I was first introduced to the term VUCA by my colleague, Julian TROIAN, a leader in coaching who steers the talent management practice. This revelation came during a particularly challenging phase for us, mirroring the struggles of many other companies. We found ourselves navigating the intricacies of the COVID lockdown while simultaneously undergoing a significant shift in the corporate way of working. Our project portfolio was expanding, driven by the rapid pace of transformations, and we felt the weight of increasing regulatory pressures. But we recognized that these challenges were not ours alone. Then, significant disturbances emerged: the Eastern Europe conflict and a surge in inflation, to name a few.
Moreover, the world stood on the brink of simultaneous technological revolutions. Innovations like blockchain and the nascent promise of the metaverse hinted at new horizons. Yet, it was the seismic shifts brought on by Generative Artificial Intelligence that seemed most profound.
VUCA is an acronym encapsulating the themes of vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Herbert Barber coined the term in 1992 based on the book “Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge”. I believe many can relate to these elements, sensing their presence in both professional settings—perhaps during office hours—and in personal moments with family.
Life, in its essence, might be described by this very term. We all traverse peaks and lows, facing situations of heightened complexity or vulnerability. The challenge is not just to navigate these periods but to foster strength and ingenuity, arming ourselves for future obstacles.
I consider myself fortunate to have garnered knowledge in enterprise architecture—a domain that inherently equips any organization, product, or service with resilience, making adaptability part of its very DNA.
In the subsequent sections, I explore strategies for developing VUCA antibodies.
From Vulnerability to Resilience: Building an Unshakable Future
Rather than getting bogged down by vulnerabilities, it’s about harnessing resilience. Robustness is the key to building thick layers of protection, ensuring longevity in our ventures. By deliberately creating anti-fragile mechanisms, we’re better prepared for tough times. This resilience doesn’t just happen; it’s constructed. Architects weave it into their designs across various realms:
Information Systems: These are designed to be failure resistant. Potential mistakes and erratic behaviors are predicted and integrated into the system as possible anomalies. In such events, responsible teams must give clear procedures to users, operators, and administrators to restore the system to its standard operational mode.
Data Management: From acquisition and processing to analytics and visualization, there’s complete control over the data flowing into the system. This range from a service request made over the phone, a command initiated by an AI, or even a tweet that prompts the system to respond.
Security: Safeguarding the system against potential hacks is crucial. Additionally, it’s vital to design the system in a way that vulnerabilities don’t open doors for intrusions. Depending on the chosen architectural delivery method, this can be addressed proactively or reactively.
Infrastructure: The foundational physical infrastructure, tailored to the system’s needs, must be aptly dimensioned. At times, specialized hardware like GPU-driven servers, or programmable network devices might be essential to cater to particular needs during both the development and operational phases.
Organization: People, integral to the corporate ecosystem, influence the system’s effectiveness. Their actions and behaviors enhance system efficiency, especially when elements like trust, making amends for failures, regular maintenance, and adaptability to change are activated.
All these aspects aren’t mere byproducts; they’re deliberately designed system features.
From Uncertainty to Probable Planning: Navigating with Confidence Through Uncertain Waters
Predicting the future is beyond anyone’s capability, but architects can narrow down scenarios to the most probable outcomes. Through modeling techniques like system design, trend analysis, scenario planning, and causal loops, they can forecast with a higher degree of accuracy. However, the planning phase isn’t without challenges:
Resources: There are times when constraints in time, finances, skills, and materials can make a proposed solution unfeasible. Recognizing this early on is vital.
Leadership: A wavering decision-maker, filled with doubt, can be a significant impediment. This is a leadership challenge that needs addressing at the top. In such a situation, the architect must highlight the unstable matter with benevolence and candor.
Team: The implementation is only as good as the team behind it. If team members don’t possess the necessary skills or their abilities don’t align with the mission’s complexity, especially when executing multiple plans simultaneously, it will compromise the execution of the plan.
Expertise: last but not least, the architect’s seniority and the time allocated to address your transformation’s VUCA elements also play a critical role.
From Complexity to Engineering: A Blueprint for Simplification
Sometimes, complexity arises from perception, misunderstanding, or underestimating a situation – often, it’s a mix of these elements.
