What you'd give to be a fly on the wall in the City IT architects' drinking club right now. The secretive club, which is reputed to meet regularly in a public house in the City of London, must be an interesting talking shop, as the current bloodbath at the banks puts the role of the enterprise architect centre stage. One of the most prominent, Alix Cheema, head of architecture and design at Lloyds TSB, for example, will soon have the task of integrating its architecture with what's left of HBOS. That's some responsibility.
Enterprise architecture (EA) has been climbing up organisations' agendas for a number of years, not least because it provides the A in their SOA service-oriented architecture strategy, and the challenge of imposing this design pattern across an enterprise and driving out the benefits of re-use that SOA promises can only be achieved with the involvement of the architects. These individuals who sit at the interface between IT and operations, and between strategy and projects, are crucial in bringing IT and the business in sync.
But as EA emerges from the shadows, some confusion remains about what enterprise architecture is all about and what skills and experiences you should be looking for in an enterprise architect. What, for example, is the difference between a systems architect, business architect and enterprise architect? How is the CIO supposed to work with this newly empowered enterprise architecture team? And how should you organise a team that spans so many different areas?
Merger-and-acquisition activity is not the only circumstance in which the need for an architectural approach comes to the fore -- any strategic business decision really needs to involve the architecture teams. At transportation and logistics giant Con-way, a project to investigate a new strategic business venture involved Maja Tibbling, the company's lead enterprise architect, from its inception in April last year. "It was very flattering to be asked to be involved from the beginning," she says. Even better was when the VP from the business unit involved used the term 'SOA' on a conference call when explaining a decision.
In fact, Jackie Barretta, Con-way's CIO, consults her 14-strong architecture team on a regular basis. "She relies on the team to set the direction and she delegates things to us, so if for example a new business unit is about to choose its own technology, she trusts us to be involved," says Tibbling. "She always runs things by us, even when she's making a presentation. If it's about a new IT strategy, our role is more consultative; she makes up her own mind."
The group, which is made up of both domain experts or systems architects and true enterprise architects, is attached to various projects and teams around the company -- including leading the integration effort with acquired companies. Tibbling says the central EA group, which was set up in 1995 as a centre of excellence in SOA after a successful pilot in Con-way Freight, is more stretched than it was and therefore relies on education more. "That's a painful lesson we have learnt. We need to teach people more from a philosophical perspective about what makes a good service, and what are the boundaries of a service. We didn't realise how much ongoing care that needed." She adds, though, that having the central team in place is indispensable. "It's about the approach -- otherwise architecture can turn into such a hairball."
Doing the groundwork
Similarly, at the UK Home Office, head of architecture John Wailing is keen to stress the consultative nature of his group. "A lot of it is about liaison and embedding the philosophy," he says. With the federated nature of the Home Office agencies, Wailing heads a more diversified team, with only a handful of architects in the centre at the Office of the CIO working with enterprise and business architects attached to various programmes. Wailing has come up with a "level zero" plan of how the whole of the Home Office- works together, its interdependencies and structures -- and now it's down to the businesses in their programmes of work to implement that.
In most organisations, today's EA initiatives are pooled from older, more dispersed resources. At the Office of National Statistics (ONS), for example, head of enterprise architecture Simon Field was brought in as CTO and told in not so many words to sort out the organisation's architecture.
"At the time I arrived, architecture was spread across the organisation on a project-by-project basis," he says.
"It was useful to an extent. But most of the activities in IT, information and applications are there to serve the business and we needed to get a better handle on now to manage change across the stack, from the business processes we employed to how the machines ran. I was given a blank sheet of paper; I changed the team and pulled together people who knew and understood data and application architecture."
At the ONS, Field doesn't use the term 'enterprise architecture' -- it sounds too academic, he says, like an end in itself, divorced from reality -- but prefers the term 'the big picture'. "We draw pictures to illustrate the dependencies between business areas and the systems they use and the underlying database, applications and infrastructure. And with very simple red/amber/green documentation we put them in front of very senior execs, then give them a battle plan to turn it from red to green."
