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Devil in the Detail

Devil in the Detail

The road to Hell was paved by enterprise architects.

ARCHITECTURE - a collection of letters which, when placed in the correct order, are no more and no less than the spawn of the devil to executives luxuriating in leather-bound chairs on the business side of the organization. In some organizations, architecture is seen as evil. A necessary evil, perhaps, but nonetheless a creation of such brain-bending complexity that only Satan himself could have devised something so impossibly difficult for a mortal to understand without having to sell their soul.

Long-suffering heads of architecture groups - admittedly no Oscar Wildes - confess they repeatedly fail to explain what IT architecture is, why it is important and what it can do for an enterprise. In two organizations in which I have personal experience, the wearisome battle has ended in resignation, even surrender, that the message will never get through. In fact, by pushing the architecture boat too hard you can actually further entrench the general view that IT folk are just "techies and will always remain so".

For a non-technical person such as myself, I empathize with the business executives to some degree.

I trawled through a couple of mainstream research Web sites, looking for an easy-to-understand explanation that not only stated what exactly service-oriented architecture (SOA) is, but why I should give a damn. The end result of that little experiment was the irresistible temptation to quote Clarke Gable's infamous words: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Personally, I do. But I understand why others don't. Conversations about how new methodologies and software technologies can help the business rarely get a blip on the managerial radar. One IT group has been told that the word "architecture" is now officially banned from their lexicon because it has been repeated ad nauseum.

One head of architecture complained: "How am I supposed to justify what my people do, and attract any sort of decent investment in some really fundamental building blocks of the business, when I get that sort of attitude?"

How, indeed?

Well, perhaps frustrated architects need to consider the possibility that technology is not a "fundamental building block" of the business. At least not to your colleagues. In most cases, they believe customers are - and sales, and customer service, and revenue collection, and the acquisition and retention of great staff. So you fellas down in the IT dungeon, where seats next to windows are an executive perk, don't make the A list, no matter how good you think this SOA stuff is, or how new software development and integration technologies can create exciting options for the business.

This is a bizarre, even inexplicable, attitude to confront for those who understand the importance of architecture and the silent revolution that is going on within its realm.

Architecture is primarily meant to define the optimal technologies for a company's business. The speed of innovation and the often heartless (lack of) support strategies by vendors of older software versions means that this element of IT is always a moving target. New slices of technology are being attached or morphed into systems every day. It never stops.

For any IT group to be successful in their architecture efforts, constant engagement with business managers is essential. The worst of all situations is possibly the most common: that the business takes zero interest in architecture. Without actually understanding the priorities and processes that underpin an enterprise, how is anyone in IT supposed to be able to architect the optimal IT environment? Yet that's a journey most IT groups find themselves on.

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