I was first introduced to the Winchester Mystery House in 2003 when I met Steven Spewak (one of the Enterprise Architecture discipline’s founding fathers) at a conference in Washington DC. Steven used the Winchester House as a great metaphor to illustrate what happens if we do not plan our business and IT-systems. And it is a great picture! It is hard to understand why we time and again build our business models and supporting infrastructures with no blueprint, no rigour, and no understanding of the problems that we might be passing on to the next generation when we build virtual Winchester houses.
We recently bought a house in Copenhagen. It is a small house build in 1935 located very close to the beautiful Amager Beach. We love the location and we love the house. BUT, modernizing the house has been strenuous! The house itself is solid. The problem is all the home ‘improvement’ projects that the previous owner added to the house with no master building plan. Most of the ‘improvements’ were home-made, worst-of-breed solutions that we had to remove and rebuild from scratch. After six months of modernizing, the house is now like we want it. But, is it human nature to build Winchester houses without a plan…?
My experience is that most people think that they plan ahead. The problem is that they often do not know their future (business) needs and demands. And therefore they only build for the short term…
Digital Winchester Houses
Like our small Winchester House in Copenhagen, the information systems of many large organizations and corporations are under perpetual construction — growing, changing, duplicating, multiplying. Creating a master building plan – for a house or information systems architecture – has a tendency to get very complicated and technically focused. Therefore, many organizations have a tendency not to plan for the development of their digital platforms.
The problem seems to be that, on the one hand, we create Winchester Houses when we do not have a master building plan. On the other hand, we have a tendency to create complicated architectural frameworks and methods that are not linked to implementation.
Thus, as suggested in my research, I think that our IT plans must provide a comprehensive and coherent view across business, information, and technology. That is, not just to guide the design of single IT systems – but to deliver business change supported and enabled by well planned digital platforms. In my practical work, our national IT planning take advantage of the Danish Reference Models. With “just enough” structure in these models to understand business, it-services and technology, we can build more complete and consistent IT-architectures that result in greater reuse, process standardization, and shared digital platforms for innovation.
Strategic IT planning – and enterprise architecture in general – must be understood as a meta-discipline that embraces, supplements, and extends other disciplines such as IT-Governance, Portfolio Management, Business Process Management, and Information Management.
Government enterprise architecture programs should be adopted in alignment with these other disciplines, address shifting business needs in partnerships, and then use “just enough” architectural content and demanding timetables to drive changes in the way IT performs.
I wish people would build houses – and digital platforms – like that in the future…