More and more companies are transforming their capabilities and products into Digital versions or being supported Digitally. However, many companies are discovering that digital transformation is not going as planned or as quickly as expected. The primary reason is that there is no architectural foundation in place to build upon. The standards and building blocks that come with enterprise architecture are too often missing in digital transformation initiatives. This article will explore why enterprise architecture is essential for digital transformation, what it can bring to the table and how it can accelerate and increase the quality of digital transformation.
The Turning Point
The three of us have written a novel (The Turning Point ) in which the lead character, a Chief Architect, Dr. Kathleen Stone, helps a company, ArchiSurance, to go through a Digital Transformation. The ArchiSurance is not real, but the experiences of Kathleen and her team are based on our own collective experiences. Many companies have had the same experiences when going through a Digital Transformation, facing typical issues and finding the appropriate solutions.
At the core we believe every company is looking for speed and agility as they face constant changes and try to stay relevant. In fact, the book was partly written and released during the Covid Pandemic, which was forcing a lot of companies to adjust their Operating Model basically overnight. What we noticed is that for us it was relatively easy to adjust our story, incorporating the new normal into our story, transforming ArchiSurance (the company in our novel) to adjust to the impact of the Covid Pandemic because of the gained agility.
The interesting part here is that we started to write the book well before Covid and we did not start to write the novel because of Covid, but because we as Enterprise Architects realized that the ability to transform an organization is increasingly crucial for its survival. Our collective experience told us this requires the Architecture Profession to be involved in this transformation, not only solving the questions related to the Digital Products and Services, but certainly in enabling the organization to be agile using the Standards and Reference Architectures available to us.
Software, Redundancy & Silo’s
In chapter 2 of The Turning Point, Kathleen experiences first-hand the cumbersome process of bringing an idea from inception to realization. The process was not optimized and blocked the required agility. She had to spend time on the process of approvals and releasing budget, time she would rather use on helping to define the necessary Digital Products.
What Kathleen is experiencing is that over time companies are optimizing work around organizational units and creating patterns of communication between these to be able to produce and deliver products. In fact, this is exactly what we have been seeing in a lot of companies, the struggle around the capability to bring an idea from inception to realization with speed and agility.
By organizing in separate groups focused on different parts of end-to-end process of producing and delivering a new product (e.g. Managing Ideas, Managing Demand, Managing the Portfolio, Managing Projects, Managing Development, Managing Releasing) and optimizing these parts, we actually are creating Silo’s. Even further, it starts to create redundancy, each unit needs to be able to capture the information it requires in its systems, creating replication of storing information and in the worst case, redundancy in capability and systems.
It might be good to recognize this is a natural phenomenon, something called the Conway’s Law. In 1968, Melvin Conway wrote a Paper called “How Do Committees Invent?” with the Thesis “…organizations which design systems (in the broad sense used here) are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations”. Or in our own words, if you design an organization in Silo’s with communication patterns in between, chances are you will end up with an architecture of silo-ed systems which mirror these communication patterns. Jonny Leroy and Matt Simons indicated the reverse (a.k.a. the Inverse Conway Maneuver) could be used to help tackle some of these issues.
Conway wrote his paper looking mainly to software development and the emergence of software systems as a consequence of the communication patterns (note: the law itself however is applicable to non-software systems as well). This makes the understanding of the impact of organizational designs more relevant where Digital Transformation is becoming the norm.
Everything Is Becoming Software
Back in 2011, Marc Andreessen wrote a blog called Why Software is Eating the World. In this blog, Marc already identified one of the core elements of the next big transformation is the fact everything is becoming Software, or as he states: “…we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy”. And it is happening all around us, we all can name the disrupters in different parts of the economy, and the ability to disrupt is for a large part through software based on a vision and strategy. Such vision is hard to achieve without guardrails and focus to start small (MVP) and grown based on needs using building blocks and reusable content.
So a clear observation is that architecting the organization and its communication patterns (to overcome the mentioned Silo’s & Redundancy), and architecting the software which fuels the Digital Transformation (given Software is eating the world), is crucial for the success of the transformation. As a consequence (Enterprise) Architecture is needed at the heart of any Digital Transformation.
Digital Transformation Quality
As an example, at the start of the novel Kathleen struggles to get an understanding of the architecture the company will end up with after the Agile way of working has started to take hold at ArchiSurance. Her group of enterprise architects seem to be constantly chasing information, and when they get something, it is incomplete, out-of-date, and a lot of times conflicting. The digitalization project is failing, and the legacy systems are running on fumes. They are working very hard to implement Agile practices, but instead of enabling transformation, they are only managing to change from a traditional project delivery to scrumming during project execution. The Enterprise Architects were being told by the scrum teams that ‘old style architecture is not needed when working Agile’ and many of them were actively looking to find jobs elsewhere. This will cause a lot of tribal knowledge to walk out the door and could set things back even more.
Kathleen finally realizes that the real issue is not that the company is becoming Agile, it is the fact that the Enterprise Architecture discipline has not been following suit. To really become an Agile workplace, the architecture also needs to be incremental, with enough runway to be in sync with development. Additionally, organizations and people need to be architected in accordance with the flow of work across value streams. This realization was the beginning of a partnership between enterprise architecture, portfolio management and development. The partnership resulted in cross-functional teams that changed the silo culture to one of working together toward common outcomes. By breaking the silo’s this ultimately brought the company in line for a successful digital transformation.
