Wednesday 11 May 2011

The face of a new target enterprise architecture

One of the tasks on my menu is to facilitate and drive the exercise of our target Enterprise Architecture, in short, our big picture, the master plan. The question is, do we derive it from our current situation but an improved version of it, sort of, will we start over and fix all the pain points of today. But what guarantee do we have that we'll do it the right this time? Will we end up a few years down the road in the same situation as we are today, getting the feeling that our technology is hampering the companies agility and innovation. This brings up the question if we actually need to invest big time into our future, maybe we should just go into the direction of throw away architectures, much like we replace our dining room every now and then with low budget Ikea furniture. Would this make us much more agile, would this result into a continuous moving and transforming company?

When I think about it, I believe some things are stable over the the years, consider a purchase order or an invoice, they're still around since the early days, there still similar today than my first school example a few decades ago. So, where is the variability then, is it in the products, they do change continuously and more and more rapid everyday for most companies. I believe the difficulty lies in the zone where the variable meets the invariable. Today most ERP's and custom (legacy) front/back office platforms have a polished end to end process. Sales tools, CRM systems etc, all mix the complete business processes together. The data that is involved with for example a traditional print advertisement is completely different that the data involved with an online ad. It are these differences that really change the internals of ERP's and custom build platforms. The business people they do not always understand, for them it is just another product, true some characteristics that are different, but they usually don't understand the fuzz from IT departments when they conceive new products.

So, what if we would architecture our IT landscape in such a way that the stable invariant processes are based on solid proven enterprise packages. The more the nature of the business process and its related data/information gets variant we want to structure this as minimum as possible, don't make it too rigid because it can change over night. With this attitude we are not bothered if we throw away something. This brings me to the next question then, what would we use to support the more variable business processes? Well, I believe that today we see more an more consumerization going on, where consumer products our serious alternatives to use as complementary means in the enterprise. For example, just replace a rigid ever changing discount approval workflow setup (that is usually changed when it ready) by giving sales force a communication tool like skype and they can just simple ask their manager if they are allowed to give that extra discount for the customer they're facing. Does it really need to be so well structured, controlled, formal, rigid, etc or is it exactly this space that warrants business agility if we do provide freedom.

Today employees are far more advanced PC and internet users than 10 years ago. I always said in modernization projects that the tools everyone uses at home - from operator to the CEO - influence the wishes of the next platform they have in mind past the green - and gray screen application era's. Today I believe more and more that these very same tools will not only be an inspiration for the enterprise but will be the very products used in the enterprise itself.

There are still a lot of other questions, for example how do managers monitor, process and correct their operations without proper information or without their important KPI's? It is my believe that simple and seamless BI will play an important role in this, so BI will move from an support/optimization position to a crucial core component of the overall architecture.

All of this could lead to an enterprise that operates on solid proven standardized platforms complimented with commodity/productivity tools and consumer products. Make sure you serve the business user properly on the stable processes and empower them in the variable bits and give them the means to be creative and innovative.