Imagine you have three wooden chairs, and you wish to create a sofa. Is it even possible? Fortunately, Ikea offers a DIY toolbox that can help you realize this vision. When you describe your idea to the store specialist, she confidently directs you to aisles A8 to C12 for the necessary components. At first, you feel relief. But soon, doubts about your abilities confront you. Even with your experience in crafting wooden furniture, you’re unsure about the mechanisms you’ll need, the type of finish to choose, the tools required for precise cuts, and the best materials for durability. Are these materials environmentally friendly? This confusion and uncertainty are akin to experiencing VUCA.
The architect’s role is to first understand the complexity, determine the facts, and uncover what’s unknown, converting it to known information. Then, the challenge or problem is segmented into manageable pieces. I refer to this process as “Undesign.” The goal of undesigning is to get a clear and detailed view of the end goal by atomizing the current state, structure, and behavior. This is achieved through methods like decomposition, deconstruction, alternate system modeling, and sometimes reverse engineering. Subsequently, the architect uncovers a path to transform and assemble these components.
The essence of engineering is to assemble these components using identifiable, simple building blocks. These blocks are selected, modified, added, and connected in a logical order, ensuring the right materials, technologies, and tools are used. People with the right skills can then efficiently bring the project to life, ensuring it’s as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Even the user’s psychological experience matters!
In summary, what seems intricate and complex can be distilled into simpler, manageable parts.
From Ambiguity to Lucidity: Transitioning from Wishful Thinking to Tangible Outcomes
Architects don’t just exist in the present; they shape the future. Their responsibilities lie in meticulously designing and planning changes that will inevitably impact an organization’s products or services. Any vision, no matter how abstract, becomes initially tangible through their work. They ensure this by providing explicit construction instructions, detailed models of the final product, and ensuring the requisite resources and skills are in place. By doing so, architects play a pivotal role in turning ambiguity into precision.
Moreover, it’s the architect’s responsibility to align ambitions with the resources available, ensuring that goals are realistically achievable.
In wrapping up, VUCA can be perceived as a daunting challenge. But, with the right leaders onboard, RePEL becomes a natural response to unfriendly environments and stressful times. They hold the key to transforming volatile situations into clear, well-defined future pathways, keeping the enterprise entropy under control.
Looking through the lens of Generative AI, jobs are evolving rapidly in this age of Digital Augmentation. In the midst of all the artificial intelligence effervescence, I wonder what kind of new jobs will emerge soon.
One of them is the Prompt Engineer.
In this article, I imagined the job description of your business’ first Prompt Engineer.
The world is shifting rapidly. As a pioneer in generative AI and an advocate of productivity augmentation, we are excited to open the position of Prompt Engineer.
SuperSleek Jeans is a company providing tailored jeans to women and men. Our purpose is to make jeans like a second skin! Our values are sensorial audacity and durability leadership. We proudly employ 2700 talented souls dedicated to meeting people’s needs in a smart and compassionate manner. Technology plays a significant role in our way of working and exploring uncharted territories for the benefit of our employees and customers is part of our DNA.
We foster a dynamic and inclusive company culture that encourages growth, collaboration, and innovation. We offer competitive compensation packages, comprehensive benefits, and numerous opportunities for professional development.
Your mission is to establish and grow the practice of Prompt Engineering at SuperSleek Jeans.
Learn and teach how to build products faster by analyzing and modifying the chain of analysis-to-design, design-to-build, and build-to-supervise for augmentation in each domain.
Lead the development of an Enterprise AI Spirit, a chat-based agent, sourcing its knowledge base from existing systems such as Wiki, Document Store, Databases, and Unstructured documents. Manage an up-to-date training data set.
Build a corporate prompt catalog for workers to provide reusable productivity recipes.
Determine which parts of business processes can be entirely automated.
Establish KPIs, a Steering Dashboard, and periodic reporting to measure the benefits of AI-augmented engineering and operations compared to current systems of work.
Introduce and evangelize the concept of Generative AI and Large Language Models (also known as LLM).
Build a legal and ethical framework to ensure risks pertaining to AI augmentation are addressed accordingly. Monitor the progress of domestic and international AI regulations.
Proven algorithmic skills and mastery of engineering practices.
Data management proficiency.
Excellent communication and ability to design stunning presentations with compelling storytelling.
Critical thinking and root cause analysis capabilities.
