Hiren Desai, Director Technology, Kaiser Permanente
Rapidly changing technologies are impacting business models, customer engagement models, development of products and services and overall business expectations. There is no room in this competitive environment for the one to two year Enterprise Architecture projects that used to be popular in the early 2000s and produced extensive recommendations and reports that eventually gathered dust because no one actually read them carefully. There is also a growing realization that Enterprise Architecture as it is often practiced today in various organizations is broken in the sense that it is not as influential and successful as in the past. The release of The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF 9.2) has done little to improve the value and stature of some of the EA’s who produce boxes and lines while sitting in their “Ivory Towers” away from the very active Scaled Agile (SAFe 4.5) initiatives that have tons of activity, enthusiasm, daily standups, release of minimum viable products followed by regular product increments, and working side by side with product and business stakeholders to deliver impactful technology solutions that produce meaningful results for their businesses.
Applications are rapidly moving to the cloud for many reasons such as taking advantages of the emerging technologies available in the cloud, scaling elastically to match demands, reduce time, effort and complexity of managing a large on-premise infrastructure, pay for IT resources that are used, focus more on innovation amongst a host of other benefits while avoiding cloud lock-ins. In addition to cloud computing, other technologies are also converging and gaining greater adoption like Machine Learning, AI, Blockchain for high-trust transactions, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and user engagement using Voice Technologies. The convergence of all these technologies is happening at the data level and has led to a new saying “Data is the new oil” wherein data is managed autonomously leading to it always being available, trusted and secure.
All this has created a void in the IT environment where an IT evangelist is needed to work side by side with the team members on a daily basis, influence them in a positive manner, communicate the design and architecture to them, and take the lead when it is time to choose the right tools and technologies. The Enterprise Architect must assume the role of an Agile Architect as outlined within the Scaled Agile Framework and bring about a balance between the current roadmap and work and the long-term Architectural Intent.
This is only possible by bringing in Design Thinking and Service Design into the promoted iterative customer centered design while also ensuring that what is delivered aligns with the long-term technology platforms, product strategy, business goals and the roadmap vision.
Rapid technological paradigm shifts necessitate having what SAFe defines as the ‘Architectural Runway’ which precedes sprints and provides a minimum viable description of the architectural system intent ahead of development. Both the highly acclaimed Spotify model and SAFe speak to the strong need to balance independence of development squads but aligned to the long-term product strategy and architectural intent. It is only then that the overall risk is minimized by reducing agile team time spent on reinventing and rediscovering things that result from siloed development which did not take into consideration the full enterprise context spanning the business, information, application and technology domains.
Enterprise Architecture will start to be referred to as Agile Architecture that is the Innovator, Enabler and Integrator when EAs start playing a central role in technology projects
Enterprise Architects must play a central role in reducing the complexity associated with digital transformations. However only those EAs, that work as an Innovators, Enablers and Integrators will be the most effective. The Innovators know the intricacies associated with newer technologies and can also guide the organization on what is about to become obsolete. This determines the proper placement of investment dollars. The Enablers reduce fragmented siloes in the Agile teams. The Integrator sensure that the total holistic view is in place and that all the various disparate technologies will seamlessly connect at the end like the pieces of a complex puzzle.
With rapidly changing technologies, Enterprise Architects are in a prime position to evaluate the technologies and their impacts well in advance to provide a clear and unambiguous perspective on what needs to change ensuring that the companies can capitalize on these digital technologies, support Agile and DevOps product-development methodologies and respond to product and business needs in a much quicker manner by ensuring that there is common understanding of products, processes and technologies between their product and business units and their IT organization. Only then the optics will change in that the Enterprise Architecture (EA) is not an isolated function with little contact with the organization’s problems while the Solution Architecture (SA) is the honest, reliable and hard-working one and the two organizations (EA and SA) are not different practices. Enterprise Architects should provide product and business units with analysis of the “Technology Costs” and quality of the various options being presented. Product and business units will then get vital information to make critical business decisions and both EA’s and business will directly communicate to each other without any communication interferences where important information may be lost in translation.
Enterprise Architecture will start to be referred to as Agile Architecture that is the Innovator, Enabler and Integrator. These Agile Architects will define the architectural vision of the organization, help in choosing the right tools and technologies, plan for change considering the impact and cost of the change. These Agile Architects will build strong relationships with the team members and socializing, collaborating and motivating is critical for everyone to succeed. Rather than solving problems in isolation, the Agile Architect will work with the team members and make informed design decisions where some design ideas will even emerge from grooming the product backlog together with the team.
The Agile Architect will then understand the intricate goals, detailed requirements and constraints and lead the team from the front thereby becoming a leader who leads the team by example in a pragmatic manner by delivering business value, maximizing stakeholder value, choosing the right tools and technologies and effectively managing changing business and product considerations along with rapid technological paradigm shifts, change and complexity.