Structure not only increases our chance to success,
it makes us more efficient at it.’ – Marshall Goldsmith
When people discuss digital transformation, they talk mostly about innovation, agility and new technologies. Companies put a tremendous amount of effort into initiatives that should make them more agile and innovative, but most of the companies I know do not manage their innovation initiatives towards a big architectural picture. The overly complex structure of dependencies between innovation- and other projects, and between new technologies and legacy-IT, are not handled with intent. Just present a fancy technology to top-level executives. If it has a low time-to-market and includes AI, chances are high that you can do it. No matter if it’s integration with legacy IT results in unnecessary complexity, ‘technical debt’ that introduces a total cost of ownership that outnumbers the business benefits by far. No matter if it is architecturally sound.
Let’s have a closer look at what ‘architecturally sound’ means, what architecture is all about and why the concept of architecture is helpful, especially in the context of innovation:
A widely accepted definition of ‘architecture’ is given by ‘The Institute of Electrical Engineering’ (IEEE):
Architecture is the fundamental organization of systems embodied by their elements, their relationships to each other and to the environment, and the principles guiding their design and evolution.
Architecture is very much about structuring elements in a way that provides convenient functionality to its users. It defines how elements should be composed to maximize value to its users.
The circular windows of the famous cathedral of Florence, for example, are located to create the most meditative light effects in the aisle. The position of the cathedrals architectural elements is sound – ‘window’ and ‘aisle’ are architected to maximize business value for its customers – the believers.
Now, let us apply the concepts of building architecture on the business & IT world. Like in constructing buildings, enterprise architecture is about the relationships between its elements. But what are the elements that form an enterprise architecture?
- Business capabilities describe what a business needs to do to generate customer value
- Value streams define how the processes of the company create this customer value
- Business objects define which information is needed in the capabilities and value streams
- Applications are computer programs that support value streams and business capabilities and store business objects in form of data.
- Technology components support applications
Why the concept of architecture is essential in the business & IT world:
- It is a robust skeleton for aligning IT (-applications) and their data to business (-capabilities) and their business objects. This helps to maximize the business value/IT spendings ratio.
- An architecture provides an abstract representation of an enterprise. By doing so, it is as an effective communication framework between distinct business units and solution teams. This helps in translating strategy into implementation.
- Careful integration of the solution architecture of innovation projects into existing business- and IT architecture helps to remain complexity and technical debt within reasonable bounds.
- A sound business architecture makes an excellent framework for managing and prioritizing the large number of projects a company runs.