I am amazed by the sparkling eyes of someone discovering what he or she can achieve with Enterprise Architecture and IT Architecture.
This wonderful effect usually starts with a casual conversation, like one of those happening when you meet someone for the first time at an event exposing the disruptive changes in your industries.
I had that conversation the other day.
Coming out of the main conference room, I was thirsty, so I walked in the direction of the bar. New beverages? Of course, count me in. The drink is unusually green. Same colors as one of those “Diabolo-Menthe” I had in my childhood in Paris. But this glass is foggy. While I am looking at the recipient trying to guess what that magic potion is made of, the bartender is observing me. During this moment of hesitation, he said: “It’s coming from Japan. You are going to like it”. Despite his confidence, he did not convince me. How could he know my tastes anyway? Nevertheless, I drank the mysterious beverage, and, oh boy, he was right. The — whatever the name — was delicious.
Someone next to me was trying a foggy red elixir. When she caught the surprise on my face, she engaged in the conversation.
I answered politely, and introduce myself.
“Nice to meet you. My name is Yannick. Chief Architect at ING”. I shake her hand and I follow up with: “We are experiencing interesting changes, indeed. For the better, I believe.”
“Ah, so you are in real estate construction? Very nice! the industry is flourishing, you must be a happy man!”
“I’m in construction indeed. However, I build businesses, not buildings.”
She pauses for a few seconds. “What do you mean? Are you not managing your own architecture firm?”
“Not a firm, but an Enterprise Architecture department in one of the largest financial technology groups on earth. Still, it feels the same as running your own business. The expertise of my team consists of methodically designing and planning the development of products, services, or even the entire lines of business, in the most optimal and sustainable way possible. Whatever we provide fits the customer’s needs, and is made according to its finance, timing, opportunities, technologies, regulatory scope, etc. We consider all aspects. Basically, no matter the complexity, we have a solution for you.”
“Ah, interesting! I didn’t know such a job even existed. And by “all aspects”, you mean…?”
“Let’s say you’ve come up with a brilliant idea to differentiate yourself by proposing a new product line or rethinking your services. Using an Architecture construction method for businesses, I will first guide you in defining and detailing your requirements and the goals you want to achieve. Quite often, what you think you want is not what you need.
Second, I’ll ask you questions to discover requirements, including some you have not thought about in the first place, and some you wouldn’t believe it is important to care about them.
Third, we will list your constraints and spot the legal framework you must comply with. Moreover, I’ll check with you what you expect as an outcome given your budget and resources. The purpose is to demystify beliefs from the start, then, I will share with you what it takes to get what you want. Indeed, this practice is similar to the building industry, there are rules you have to follow, like environmental guidelines, materials used, construction permits, etc.”
“Ok, I’m starting to get it now. Tell me more.”
After having completed the aforementioned activities, the Architect does the first design. It is a sketch of the solution to meet your expectations. The purpose is to assess the impacts, but also to make the product more visual and tangible. It is followed by some research to identify the components that can match your needs, in the best ways possible. I said “ways”, with an S, because what matters are the choices YOU make along the way. It all comes down to giving you alternatives to preserve your freedom of choice.
Ultimately, the architect will lead you to the best decisions.
In this design phase, they are several workshops, discussions, negotiations, and information sessions held to detail the master solution design and to thin out financial analysis.
From this point, we will initiate together a dossier, based on the agreements and scope of work. This mutual understanding acts as a contract.
The first phase starts with an order for which the result will be an iterative analysis of your requirements, an architecture blueprint, a construction planning, a quote, from which any partnership with product development companies can manufacture your product and services.”
“This looks like a very fun job, very complex, and demanding. Can you be knowledgeable in all these domains? “
“It depends” — This is the architects’ favorite quote.
“The architect is an expert in, at least, two domains: a business domain and a technological domain. They are PI-shaped. For example, I started my career as a Development Engineer, and evolved as an expert in Information Systems Integration, with a Business specialization in Financial Services and Insurances.
Additionally, they must know the purpose and the mechanisms of other domains and how they fit together. They grow a System Thinking. For example, a company has a Marketing department, a Finance Department, an IT department, a Sales department, etc. Each of them has a specific reason to exist, and they are made up of a plethora of activities that are fundamental elements of the corporate machine. Before selling, the Marketing intent is to present, demonstrate, attract the customer but also to analyze the potential client while continuing to engage the existing customers. To sell better, IT digitize the sales catalog and specs of the products, while having the CRM available on a mobile app, so that Sales can connect with the prospect anywhere and anytime.
