6 years, 8 months ago

Business Architecture in the New Normal

Business architecture is a challenging capability. Designing the business, optimizing its processes and streamlining the way information is collected and used is very interesting, but most of all very difficult. We have entered the New Normal, crafted by crises we had (or have?), rapid spread and adoption of ideas and technology, and the expiration date of common business paradigms is close.  

I read a very interesting blog post by KLM’s SVP e-commerce Mr. Martijn van der Zee: “I Have a Lack of Strategic Vision” in which he points out that strategic visions in PowerPoint won’t cut-it for Air France-KLM in the digital era we are in today. He gives a number of reasons why long-term strategic plans are not working for him:

  1. Vision documents or strategy PowerPoints are drafted from an internal perspective (the company, or the department of a specific employee).
  2. These documents present a simplified overview of what’s happening in the outside world. 
  3. The author would feel really good about the document and would confuse strategic vision and effort with progress.

“In this new digital world, nobody knows where we’re going. The only way to get a glimpse of what’s happening is by trying to understand what our customer wants, build a working prototype and test it in the real world. Fail fast and often. PowerPoints won’t help you do that; building, testing and tweaking will.”

Prototyping in projects and setting up experiments are all part of a learning cycle in organizations. John Boyd introduced the OODA-loop to express a decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act. Since the speed of opportunities passing by is increasing, your organization need to speed up its OODA-cycle. How do you contribute to the OODA-loop of your organization?

OODA-loop for learning in organizations

The classic Architects view

Architects typically will argue that the temporary websites and databases behind the suggested prototype approach tends to stay a little longer than innovators and project managers promise when deploying them.  Architects know all about legacy, organic growth of organizations and their application landscapes, as well as the enormous efforts it will take to rationalize these landscapes. Architects prefer to craft a plan up-front, discuss the underlying principles (hoping to get them approved by senior management), design an integral picture of the preferred future, analyze the impact of the proposed changes and then start projects.

The internal focus and lack of speed in this approach are brought to the table by KLM’s Martijn van der Zee mentioned above. MIT’s Joi Ito goes even further in his TED-talk on innovation in the era of the Internet, by stating that the internet is fundamentally changing the way we innovate. Connecting, sharing and solving problems is faster than ever, due to the internet. The old-school “MBA-way of innovation” is way to slow and does not benefit from the connected world we are in today.

Okay, right… but what does that mean for the way we are architecting (in) organizations?

The alternative: Contribute to flexibility and scalability

  1. Architects in the New Normal should not hit the breaks on innovation, but facilitate innovation with all means they have at hand. By creating and presenting reusable building blocks (e.g. standard processes, information bundles, application services, technical standards), architects contribute to speeding up change. The more well-documented reusable building blocks you have available, the faster you can chain them into a working prototype with added steps/functionality to be bought (from the cloud) or build. 
  2. Architects in the New Normal should be able to engage with people that prefer other communication and learning styles then the one they prefer. “Doing” and “Concrete experience” is what business managers typically prefer, where architects prefer a style oriented on “Thinking”, and in some cases “Observation and reflection”. There is no wrong or right in these learning styles, it just helps you to take a different approach and go through all steps of learning to maximize the learning experience.

    Kolb’s learning styles

  3. Architects in the New Normal should have a vision on speed. What are the fast moving processes and channels in the organization and where do we need to maximize stability? Gartner refers to this as Pace Layering, to distinguish “Systems of innovation”, “Systems of differentiation” and “Systems of record”. Although Gartner applies this concept on applications, one can abstract from that and look at business capabilities in general, from the perspective of these layers. All layers have their own pace of change and capabilities can move over time from the innovation-layer to differentiation layer on to the record layer. 
    Also architects in the New Normal should provide a set of criteria to help business managers decide on scaling up an experiment, including scenarios on the integration or re-engineering of functionality that was developed in a stand-alone experiment, to have it fit with the rest of the application landscape. Scalability is a key challenge, both for start-ups as well as for experiments in larger organizations. But also other kinds of –ilities are an issue in moving from experiment to full-blown solution, e.g. maintainability, security, interoperability, etc. etc.

    Architecture contributes to scalability

    A very important development in the New Normal in this respect is the cloud. Embracing the cloud with a clear cloud strategy will be beneficial for all three tasks pointed out above here. Cloud-based experiments are often much easier to set up than on-premise solutions (where you need to buy servers, licenses, etc. before you can even start to experiment), and scalability is often less of an issue. On the other hand, integration of cloud solutions with on-premise ones (or with other cloud stuff) is not always easy. Architects can contribute there with a vision on cloud integration and define a set of standards to minimize integration effort.

    Business architecture techniques help you in this process. BiZZdesign applies these techniques in the tools, training and consultancy we provide. We strongly believe architecture capabilities should be focussing on the creation of business value from rationalisation and optimization as well as from growth and innovation.