If your organization is like nearly every other one I've talked to in the past 20+ years, you have a spaghetti chart of integration connections between all the siloed applications that run your business. Your customer is fractured across five applications. Your fulfillment process is broken across eight applications. Just try to pull together the data necessary to tell how profitable one of your products is. Or, as you implement mobile, external APIs, custom B2B connections, and more, how will you provide consistent, coherent access to your transactions and data?
Making sense of all the mess has been an important priority for years. The question is "how?" Forrester's latest research finds that it's time for a new kind of integration strategy. We call it "Digital Business Design":
A business-centered approach to solution architecture, implementation, and integration that brings business and technology design together by placing design priority on user roles, business transactions, processes, canonical information, events, and other business aspects that embody a complete definition of a business.
There’s a big mistake often made with business architecture — a very big mistake, yet a very subtle mistake. As you might expect, there are a number of mistakes one might make with business architecture, but there’s a particularly big and common one that multiplies its effect through all the others.
The mistake is this: To position business architecture as a new layer on top of your existing processes and structures for EA domains such as application architecture, information architecture, and infrastructure architecture.
Here’s the issue: The traditional way many organizations have pursued EA, it should have been called “enterprise technical architecture” — ETA. The central focus has been on the likes of technical standards and reference architectures for application implementation — i.e., on the technology — and not on the enterprise itself. In a phrase, ETA is “technology-centered,” leading us to odd behaviors like assuming it’s only natural that business users, product data, customer data, and the rest will be fractured and split across multiple applications. We put applications at the center and make the business gyrate and adapt around our siloed and broken applications.
When I started as an architect, I was part of the team called “IT Architecture.” It was clear what we did and who we did it for – we standardized technology and designs so that IT would be more reliable, deliver business solutions more quickly, and cost less. We were an IT-centric function. Then the term “Enterprise Architecture” came in – and spurred debates as to “isn’t EA about the business?,” “what’s the right scope for EA?,” and “should EA report to the CEO?” We debated it, published books and blogs about it – but it didn’t change what most architects did; they did some flavor of IT Architecture.
Meanwhile, the interplay of business and technology changed . . . Technology became embedded and central to business results, and business leaders became technology advocates. The locus of technology innovation moved from the “heavy lifting” of core system implementations to the edges of the business, where business staff see opportunities and demand more autonomy to seize them. For enterprise architects, this means that regardless of what EA has been, in the future it must become a business-focused and embedded discipline. Mapping this shift is a key theme of Forrester’s Enterprise Architecture Forum 2011.
Gene Leganza, who will be presenting the opening keynote “EA In The Year 2020: Strategic Nexus Or Oblivion?,” states it this way:
Step back and think: How would you answer the question, “What does your IT group deliver to your business?” Your answer will indicate how you think about the relationship between business and technology, and, in turn, it will affect your business agility and your business-IT alignment.
If you answer anything close to “IT delivers and integrates solutions to meet business requirements,” your mental model boils down to thinking that your solutions support the business: Business is one thing; solutions are a separate thing. If the business has a problem, let it come ask IT for some application to address the problem — maybe IT will even help the business figure out what it needs. Each application supports (typically overlapping) parts of the business, and IT performs whatever behind-the-scenes integration is necessary to gain some degree of coherency across the whole. The result is the sort of siloed spaghetti application mess that most organizations are dealing with — even if SOA and BPM and the rest make it easier to deal with.
As I discuss with clients the developing notions of Forrester's Business Capability Architecture (see blog post #1 and blog post #2), I have found it important to distinguish between different levels of scope for technology strategy. The primary distinctions have to do with (a) the degree to which a strategy (and the architecture it promulgates) aims to account for future change and (b) the breadth of business and technology scenarios addressed by the strategy.
Thus, I define a four-part technology strategy taxonomy along a two-dimensional continuum with (a) and (b) as axes (IOW, the four parts are archetypes that will occur in varying degrees of purity), to wit:
Type 1: project strategy for successful solution delivery. With Type 1 strategy, the goal is simply to achieve successful project delivery. It is beyond the strategy’s scope to consider anything not necessary to deliver a solution that operates according to immediate business requirements. Future changes to the business and future changes in technology are not considered by the strategy (unless explicitly documented in the requirements). The classic case for a Type 1 strategy is when an organization definitively knows that the business scenario addressed by the solution is short-lived and will not encounter significant business or technology change during the solution’s lifetime (history argues that this is a risky assumption, yet sometimes it is valid).
In developing a technology strategy for your organization, what will be your basis for deciding which technologies to pursue, when to pursue them, and how to implement them? In other words, what will be the foundation for your technology architecture and strategy? In considering this question, I assume we agree that technology strategy should directly support improvement of business outcomes, both now and over the long haul. To provide for the long haul, your technology architecture and strategy must be crafted to support a continuous stream of business change, both small incremental steps and large radical shifts.
Your strategy could begin with a list of hot technologies — perhaps even ones that business colleagues are clamoring for — but how would you know which of them would lead to the most important improvements in business outcomes? You could begin with your top executives’ current business plans and strategies — which would clearly address today’s priorities for improving outcomes — but over the long haul, business plans change, sometimes dramatically, making them an unstable foundation for technology strategy.
Since the goal of technology strategy is to improve business outcomes, let’s refine the question with that as our focus: What basis for technology architecture and strategy:
(a) Aligns best with the ways that business leaders conceive, plan, execute, and measure improvements to business outcomes,
(b) Provides the best structure for building technology implementations that align with and facilitate the ways that businesses change both now and over the long haul, and
(c) Best guides the prioritization, planning, architecture, design, and usage of technology within business improvement projects?