At the Association of Enterprise Architecture Summit in Austin, Texas last week, John Zachman was the speaker of honor. For those unfamiliar with his work he is the leading proponent of Enterprise Architecture, and I don’t mean that in the marketing sense where all companies are the leading in “blah blah blah”. As a career IBM’er, he is considered by many to be the founder of the modern craft with The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture, although he refers to it as an The Enterprise Ontology.
Zachman reminded us of how controversial Nick Carr’s seminal article “IT Doesn’t Matter” was 10 years ago, when most of us thought IT would by itself revolutionize business and the world in general – this was in the aftermath of the “dot.gone” era. He then went on to say that Enterprise Architecture, or EA, is not a technology issue, but rather an enterprise one, and that the role of the EA does not really belong in IT. This was confirmed later by some of the other guest speakers.
To paraphrase Zachman, ‘Over the last 75 years or so, people, or more accurately the roles fulfilled by people, have been systematized and automated. These systems essentially represent the enterprise as a whole. An EA possess the engineering skills to design artifacts used to engineer an enterprise’.
Zachman also called on the work of Alvin Toffler, of Future Shock fame – which by the way is still amazingly relevant, perhaps only more so, not in it’s specificity, but more in it’s approach as to how much change has been going on in the world and how we struggle to adapt to it.
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Talking of customer expectations, he explained that all customers expect a custom experience from an enterprise. They want a custom enterprise. He threw out the a challenge to all willing to accept it, how will your enterprise become a custom enterprise?
At this point, I got thinking about my area of expertise, namely Portals, Social, and Web Content Management technologies. In other words digital experience technologies. The digital world certainly can provide very large organizations the means with which to provide custom products or services to customers. Remember custom Nike shoes? Or Dell computers of a decade or so ago? Where these early examples of custom enterprises? Digital experience technologies empower enterprises to provide a custom experience tailored to exactly the needs or desires of a single customer, and at relatively low cost.
Zachman provided a definition of architecture by means of several colorful examples, “Seven thousand years of history suggest the only known strategy for addressing complexity and change is architecture.” Think of the hand axe, throwing stick, or shaduf, all examples of architecture, in some form, at work, in that each design or blueprint that may be used by craftsmen to build from or improve upon. He gave the example of the Coliseum in Rome. This is a static building, and not architecture. Architecture was the process of planning ahead of time. It is the set of descriptive representations relevant for describing complex objects.
As it it with modern digital experience platforms. The implemented platform is not the architecture. The architecture is the process of planning the implementation ahead of time. It includes understanding the business need and outcome, envisioning how the modified business will operate, determining how to reach the desired state, and as well as understanding how any new components or processes will fit in with existing ones. In other words, implementing a digital experience platform involves a lot more work than only selecting and configuring the technology. It involves a significant amount of planning ahead of time, or upfront enterprise-wide architecture.
Mike Walker, the president of the Texas Chapter of the AEA, made a few other interesting points regarding the EA profession in general, that I believe are also relevant to large scale technology initiatives such as transforming an enterprise through digital experience platforms. Many people involved in, or doing, Enterprise Architecture, today come from an engineering or technical background, they often have high IQ’s and are great at explaining the “speeds and feeds” of a set of technologies. They are also often found reporting to the CIO. Psychologist have found that people don’t make decisions based on what the neocortex is telling them (data), but rather the limbic system (emotions). Something that I experienced first-hand over the weekend, whilst looking for somewhere to live, I had all the data that said that staying in Austin makes sense: lower overall taxes, lower rents, live music, etc, compared to moving to California, higher overall taxes, higher rents, ocean. Usually the move is the other way around, however as a surfer and sailor, my limbic system won out over my neocortex. And that brings me back to Mike Walker’s point, engineering, or solution architecture, is often performed by introverts. Enterprise Architecture requires socialization across an enterprise to make it successful.
I argue that enterprise architecture is not really a role, but rather a practice, perhaps within a wider center of excellence. An EA practice would be made up of a broad range of complementary abilities and skillets which can only enhance it’s value. This is perhaps where internal marketing can help. Marketing people tend to be extroverts, and more attune to getting a message out and understood. This may lead to a simplification of the more detailed enterprise architecture, and the emergence of a social enterprise “marketecture”, but if that aligns the stakeholders and makes for a successfully adopted system, that’s all the better.