9 years, 3 months ago

IT-oriented versus IT-centric

Link: http://weblog.tetradian.com/2012/01/27/it-oriented-versus-it-centric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=it-oriented-versus-it-centric

Earlier today I came across a Tweet from the Open Group that pointed to an interview with Dr Leon Keppleman at University of North Texas. Given that the note was from Open Group, no surprise that it was mostly about IT, but to me, the headline was somewhat of a breath of fresh air, and I said so when I reTweeted it:

  • tetradian: RT @theopengroup: On @infomgmt about “Getting Holistic with Enterprise Architecture” http://shar.es/fWDYZ >strong recommend #entarch

To me the article is a very good illustration of the crucial distinction between IT-oriented versus IT-centric.

In essence, the whole interview is all about IT, and IT-education: nothing much more than that. And parts of it show the usual IT-type errors, such as ‘information-systems’ solely in terms of software and the like, without any apparent reference to the human side of information. And it doesn’t exactly off all that well, either:

We have a pretty strong and broad curriculum, the students get several different programming classes, good grounding in network technology and database technology and software.

Which is not exactly what those of us in whole-enterprise architecture would be likely to regard as a ‘broad curriculum’. At first glance, it can seem so much “Oh no, not again…” that I wasn’t much surprised when a colleague complained at me for reTweeting it in such glowing terms.

Yet there are several points that make it stand out from the crowd. Keppleman continues the above with these comments (with the interviewer’s question in italic):

But we also try to bring in the big picture, how it really fits together. Though most of our students take entry-level jobs working on a particular project or part of a system, whether it’s infrastructure or software or some combination, we want them to leave with some sense that the things they work on are actually part of a much larger enterprise. That piece they are working on needs to be not just a good piece, but a great piece that creates value for the whole.

That sounds like a sales pitch for enterprise architecture.

Yes, and in my career it came to me backwards, too. My original focus was software development and obviously the importance of getting the requirements right. Well, it turns out that to have the requirements right, you need what you are working on in the context of the whole because otherwise you might build a great system but it doesn’t create value. It might be adding redundancy or be the 73rd system to connect 72 other systems. Even if those other 72 systems are part of stovepiped business units and are perfectly aligned with them and serve their needs, as a whole the enterprise is wasting a ton of money and a ton of resources and talent. That experience is what brought me to the enterprise architecture space.

The way I read that is that whatever you’re doing in software or whatever, there’s no point in doing it if it doesn’t support the overall big-picture. Whatever we’re doing, it’s always part of the whole – so we have to be aware of the whole, at all times. Hence the need for enterprise-architecture – which, as can be seen from above, has to be a real ‘architecture of the enterprise’.

In many people’s view of ‘enterprise’-architecture, IT presents itself as the centre of the business-world, the one undisputed core around which everything else revolves. ‘The business’, if mentioned at all, is described solely in terms of ‘anything not-IT that might affect IT’. (If you don’t believe me, go ask anyone not from IT whether TOGAF’s so-called ‘Business Architecture’ makes any sense to them in business terms…) That’s IT-centrism, and it’s a really serious problem in current enterprise-architecture.

But the article above, and the overall mood of the piece, is not IT-centric.

Sure, it’s unashamedly IT-oriented – no doubt about that. Dr Keppleman’s unit is nominally part of a business-school, but as he says, “most of our students take entry-level jobs working on a particular project or part of a system… infrastructure or software or some combination”.  (There’s a mild mis-labelling there, perhaps – it’s not what many of us would think of as ‘business’ – but that’s about the worst that I can see of it.) It is what it is: it’s just IT – and it doesn’t really claim to be anything else.

And yet it does maintain a broader awareness beyond itself. It’s clear that IT is seen as an important role, yet also that it’s just one part amongst many within that greater whole:

“…help us change how we work together and communicate within organizations to be more integrated, more holistic”.

I’ll admit that I really don’t like IT-centrism: it’s been the bane of the EA industry for far too many years. But I’m definitely not ‘against IT’, as some people have portrayed me to be. In a true ‘architecture of the enterprise’, everything matters, in depth as well as in breadth: so I’m very happy to see a piece that’s as IT-oriented as this, and yet does also know how to play its part within them whole.

IT-oriented is not the same as IT-centric.