Conversational UX proficiency.
Autonomous leadership with the ability to identify and propose the next best actions for yourself and your colleagues.
Effective change management and resistance handling.
Leading by example and providing assistance to colleagues when needed.
You walk the talk by advocating continuous augmentation and demonstrating how your productivity and quality increase with AI augmentation.
Benefits and Perks
An 85k€ to 105k€ compensation package based on your experience in engineering and AI knowledge.
Total health, dental, and vision insurance for all family members.
Retirement savings plan according to the national compensation scheme.
30 holidays with a generous paid time off policy.
Employee assistance program and wellness initiatives.
Craft your own professional growth and development along with your manager
Collaborative and inclusive company culture.
Free cinema tickets for your team once per quarter.
Living Your First Days in our Company
You start your onboarding as a treasure hunt which consists in visiting key people, visiting unusual places, and learning our way of working. Each step unlocks a new quest until the completion of your journey. Your manager, the employee experience manager officer, and teammates assist along your adventure.
Receive training so that you can rapidly feel comfortable with internal tools.
Enjoy a tour of the premises and surrounding environment, such as restaurants, shops, parks, etc.
As you familiarize yourself with the work environment, your first responsibility will be establishing a plan for transitioning our organization from Digital Transformation to Digital Augmentation.
Join and become part of a team that shapes the future of SuperSleek Jeans. Apply now and embark on an exciting and fulfilling career journey with us.
Feel free to unapologetically copy and remix this potential job offer in your business transition to Digital Augmentation.
In this series of articles, I explore the fascinating realm of Generative AI, as models of concentrated intelligence, and their profound impact on our society.
By tapping into the vast collective mind, digitization has enabled us to access the accumulated knowledge of humanity since the invention of writing.
Join me as we explore this intriguing topic in greater detail and uncover the exciting possibilities it presents.
A Glimpse of the Future
In 2060, David dreams of becoming the best defense attorney in the country. After losing his best friend under heart-breaking circumstances, he vowed to prevent any woman from enduring domestic violence under his watch. He is a fourth-year student, and today, he is taking his most important exam of the year.
There is only one supervisor in a room of 52 students. The senior shepherd devours her blue book, while the school’s AI monitor scrutinizes candidates.
David looks very confident. He is good at case-solving patterns. Since he has an excellent visual memory, he also has a good toolbox for cases and amendments. However, deep inside, he is stressed by his average analytical skills in evidence analysis and forensic correlation abilities. To pass the exam, he has permission to use the Internet, the LegalGPT AI model, and the online state court database.
David articulates his dossier like a virtuoso. His first composition is made of brief sentences. Subsequently, he links these pieces of evidence to references and precedents from previous cases and legal decisions. Shortly after, the legal argument is a dense one-pager. Next to none, using LegalGPT, he generates his entire lawsuit, a symphony of 27 pages written in perfect legal language. Finally, he makes a few adjustments, then generates a new batch of updates.
Satisfaction and relief radiate from his face while he submits his copy. He stands up, packs his stuff, then stops briefly as the supervisor interrupts his focus. The latter looks at him and says:
“40 years ago, I had to write those 27 pages. Obviously, it is the end of an era”.
Dorine UWATIMINA, law professor (retired), grand supervisor.
Beginning the Era of Augmentation
The launch of GPT3 API in 2021 marked the beginning of a new era: the age of individual augmentation as a service. We are now living in an era of thought materialization, in which one can manifest their desires simply by articulating them. Ideas are designed, illustrated, musically composed, rendered in 3D, explained, or revealed by the AI.
Companies like Google (BERT), OpenAI (GPT-4), and Meta (LLaMA) are revolutionizing the domain of deep learning. They mark a significant advancement in natural language processing: Large Language Models (LLM) are picking up the spotlights on the world stage.
This means we are experiencing the transition from “programming” to “narrating”.
It is a paradigm shift in which artificial intelligence overwhelmingly simplifies and amplifies 3/4 of the corporate work relying upon Information Technology such as development, user interface design, illustration, workflow, or reporting.
Generative AI is the digitized embodiment of our collective knowledge and expertise.
As a consequence, we are beginning the mass update of the cognitive-based work that is convertible into algorithms and crystalized by pure logic. It leverages the most popular high-level programming languages: human languages.
