Build Innovation Zones Into Your Architecture

Forrester’s recent book, Empowered, describes the type of technology-based innovation by frontline employees that can cause nightmares for enterprise architects. New tools for business innovation are readily available to anyone, ranging from cloud computing and mobile apps to social networks, scripting languages, and mashups. Faced with long IT backlogs and high IT costs, frontline employees are building their own solutions to push business forward.

What worries architects is that (1) solutions built with these new tools — with little or no vetting — are being hooked to enterprise systems and data, opening potentially big risks to reliability and security, and (2) the siloed, quick-hit nature of these solutions will drive up ongoing costs of maintenance and support. Traditionally, architects use enterprise standards as their primary tool to ensure the quality, efficiency, and security of their organization’s technology base. However, when applied in the typical “lockdown” fashion, standards can stifle innovation — often because vetting a new technology takes longer than the perceived window of business opportunity.

To deal with these conflicting pressures, architects must forge a new equation between responsiveness and technology control. The business value of responsiveness, combined with the typically limited size of enterprise architecture teams, means that most organizations cannot wait for architects to vet every possible new technology. Thus, you must find ways to use architecture to navigate the tension between the business value of responsiveness and the business value of a high-quality technology base. The key is to build innovation zones into your architecture; Forrester defines these as:

Boundaries, functions, resources, and structures in an enterprise application architecture that insulate highly protected resources from minimally vetted or unvetted tools and technologies and that provide an environment for rapid innovation and advancement of business capabilities.

With innovation zones, you provide guardrails to ensure the protection of enterprise assets, together with guidelines to steer innovation toward patterns and technologies that will facilitate future melding of the innovation into normal operations.

In a pair of upcoming reports, Forrester will elaborate on the notion of an innovation zone and apply the concepts in an illustrated, phased evolution of a customer service environment. The reports will be available to Forrester clients within a couple of weeks or so.

In what ways does your architecture provide for any type of innovation zone?


EA was created to support business

Please do not confuse the cause and the effect.

EA role is to head and support the business needs. If they are experiencing "nightmares" it's mainly because they did not do they work! Defining interfaces with the external world (innovation zone) is one of their key roles.

So for me:
(1) should not be an issue, but part EA day to day job.
(2) is for me absolutely not realistic. Moving to cloud and Saas is done especially to overcome LONNNGGGG IT cycles and high maintenance cost. Using a pay per use approach is a very effective approach and enable "digital Darwinism" at a reasonable cost. Instead of spending millions on a project to discover 3 years later that it's not adapted to your need anymore, you can select the right SaaS suppliers and follow the innovation cycles. for internal dev. shop new technologies and languages enables also to develop and deploy more quickly.

So please, stop spreading the idea that business innovation is done by irresponsible business people that are only taking care of speed and will endanger the company. As stated by a previous Forrester Report, more and more, business innovation is done by previous EA staff. That's also why you've got such an acceleration (business knowledge and IT knowledge helps moving fast).

Of course, and as usual, it depends on the system type (less easy for a back office) and the business domains. CRM is one of the best candidate ...

If innovation is so Hard it is because:
- EA failed to prepare for it, and may be it is a mission statement issue
- because IT did not listen to the business needs, and was
- because business was changing too quickly, was not mature and did mature, or because they made mistakes and decided to change their way of doing things
- because companies did not invest in training their IT people to new technologies, and massivelly outsourced their development
- because some non critical business features can be implemented for a fraction of the cost needed for of building it internally with Saas suppliers.
- because you have great potentials outside your company and if you do not benefit from them, your competitors will.
- none of the EA framework was built to support innovation and to optimize delivery time / cost / security of a system within an ecosystem.

Sustainable innovation: both biz & IT must take responsibility

William: Your reply yearns for exactly what my post calls for: EA needs to prepare for a faster world and EA needs to be more flexible and business-focused in its approach. As opposed to “spreading the idea that business innovation is done by irresponsible business people,” I want EA to understand why business people need to act quickly, and for EA to step up to its responsibility to accommodate the critical value of business responsiveness while also maintaining the value of coherent architecture. Innovation zones are part of the answer.

