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Sam Lowe's blog on Enterprise IT

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Architect, Functional and Technical: IT's Good, Bad and Ugly?

Despite most Enterprise IT people knowing the downsides of silo-thinking in a business, many of us are aware that IT can often act as the biggest silo of all within the business of which it is part.

The ultimate objective for many is to run IT like an independent business (commercially-driven and efficient demand, supply and resource management). But there is a trick to doing so without it starting to think like a separate organisation (obsessed with its own bureaucratic processes, pet projects and irrelevant agendas). Getting the good without the bad is a challenge that has led many to embed IT back into the business units as an alternative solution.

But there are also cliques within IT itself which tend to exist whether it is centralised or embedded. The differences between the 'management' people (focused on delivering on time and to budget), the service people (focused on keeping the kit running and the lights on), and the 'content' people (focused on the solutions and the design) are obvious. But the latter in particular itself has silos. Those of functional, technical and architect.

The functional-technical divide goes way back. Even now, organisations still tend to have separate functional and technical teams. It still seems rare for anyone to really bridge the gap. One of the great characteristics of packaged apps was that they gave frameworks through which the technical and functional teams could interact (often agnostically) in more predictable, industrialised ways. This brought them together more efficiently in terms of delivery, but did little (if anything) to bring them together in mindset.

Architect-types have sometimes thought that they could cover the whole spectrum, and also aimed to bridge the portfolio-level (the enterprise view) to the application-level (the project view). But very often this just has created a third silo - the so-called ivory tower. Additionally, with many architects having come from infrastructure-planning or bespoke-development backgrounds, in the many industries dominated by packaged apps they have had additional disadvantages in building the credibility and buy-in they've needed.

However, today's increasing focus on SOA and in general architecture above the level of the project, driving cross-project synergies and initiatives requires that the three viewpoints work together. Take composite applications for example. How can (what are by definition) composites of data, function and technology assets, mixing packaged and bespoke, be put together scalably without united functional and technical views? And how can a portfolio of them be managed without an architecture view across them that balances the delivery-proposition to each project, with the customer-proposition to each part of the business, and the ongoing ownership-proposition to the enterprise as a whole?

None of these issues are (in principle) different from those of our recent pasts, but this is the first time that the very value proposition of the approaches themselves have been contingent on these viewpoints being able to work together. And making it stick.

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  • Sam, keep up the good work! Love the blog. This article really hits home and underscores a problem I see of re-use. IT doesn't see other IT as their first choice for solutions. They are quick to go outside and recreate solutions rather than deal with the internal IT silos.

    By Blogger BuffaloBub, at 3:52 pm  

  • Hi Sam,
    Good post. I sometimes feel the biggest impediment to SOA is the Org Chart. Gather a group of arhcitects together and you may hear the bells ring from the Ivory Tower...have a stakeholder ask one architect how to solve a problem and I have seen several "architect by constraint". -JT

    By Blogger JT, at 4:01 pm  

  • This shows again that architecting is a new task in many organisations. It will take a long time before having architects is just as normal as having system admins

    Sjaak Laan

    By Blogger Sjaak Laan, at 10:20 am  

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