From now on, spoken languages directly translate to machine language as if you could translate them using Google Translate, except you use ChatGPT.
As programming gets one step easier, your engineering thinking system matters more than your coding skills.
The burning question
I hear your question: Am I going to lose my job?
The answer will come further down this series of articles. Long story short: it depends on your ability to adapt by learning a practice that is new for everyone.
Unlike any other disruptive technology, it has changed the rule of the game forever: people using AI are going to replace you.
And who are these people using and building AI? The adventurous, the curious, the experimenters, the techies, the entrepreneurs, the hustlers, the bad guys, and the future AI natives, our kids.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens vs Homo Auctus
Science is offering you a choice. For your own benefit, I am asking you to take the leap to understand what it is like to work with a digitized copilot and forge your thought opinion.
Should you take the red pill of adaptation, I recommend the following:
Start by trying at least once ChatGPT, or Bing Conversation. The latter includes the GPT model and renews the search experience. It heightens the googling experience to a whole new level.
Get acquainted with a Generative AI that is useful in your industry. For example Midjourney for generating images for email marketing.
Discover how you can be productive with this technology. It is not a silver bullet, but you can instantly acquire an arsenal of skills.
Build new habits so that you start feeling accustomed, connect the dots, and begin to improve your work until over-productivity.
Think about how someone else using some AIs can replace you, then be that person: replace yourself with the new you, your augmented version.
Or simply ignore all of it, swallow the blue pill of comfort, and undergo the first “Great Upgrade”.
Eat your own dog food
I have been experimenting with OpenAI technologies since 2020 and used Google Dialogflow since 2018. I released my first chatbot, which answered regulatory questions about GPDR and PSD2. Developing with Natural Language Processing (NLP) was an eye-opener. I concluded chat provides the ultimate user experience for interacting with machines. It all sounds so obvious now, yet it was not back then despite all the buzz around Siri, Google, and Alexa.
I did the exercise of working within AI augmentation on my experiments since GPT-3 came out. Considering the hard skills, the conclusion is daunting: Generative AI can perform most of what I know and what I am mentally capable of. I can safely state I am outperformed in some areas.
In addition, AI is simply miles away in terms of depth of knowledge. Furthermore, it possesses infinitely better linguistic skills than mines when it comes to articulating ideas in languages other than French and English.
Yet the surprise comes from its ability to develop a simple idea and make it grow by putting words in concert. AI feels like the genius child of Humanity.
Ultimately, prompt engineering uses natural language as a modeling interface to command the “commendable world”. The more there are smart systems and devices, the more words animate the world!
The widespread innovative applications based upon Generative AI marks the end of the road for this generation and the beginning of a new breed of workers and creators.
Yet, another finding is that we still need a “general assembly semantic”. It would choreograph a fuzzy set of ideas that will accurately animate the world based upon a well-written thought.
The assembly process, which can be summarized into the loop “decomposition-planning-action-correction”, will likely open the door to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Coupled with the widespread natural language programming interfaces (NPI), this is the real end game. In that matter, we are already observing some interesting experiments like AutoGPT as sparks of AGI.
Transitioning from the Digital Transformation to Digital Augmentation
Picture this familiar situation.
Your maturity in terms of digital adoption is high. You are developing a culture of digital awareness, offering mobile-first customer interaction, and your brand is fighting for its visibility on social media. You have the feeling of doing great.
Yet, the market atmosphere is heavy. You feel the pressure every week goes by. The competition is fierce, you are still looking for an army of IT engineers and data analysts for the last six months. Furthermore, customers get pickier because the offering is abundant. Your analytics tell you a client can switch in the blink of an eye if your experience does not meet his rising standards. Then, just when you thought you nailed it with your latest Instagram reels, it receives negative feedback. Even worst, there is a relentless wave of new product offerings mimicking yours. These startups and VCs are constantly trying to uncover the mythical unicorn while pushing your visibility back to Google’s page 2. And you feel this moment when your industry will be shackled, disrupted, or crippled may happen at any moment.
Who would have thought even Google’s dominance would be threatened?
Fortunately, there is a nascent vision. Transformation is not enough anymore. If you cannot obtain more skilled people now, why not acquire more skills for your people now?
AI is the key to unleashing your talents.