Another challenge in chapter 7 of the novel that was overcome is the governance needed to keep work aligned and on track. Getting agreement between the project-based people, who rally around regular gate reviews and excessive structure, and the intense Agile, Minimum Viable Product (MVP) people, who like to try things out with very little structure in place was tough. Both extremes had their valid points. They needed to go fast with new technology, but it needed to be done with guardrails in place. A new governance structure was formed that brought enterprise architecture, portfolio management, development, and operations together to establish a minimum set of guardrails that allowed people the velocity needed, but also kept them on track to safeguard the security, quality, customer satisfaction, and cost aspects of digital solutions.
Kathleen was able to use many of the traditional enterprise architecture techniques to be more agile when developing digital solutions. Some techniques used were to produce transitional architectures for each phase of a minimum viable product. Others included enterprise architecture methods that facilitated re-use, like building blocks, patterns, and reference architectures. By using Enterprise Architecture techniques they were able to speed up the creation of architecture blueprints and artifacts and provide guardrails to help guide digital solutions.
Digital Product Factory
In any industry, if you want to introduce a new product on the market, you first need to build or adapt the factory that will design and manufacture the product. This is also true for the software industry, and you need architects to build your assembly line to ensure you will produce high quality products that will meet your customer expectations. The IT4IT™ reference architecture is a standard used by architects to help them in designing and building an efficient and cost-effective digital product factory. The IT4IT™ Reference Architecture will enhance the flow of information and work and will ensure the capture of product/service lifecycle deliverables.
The TOGAF® standard is also used by architects to build complex digital products in a consistent manner with a global vision across the whole enterprise. The TOGAF® standard includes methods, processes and techniques that will be the foundation of the Enterprise Architecture capability.
The ArchiMate® standard is used for modelling Business, Application, Data and Technology architectures. Using the ArchiMate® modelling language facilitates communication between architects across the whole enterprise and outside the enterprise. It allows the production of consistent and clear architecture blueprints.
Following are some examples of techniques described in TOGAF® and illustrated in the bonus part of the book:
Stakeholder management is an important discipline that successful architecture practitioners can use to win support from others. It is essential in any initiative to identify the individuals and groups within the organization who will contribute to the development of the architecture, identify those that will gain and those that will lose from its introduction, and then develop a strategy for dealing with them.
This diagram modeled in ArchiMate® shows some stakeholder and their concerns.
The technique known as gap analysis is widely used in the TOGAF® Architecture Development Method (ADM) to validate an architecture that is being developed. The basic premise is to highlight a shortfall between the Baseline Architecture and the Target Architecture; that is, building blocks that have been deliberately omitted, accidentally left out, or not yet defined. The following diagram is the application architecture gap analysis of the ArchiSurance fictitious company. Colors are used to show retired and new applications at target.
A technique described in TOGAF® called Capability-based planning focuses on the planning, engineering, and delivery of strategic business capabilities to the enterprise. The following diagram realized in ArchiMate® shows how the capabilities support the value stream “Acquire Insurance Product” and the result of the capability assessment.
These examples are typically used to help non-Architects to understand the Digital Transformation, what will happen and how the future is shaped. At the core Architecting is about communicating to stakeholders in the language they are comfortable with.
Conclusion & Closing
The Turning Point story will appeal to Project & Program Managers, Product Managers, Portfolio Managers, Transformation Managers, and many other roles within a company because it explains how Enterprise Architecture helps to characterize the work that needs to be accomplished by the organization to drive a transformation initiative. Many of The Open Group standards are used throughout the book to solve complications that arise during the ArchiSurance Digital Transformation. The TOGAF® framework, the IT4IT™ Reference Architecture, and the ArchiMate® modelling language are the primary standards featured. Details and artifacts that were generated are provided in the Bonus Material.
We wrote the Turning Point novel to get the word out that Digital Transformations need Enterprise Architecture to strengthen the quality of the foundational elements and accelerate the development of digital solutions. We would like you to consider how it can bring structure to your organization and get involved with bringing in Enterprise Architecture methods for successful Digital Transformations.
Een bijdrage van
Kees van den Brink. Kees is currently working for ServiceNow, managing a team of Platform Architects for the northern part of Europe. Throughout the larger part of his career, Kees (www.linkedin.com/in/keesvandenbrink/) has been working on solutions supporting digital transformations, currently working for ServiceNow, managing a team of Platform Architects in the Northern part of Europe. Kees strongly believes IT should be regarded as a utility, just like electricity and water, enabling businesses to transform through optimization and innovation. As a user/consumer of Digital products one should be not be concerned about how it is delivered; it should be consumed according to choice. This means a shift to thinking in products and value streams and how they are used to help an organization on their digitalization journey. Kees is a strong believer, therefore, in initiatives that help to bring standardization to life, like the IT4IT Standard, which he helps to establish and maintain.
 The Turning Point: a novel about agile architects building a digital foundation is a fictional story about a company on a Digital Transformation journey. The story is seen through the eyes of the main character, Dr. Kathleen Stone, Chief Architect for ArchiSurance. Kathleen and her enterprise architecture team uncover many of the typical problems faced by companies as they make decisions to deploy digital technologies. The novel describes the foundational work necessary for companies that would like to deploy digital technology at a faster pace. It describes the difficulties that companies encounter due to organizational structures that have caused redundant roles, processes, information, and tools over the course of many years. This is frequently the case when functional groups focus on their own goals versus common outcomes across value streams. The ArchiSurance Digital Transformation calls for a new way of working in cross-functional teams that align with the flow of work and new technology being deployed.