Some say that it's this divorced view of EA that has got it something of a bad name in the past. Neil Ward-Dutton, analyst with IT-business alignment specialists Macehiter Ward-Dutton, believes some of that is down to the legacy of big, standalone IT systems. "The idea of enterprise architecture has been around since the 80s. But back then the IT landscape was very different. There wasn't the level of saturation of IT in business and a lot of the work was still done in isolation and could afford to be," he says.
Paul Brown, principal software architect at Tibco Software and author of the book Implementing SOA, agrees that it's the changing nature of IT that has thrust architecture to the fore again. "Historically, technology was so foreign that we needed specialists just to keep it running. We still need that technical expertise, but the focus of systems has changed. We've started to wire them all together in one enterprise-scale system whose components happen to be subsystems in their own right. So the thing that matters now is the business processes that tie them together."
While a lot of early work didn't get anywhere ("People drew complicated models and they ended up sitting on the shelf," says Ward-Dutton) the emphasis today has changed towards architecting the enterprise. And where EA initiatives are successful is where they bring together both the requirement to model the business horizontally with the vertical need to establish IT investment priorities. "Where we've seen this succeed is where, one way or another, there's consensus built that links business and IT teams," says Ward-Dutton.
In most firms, the new wave of EA is still in its early stages, and getting it out to the business is a struggle. "We're still very much in the IT areas and one thing EA must do as it grows up is understand better the interface with the business," says Allen Brown, CEO of the Open Group, which aims at improving enterprise interoperability.
Brown points out two approaches he has seen. One, exemplified by a groundbreaking project at hotels group Marriott International, sees the top management tackle architecture and tie it to incentives and objectives, changing the culture of the organisation by force. Another way is to introduce it by stealth, project by project. "It's probably best not to try to do the whole enterprise architecture at once," says Brown.
Tibco's Brown agrees. "You're trying to build a large-scale enterprise one piece at a time. It doesn't have to be perfect but it has to have a certain level of discipline. Where it falls down is where you don't have the shared corporate focus," he says.
Brown says there are essentially three problems that need to be solved: the expanded role of the architect to look at the end-to-end process; the problem of projects that cross over business silos; and who is going to look ahead into future uses of the services you build. "The manner in which you come up with a solution is less important than the fact you are looking for one."
This demands new skills of today's architects. "You have to have the interface to business planners, finance planners, and even HR planners for resourcing, and all the way through the lifecycle down to operations," says Judith Jones, CEO of training body Architecting the Enterprise.
"What we're saying to the CEO is that it's about how the business comes together, how we support our assets and our capability to deliver new and improved value. We look at the CIO as the person whose job it is to bring these things together. That's why architecture is so important to the CIO."
Tibco's Brown has come up with the phrase "total architecture" to describe the people, processes, information and systems that make it up. "Once you assign responsibility for ownership of a system, you are also assigning ownership of the organisation. That's a business decision, not a technology one," she says.
The key to success is getting into projects early enough to influence funding. At the ONS, Field's traffic-lights approach seems to be working. "This year in the annual planning round, which is all led by the business [and] the first thing they all wanted to hear was where [they were with regard to EA]." But Field still thinks it could be doing more. "We've got the best seat at the table we've ever had. But the mistake is to view doing architecture as a self-contained lifecycle. We want to get our claws into the rest of the corporate governance about how projects are started," he says.
Over at the Home Office, Wailing and his team, working with the CIO, have engagement in projects right from the start and are seeing benefits flowing through. "We can understand what it is we are working towards, what existing capabilities we have, how it all links up and how we can achieve our end goals -- and we can be more agile and less expensive. But the key thing is that the delivery is more certain."
For Wailing, the journey has been something of a personal epiphany. "Years ago I wasn't a fan of EA. I was a details man and I couldn't see the value unless you were focusing on the details. But I've proved myself wrong." For EA to move beyond its -early-adopter phase, more architects looking at the bigger picture and less navel gazing and protectionism is the order of the day -- and that will be led by the CIO.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.