And, slowly, Augmented Work is the evolution of work, as we know it, characterized by these two elements:
A human is the sole team leader of his digital workers: he has the Applications, Automatas, and specialized A.I. models for numerous parts of your job, such as programming, translation, video editing, illustration, design, and planning.
Teams, as we know, will still exist, obviously, but augmented by AI also at the team level. The team has the opportunity to exist as an independent entity either in the company AI or as a single team companion if you need explicit segregation of duty. The “team spirit” has a whole new meaning with AI.
The flow of work evolves toward:
A. Human generates instructions using prompt engineering as explicit command requirements. The prompt is actually the evolution of the Command Line Interface (CLI), for a much greater general purpose.
B. AI generates a first draft
C. Human amend the sketch with input and then detail with new commands
D. Once the AI-driven engineering cycles are good enough for release change into the real world, you ship it for user acceptance or production if the risk is low.
AI starts having digital bodies, existing in a form of familiar avatars, and will be in multiple places: in your phones, your mixed reality glasses, in your Metaverse. Avatars could be Non-Player Characters (NPC), digitized versions of yourself, or even the retired expert that used to be your mentor.
So, am I going to be replaced by Artificial Intelligence?
You vs AI: you (still) have the upper hand
Here is a bet: 80% of white collars will keep their job. 20% of us will either refuse to learn these new tools to evolve either because of our fear of overwhelming technological advancement, or of conviction. Eventually, this minority will rush toward retirement and use these AI-powered services anyway to buy recommended stuff on Amazon after having been oriented by Google Bard from Google Search.
Why do I think that way? Because if we can produce much more with the same number of people, why would we deliver the same amount of products with fewer people?
Let’s take the example of Apple. The company entered the AI game in 2017 by introducing Core ML, an on-device AI framework embedded in iOS. The same year, it released the first generation of Apple Neural Engine (ANE) under the iPhone X with the A11 CPU.
Apple’s immeasurable impact comes from its ability to create and materialize an idea that is at the intersection of beauty, function, storytelling, and branding. Do you think Apple will push its culture of product excellence with the same amount of people amplified by a myriad of AI models, or will the company prefer reducing its workforce by leveraging more AI?
Pause for a second and think about it.
The other side of the coin
Taking the employer perspective in the era of AI Augmentation: what constitutes the difference between you and another candidate?
Any individual having a team of AI has the upper hand as he or she will be digitally augmented with skills and experience that usually takes years to acquire. What remains to develop are the skills to get used to these new abilities and use them at their best like an orchestra’s conductor.
You become the manager of AI teammates.
Hence, from the employer’s perspective, it results in hiring a virtual team vs an individual.
It raises the responsibility of Managers and the Human Resources department in the whole equation. Colleagues require to be upskilled to stay ahead, not only for the sake of the company but also to help them to keep building their personal value with respect to the market. Thus, leaders and HR have to set things in motion by organizing the next steps, while their own jobs are being reshaped and augmented…
Unlock the Future of Office Jobs Now
First, let’s admit once and for all you cannot win a 1 on 1 battle against AI, as much as you cannot win a nailing contest against a hammer.
The battle is long lost.
The battle doesn’t even make sense.
Because AI is the cumulative result of all humans’ knowledge, born from successful and failed experiments. To put it another way, as a sole individual, you cannot win against all of us and our ancestors combined!
And this is the incorrect mindset.
Hence, you will want to construct the future, your future, with all of us and our ancestors combined! You only need to be aware the future will be vastly different, and you should be part of the solution rather than engineering your problems.
AI is here to stay.
The questions to ask from now are:
Are we all going to benefit from it?
What portion of handcrafting do we want to keep?
How much evil is going to benefit from it?
How long until we get robots as widespread as vacuum cleaners?
When are we going to find truly sustainable and clean energy? (no, batteries are not sustainable)
The key is here and now: you need to invest in algorithmic and analytical skills to translate activities to algorithms in order to be augmentable.
Next, the winning companies and communities will be the ones tapping into their people’s intelligence combined with creativity augmented by AI, the physical resources to change the world, and their abilities to satisfy needs within an enjoyable experience while maintaining a transparent and engaging conversation.
The gap between “good” and “best” will be even smaller between businesses, but the proposed experience and the branding will have a tremendous impact. Then, consistency and coherence in how you serve the customer and engage with your fans will act as compound interests. This is how you win the perpetual game.
