13 years, 6 months ago

What have software executives ever done for us?

@JohnSchlesinger asks What has the enterprise architect ever done for us? (@AtosOriginBlog, November 2010)

John criticizes the IBM strategy in the late 1980s, especially the emphasis on Systems Application Architecture (SAA) and the neglect of CICS and IMS (John himself was a CICS developer at IBM Hursley), and hints that enterprise architecture could have saved them. He believes that IBM executives failed to understand computing properly because their own experience was limited to personal productivity and communication applications.

There were people at that time who were doing things we’d now label as enterprise architecture, within IBM and elsewhere, but these were often the very people who were building SAA. If IBM had had a full enterprise architecture function at that time, surely its role would have been far more than what John characterizes as a typical task of enterprise archiecture: “putting together the enterprise applications so that they completely implement the value chain and maximise its straight through processing rate”.

John attributes the failure of the IBM strategy to ignorance among IBM executives of what he calls “enterprise applications” But I think it makes more sense to attribute this failure to ignorance among IBM’s customers, and to IBM’s failure to communicate the advantages of SAA to its customers. The people in the customers who would have been most likely to understand the potential advantages of SAA would have been enterprise architects, if these had existed in those days; IBM’s error was to build a product for which the market didn’t yet exist.

John also blames Earl Wheeler (or possibly his staff) for basing SAA on using screen-scraping as a connection mechanism, and for suppressing technical debate about this. Clearly a preference for screen-scraping is an act of technical architecture rather than business architecture. But there may have been all sorts of political reasons for this preference, so we cannot conclude that it was reached out of pure technical ignorance, Indeed, the refusal (by Wheeler’s staff) to allow John to speak at a vendor conference reinforces my suspicion that it was a political decision rather than a technical one.

Looking on the Internet to find out more about Earl Wheeler, I found instead a criticism of Lou Gerstner from 1994, which made two interesting statements.

‘He proceeded to deliver a pitch which sounded ominously close to Earl Wheeler’s SAA (Systems Application Architecture). ‘

‘The “techie” tone of the speech also suggested that it was written by someone with an engineering and/or manufacturing mentality, not by a “business architect.” ‘

[A “Play-by-Play” Analysis of Gerstner’s Six Strategic Initiatives (Annex Bulletin, March 1994)]

However, today’s enterprise architecture practice has been significantly influenced by a body of work carried out at IBM and elsewhere, including the construction of artefacts like SAA, and the prevailing understanding of the relationship between business architecture and technical architecture is still dominated by the work of ex-IBM people like James Martin and John Zachman.

Clearly my friend John Schlesinger has far better ways of integrating enterprise applications these days, but obviously that’s not all there is to enterprise architecture.