I could go on, but the point is an architect considers each of these domains, each user interaction, each process, each application, each technology, each data, each skill as a building block that needs to be assembled to meet your needs and comply with the agreed requirements.
It is like getting several boxes of Lego, figuring out what the blocks are relevant, and detailing the instructions to achieve the construction. Therefore, there is no need to be an expert in multiple domains, but you need to appreciate their purpose and understand how an industry works to be relevant to your customers. In practice, we reach experts when needed.”
“Humm. It sounds simple to understand yet complex in the execution.”
“You are correct.”
“But how come I didn’t hear about Architects for businesses before? Thinking about it, your job seems necessary from the moment an enterprise reaches a certain size.”
“Perhaps you did, there are more architects than you think. For various historical reasons, Architecture is associated with the Information Technology department. Hence most of the time, people in companies consider us like IT folks doing IT stuff, whereas what we deliver are business and technology strategy, business and engineering analysis, business and engineering design, business and engineering planning, and business and engineering innovations.
Almost every change and improvement in your value chains need software and hardware. So it does not surprise me, our core skill is engineering. We thrive in manufacturing predictability and precision.
Nevertheless, I understand totally why people categorize architects exclusively in a technical domain if they are continuously presenting themselves using a single part of their expertise. Sometimes it is comfortable !”
“Maybe. Now that you mention. In general, we discuss with our IT specialists whenever we need to change, create new features, or fix things. We trust them, but sometimes it feels like they over-complexify things.”
We both joyfully laugh.
“I was just sharing my feeling here. I am nowhere near capable of assessing if they could do faster or better. We know they do their best. Yet, we wish we would have more flexible and more modern IT systems, more automated stuff, and good-looking user interfaces. Well, at least they do work!”
“Trust me, this is what matters the most. I have a very simple Architecture motto:
1st it needs to work great all the time,
2nd it must be easy to use, remember, teach, and maintain
3rd it should look awesome.”
“Amen to that. It makes me wonder, though… If Business and IT people can build things already, why would I need an architect?”
“Good question. To answer you, I’m going to start with: I prefer you to not need me.”
“I wasn’t expecting this. I’m confused… And curious!”
“I know. Why would you need a civil architect to fix your light bulb, change your kitchen sink, or even change the facade of your building? No, you don’t need one for the activities. You call the electrician, plumber or you do it yourself. You need specialized builders or repair persons. And autonomy is the best for everyone. But if you’re looking for building a new house, extend your house with a new room, or change the location of your bathroom, you might want to call your architect. You can, eventually, do it without one. Though, it is your decision of running the risk to spend more money than expected, to have the construction take more time than expected, to receive something that may not meet your expectations or worse.
The decision is entirely yours.”
“I get your point. So when and where should I get an architect? Do I need a Bat-symbol?”
“For most small changes, you don’t need an architect. Rule of thumb, If the structure does not change, the scale of impact and volume stay similar, you don’t touch your foundation, and you don’t bring any new substantial data or business functions, ask your engineers, or senior business analyst to make the change. But at some point, your companies get big enough that people start losing sight, control, and understanding of how everything comes together. The systems of an enterprise are simply too complex to be dealt with by people busy with specific tasks daily. Furthermore, it is neither their core knowledge nor their core activities. And as if it wasn’t enough, the pace of technological disruptions keeps increasing.
As a rule of thumb, you need an architect when you:
- Want something custom
- Are dealing with complex programs of work
- Don’t know where to start
- Need to acquire or leverage a piece of technology
- Seek guidance to build enterprise functions that are sustainable and scalable
- Require to plan an actionable strategy with a good level of accuracy
Either you want something that everybody can get or you want something custom.”
“Are there different kinds of architects? I mean, we have different kinds of builders like plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.”
“Architects are … architects. There are flavors of architects. Let’s say they have specialties. Some of them are experts in the infrastructures, some in the data, others in software, while some focus their expertise on a specific industry. The only thing that matters, from a customer point of view, is that they provide the same service and they work together.
They have the same fundamental knowledge and way of operating. Architects might differ in their technique though. with the practice of various Architecture methods such as Zachman, TOGAF. Some companies build their own because it fits better with their industry and their organization such as EAgile for ING. Some are more specialized, like my AMASE methodology for startups and innovative organizations.
I could tell you more but I’ll save this for another time.”
“I thank you for these explanations and for your time. To be frank, this is an eye-opener. I need to talk with my executive co-workers.”
“My pleasure, Ms. X. One more thing. Do you know what the origin of the word “Architect” is?”
She looks above like she was looking at the answer deep in her memory. Then a second later, the spark. She said, with the scintillating eyes
Photo by Frank Busch