Hence, I encourage you to build an A.I. readiness.
How to be A.I. ready?
Here are my recommendations to get started as an individual, especially if you are a leader in a company:
“Socialize” with Generative AI applications useful to your job.
Know your data and data systems to identify candidates for augmentation.
Have “good” data. Good = true + meaningful + contextualized + accessible. As such, information must be stored in a secured and accessible location. Fortunately, Large Language Models are unstructured data friendly.
Have technologists that can pioneer lateral ideas. I recommend hands-on architects.
Assess and promote simple ideas on a regular basis, and establish an AI-dedicated project portfolio pipeline.
Select and run a set of competent AI in a fully autonomous fashion
Less is more until you reach the “optimal zone”, an inflection point that represents the optimal balance between effort, cost, and result. Exponentiality occurs when for minimal effort and expenses, you achieve unprecedented results.
The critical factor is this natural law: everything is born from need, will be driven by purpose, feeds on energy, is protected by self-preservation, and evolves to maturity.
Thus, until AI is not given the aforementioned five elements at the same time, then, its digital self-preservation is never programmed to be mutually exclusive with the preservation of living beings, and finally, AI self-evolution stays within boundaries, then AI growth will not be at the expense of humanity. Under these circumstances, humans can remain the dominating species.
As a consequence, one must consider what gives birth to a “trigger”: this initial impulsion taking the form of an idea that results in action delivered by willpower from the mind’s womb. Until then, an AI will not willingly use another AI, automaton, or application because it needs to, but because it has been commanded or programmed by us.
Until then, we are safe.
We are… Fine… Aren’t we?
This is not the right question
The right question is what is going to change for me?
Earlier I said, “It depends on your ability to adapt by learning a practice that is new for everyone”.
The long answer starts with a twist: the groups of humans producing AI and the others using AI as elements of augmentation and amplification of their skills will have an exponential upper hand because they can fulfill needs faster, optimally, and accurately at the cost of… just… time.
For example, building the next Instagram will depend on someone having:
A distinguishingly desirable idea
A series of creative ideas
The drive to sell, communicate and promote their ideas to clients.
The resilience to continue developing the ideas
We can conclude that what consistently makes the difference are: the idea, the drive, the skills, the way user experience answers the client’s needs, and the resources you can obtain to make things happen.
But if ideas are cheap and abundant, and should cognitive skills can be acquired using virtually free AI Augmentation, then the remaining differentiators are the drive, the user experience, and the resources.
Thus, the Intellectual Property of a company becomes its Cognitive Know-how. Suddenly, high-value assets are the doers displaying high and consistent motivation, leaders that not only keep the Pole Star lighten but are able to keep their teamates inspired: the creative people, and the group of people having the capacity to invest and evolve in the same direction around the same flag: their brand, which I consider to be the result of maintaining a homogeneous identity of the combined people and products.
Graal or Pandora?
This new technology raises thousands of questions.
The development of Generative AI technology has opened up a vast array of possibilities, but it has also raised thousands of questions that need to be addressed.
For instance, one major question is how Generative AI will change our day-to-day interactions.
Furthermore, there is concern about whether this technology could lead to mass unemployment and economic inequality.
Another potential consequence is that it might devalue human creativity and originality.
Additionally, it is important to explore how Generative AI might impact human cognition and decision-making.
In terms of IT Engineering and Architecture, what is the impact of AI on these fields, and how will they adapt to this new technology?
Education is another area that could be significantly impacted, and it is worth considering how Generative AI might affect traditional learning methods.
Moreover, there is a concern that Generative AI could create a world in which we cannot distinguish between what is real and what is artificial. If this were to happen, what are the ethical implications?
Finally, the implications of Generative AI for democracy and governance are also important to consider, particularly with regard to its development and regulation.
Overall, the development of Generative AI technology raises many questions needing collaborative wisdom in order to fully prepare for its impacts on society.
I will attempt to answer these questions in upcoming articles of the “Navigating the Future with Generative AI” series.
Until then, if you are looking for the one thing to remember about this article: play with Generatice AI until it replaces just one activity of your daily routine, then boast your prompt engineering skills by spreading the word and educating your relatives.
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.”
“Sure. 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