At the same time, it is important to recognize the reality that EA is not the only group in the organization that can act irresponsibly. People on the business side can and do act irresponsibly in regard to the security of organizational data. They can and do drive up future maintenance costs by building and acquiring siloed solutions with redundant data. They may not do these things intentionally, and certainly not all of their actions have these effects but, when they do, it *does* cause nightmares for EA — *and* for the organization.

These dynamics must be part of the conversation. Business and IT are *both* part of the cause, and they *both* must be part of the solution. Rather than casting blame, let both sides be adults, own their failings, and co-develop a model for sustainable innovation.

BTW, sometimes it is business people themselves that, without involving IT, outsource development in just the way that you complain of in your reply. Also, SaaS is part of the answer, but SaaS is not a universal good — each SaaS offering needs appropriate vetting prior to full-on adoption.

In my next blog post, I’ll pick up on the theme of whether IT “supports” the business — I believe there is a better way to think about it.

In your organization, how do you build the right give-and-take between EA and business people?

the right give-and-take between EA and business people

I do not disagree with what you said, but my point is that EA team roles and duties should be changed in order for the team to provide value to the company and be recognized by their peers.
For me the EA team should not report to IT, since half of their job is business architecture. EA should be, like security team outside IT and Business lines. They should be positioned as THE best resources to bridge the gaps between both sides.
EA in IT is very often a small team, with small budgets and considered as a cost center. Most of the time they have to choose the projects they will work on. Proving their value is then more and more difficult, since other projects are still alive and can lead to architecture drift.
Lots of EA team have seen their power to act reduced over time and company re-organization (look at jobs post numbers!). Having them only in the business, even quite rare, leads also to some issues.
EA should understand business needs, control and evangelize IT urbanism rules, work hand in hand with PMO. Even EA tool vendor are trying to modify their tools to cover all those aspects. How many EA teams are able to cope with AS-WAS, AS-IS and to-be models? Not so many, because it's not easy. Hell hides in the details... And everything is changing very quickly making EA cartography very complex and time consuming.
Security is always the argument used to legitimate their existence. Security is a systemic concept (does not exist only in IT) and should be handled by the security team. Why not moving to cloud, doing mobile, etc? Because of security ... How much time needs a big company to build a successful Identity and Access Management solution? In average it was 2 to 3 years. How many companies are able to secure their system depending on their criticality or value? Most of the time, one size fits all, same security for all.
Emergent architecture, agile development with continuous deployment changed the game. Security and architecture is controlled along the way by dev/ops team. EA team are there to control how bricks are assembled, how data are exchanged and secured on their way to interfaces and prevent architecture mismatch at the integration points.
Enable to act quickly in "zones" (and we are back to urbanism) and to control the security between those zones is the most affordable solution.
EA and security team being independent and working with PMO on key aspects or architectural views (like business dialects used to exchange information, interface/API management, data architecture etc.) are required. The knowledge is captured "on the way" for new products (or innovative ones) and synchronized with the existing corpus of information of the IT landscape.
Innovation means also uncertainty (named digital Darwinism) and risk of failures. Putting too much constraints on projects since the beginning kills creativity.
Hope this helps fuel the discussion. EA team should adapt, reposition their mandates, or pray the TOGAF god to not perish ;)

Anyone else?

Good points, William. Thanks for jumping in.

Who else has something to add here?

P&G and Business Innovation

Filippo Passerini, President-Global Business Services & CIO, P&G says: "We focus a lot on innovation from a business standpoint. So we never start with the technologies. We always start with what is needed for the business". In this interview, Flippo Passerini, President - Global Business Services and CIO of P&G explains how P&G does business in order to maintain their position at the top.

Watch the full interview @