance to drive better decision making and sound IT investments for the organization.

EA is central to bringing down the glass wall between business and IT and in bringing the two together to optimize IT solutions for the business needs.

>Adding Value and Enterprise Architecture

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What is the value-add of enterprise architecture?

In Architecture and Governance Magazine, Volume 4 Issue 1, an article entitled, “Architecture Planning” addresses this issue.

The author proposes that EA must find a balance between the necessity to “build and populate an EA framework with the effort to provide effective project support.”

With the wrong balance of these, the author, states: “you end up with an ivory tower [initiative] that delivers no value, or with a project support service that makes project-level architecture decisions rather than taking into account the enterprise perspective.”

The article sums up: “to reiterate, the architecture plan needs to meet two objectives. One, deliver an EA; two, deliver value to projects.”

From my perspective, the two objectives presented are not accurate. It is not a choice or balance between building EA or adding project value—never! Rather, it is always about adding value.

EA is never done for EA’s sake. That is not an objective.

Everything that EA does is to add value—either by fulfilling insight or oversight needs of the organization.

  1. Insight—EA provides valuable information products to end-users in terms of business and technical information. EA captures, analyzes, catalogues, and provides findings and recommendation, which is used to aid IT planning and governance, and decision-making.
  2. Oversight—EA provides valuable governance services by conducting architectural reviews of IT projects, products, and standards, thereby enabling sound IT investment decisions and more successful project delivery.

The article proposes that the organization should “initiate two streams of work. One identifies the framework within which enterprise-level information will be captured and shared, and the second focuses on identifying the key areas of need for projects…[i.e.] the need to provide real value to projects”

However, I would suggest that the two streams of work are not developing the EA framework and the need to provide “real value” to projects, but rather that the EA program develop both information products and governance services–simultaneously, both of which benefit the end-users and add value to the enterprise.

Further, the information products and governance services are mutually reinforcing. Technical reviews, conducted as part of the governance services, feed valuable information to the EA information products. And information products are used to conduct the architectural reviews by providing the basis for aligning to and complying with the EA baseline, target, and transition plan.