Insight

What is the value of IT Architecture?

What is the value of IT Architecture?

Looking out over the IT landscape it is easy to draw a conclusion that IT architecture is not as valued today as it has been in the past. The growth of engineering has significantly outpaced the growth of architects, although there is a hint that this differential is slowing.

So, what is the value of the IT architect in the current technology landscape?

What can we learn from Formula One?

I recently read an excellent autobiography, How to Build a Car, by Adrian Newey. If his name is unknown to you, he is the most successful designer of Formula One cars in history (and if you have any interest in cars, I highly recommend this as a read).

Newey’s role even from the early days, was to envisage the overall architecture of the car. There are constraints in the form of detail regulations which radically change from time to time, there are constraints in terms of materials science, of packaging the engine, gearbox and driver.

Ideally, all of these elements have to come together in a coherent, aerodynamic form to create a fast car that is as easy to drive as possible. Once the design is set, it is very hard to change the fundamental architecture mid-season. It is possible to refine elements, but once the major pieces are in place there is no going back.

Newey’s brilliance was to be able to juggle all of these elements and come up with the overall design that could then be instantiated by the engineers. As well as being able to envisage the overall architecture of the car, Newey had to have a working knowledge of a diverse range of technologies – aerodynamics, suspension, tyres, heat management, materials, stress and load management, and so much more.

What Newey does reminded me of the value of the technology architect, the Enterprise Architect. As we are going through the most radical acceleration of digital transformation, we are putting in place the key pieces of our Formula One car. We want it to go well and we live within the constraints of technology, regulation and legacy systems whilst delivering the ‘formula one’ experience for the consumer.

One thing I do know is that Adrian Newey has been very highly valued for his ability to see the overall picture and bring it together. Are enterprise architects valued as highly?

What do Architects tell us?

In our recent Global IT Architecture Survey 29% of Architects reported that the value proposition of the architect was not clear in their organisation, and 20% said that there were no measures in place for the work of architects. If architects cannot see the value, what hope is there that their colleagues will?

To get more insight I asked a number of leaders in the realm of IT Architecture what their thoughts are on the value of architecture. This group includes a number of Chief and Enterprise Architects primarily working in Financial Services in the UK and around the world. Paul Preiss, founder of Iasa – the association for all IT architects, also shared his views.

The Five Pillars of Value

Each of them shared their top five thoughts on why an organisation might value the discipline of architecture. When I reviewed all of the answers, five key themes emerged.

  • Shaping the business – recognising the intrinsic nature of technology in business
  • Dealing with Complexity – even start-ups can very quickly run into issues of complexity and technical debt, a significant issue at most organisations
  • Innovation – one of the core roles of a great architect
  • Impact of Technology – the societal and ethical impact of technology
  • Leadership – one of the key roles of an architect is to be a leader, valuable although often without a key portfolio.
Shaping the Business

A central pillar in the value of enterprise architecture is relationship between the development of the business and the role of technology. In most large scale businesses it is impossible to separate the development of the business from its underlying technology. In 2020, this journey has increased exponentially as businesses have rushed to digitise in a world of lockdown and social distancing.

“Technology is driving new business models and shaping the future of businesses, IT Architects understand the opportunities that technology can unlock”.

“IT architecture can help realise business outcomes by defining a target architecture and roadmap to deliver the value”.

“To help inform critical business decisions regarding the use of technology to create better outcomes”.

“IT architecture can shape large programs of work to ensure all the components come together to deliver the business outcomes desired”.

“To inform business of their future capability needs through either staff development or partnerships with suppliers”.

“Architecture function helps assign the technology ownership, which is very important in today’s world where core of new business model is technology”.

“The understanding of value from business technology strategy (what I call digital advantage) requires a commitment to understanding business outcomes through a technical lens”.

“Architects are innovation and change agents allowing organizations to push innovation and value to the places in the enterprise where it is needed without sacrificing the safety and security of managed change and business strategy more commonly found in hierarchical organizational strategies”.

Innovation

Perhaps one of the most obvious roles of a good architect is to lead the way on technology innovation. Innovation is not simply bringing in new technology, it is creating the right context for the new technology as well as redeploying existing technology in creative ways to bring about new benefits.

“To progress technology innovation through integrating new & leading systems & services, leading to better human experiences with technology”.

“IT Architecture function can help predict the future technological demand based on the wider industry experience / other domain experience and can help implementing the technology in an extensible way to meet the future demand”.

“To be able to take existing building blocks and assemble them creatively for innovative business outcomes”.

Dealing with Complexity

Navigating a path through complexity is a key role that a good architect will play in the organisation. There are some very good examples where the acceleration of delivery has increased complexity and technical debt. There is a clear role for the architect to play in defining a more coherent roadmap.

“IT architects can analyse complex challenges large organisations face and clearly articulate the options to mitigate them”.

“To ensure technology cost is controlled through reducing duplication, increasing resilience, by adopting the right technology at the right time for the right reasons”.

“In the fast-changing technology world, IT architecture can help reduce proliferation of large number of similar technologies while still allowing the niche required by enterprise”.

“IT Architecture provides formulate enterprise patterns and reuse of those patterns across business lines and applications hence reducing the complexity”.

“Structural integrity across solutions which provide security and other quality attributes requires significant cross-domain understanding, trade-off analysis and advanced collaboration with stakeholders. This responsibility is essential and difficult to align with any other role”.

Impact of Technology

There is no doubt that technology has a profound affect at a societal level, and this raises the question of ethical decision making. Although Formula One is now much safer than it used to be, one of the considerations of the car designer is not just how to make a car fast, but to make it driveable and to be aware of what happens when it all goes wrong.

Technology impact can be financial, such as when a large UK retail bank lost its systems for two weeks, or another had persistent problems for months following a merger. Another, tragic example of how technology can have a dreadful impact is the Boeing 737 Max.

“To prevent social technological issues occurring through poor system design leading to harm through the impacts of system failures”.

“Architects provide and ensure deeply professional and ethical levels of decision making at the edges, allowing digital initiatives to be run in massive parallel”.

Leadership

A great architect is always a great leader. A great architect has an ability to communicate at all levels in an organisation and can work with diverse interest groups to create a productive consensus. Often an architect will not necessarily be given this role as part of their portfolio, it emerges as the architect is one of the few overarching roles in the technology organisation.

“The architecture function helps assign the technology ownership, which is very important in today’s world where core of new business model is technology”.

“Structural integrity across solutions which provide security and other quality attributes requires significant cross-domain understanding, trade-off analysis and advanced collaboration with stakeholders. This responsibility is essential and difficult to align with any other role”.

“The stakeholder and customer focus of architecture practice provides a level of collaboration in teams that requires years to master”.

“We are enthusiastic and interesting people who are a great addition to a team”.

Discoverers

We do not create the work. I believe we, in fact, are discoverers. Glenn Murcutt.

Murcutt may have been an architect of buildings, but like Murcutt, and Newey in Formula One, the technology architect has to the potential to add huge value to a business, shaping the future of the organisation through the lens of technology. Simplifying the existing technology estate at the same time as embracing new technologies that will define the future of the business.

 

Image: Glen Wheeler on Unsplash

 

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