I was in a strategy meeting last week when our HR representative asked me what the value of Architecture was. Being non technical, he was struggling to understand why we needed an architecture team. My first response was, "Did you just get out of a budget cut meeting?" I was joking but in the back of my mind I couldn't help wonder how many non technical executives were thinking the same. So I set out to write a post about the value of architecture. David Linthicum just posted a timely article called Why Enterprise Architecture is a Corporate Responsibility. In the article he talks about compliance, the need to adapt to business change rapidly, and the need to keep up with competitors who are becoming more agile. At the end of the article there was a great paragraph that I'll call out here...
Thus, without good architectural governance and ongoing corporate management pressure to redirect resources to tactical IT projects, the enterprise architectures continue to become more unnecessarily complex, static, and fragile. What was a mere annoyance only a few years ago, is today a clearly limiting factor in the businesses' ability to create shareholder value. The company can't easily shift into new and emerging markets, acquire companies, and adjust major business processes without a great deal of latency. In some cases, they are completely unable to change. In other words, things are bad and getting worse.I agree with David on this point. For years, many IT shops ignored the need for EA because it was hard to do, required consistent processes, and cost a good chunk of change to implement. So we built stovepipe application after stovepipe application with no consistency and no integration between systems. We got away with this approach for a number of years but eventually reached the point of diminishing returns. Now with years of developing software with no standards, no consistency, and with no vision, many IT shops have become serious bottlenecks that prevent their companies from quickly jumping on new opportunities and have become a very expensive cost center. Time spent on maintenance and production support keeps increasing and new projects take too long to build. Instead of putting a focus on architecture, many companies look to outsourcing as the answer. If you can't do it right here, good luck doing it right there!
So here is my answer to my HR colleague's question about the value of architecture. Today's business environment is all about speed to market, cost reduction, business optimization and reengineering, and alignment. A good enterprise architecture can help a company meet these objectives. Throw in SOA, and you can meet these objectives while leveraging your years worth of investments in your legacy applications. So what are the advantages of EA?
- Business Alignment - Aligning technology with business opportunities and corporate vision allows IT to create value for the business as opposed to being just a cost center. Knowing where the business is going allows IT to be proactive and implement the right technologies to enable the business to meet its goals.
- Reduced maintenance costs - Consistent approach to software development makes it easier to build, test, and maintain. Resource allocation and utilization becomes more cost effective when you can move people across applications. Building consistent software and interfaces makes it easier to leverage your talent pool.
- Better control of assets - Planning and roadmaps allow IT to focus on the right resources on the right projects while using the right technologies. Put together plans to retire older technologies that are expensive to maintain and procure new technologies that map up to business objectives.
- Speed to market - Once established, EA allows IT to improve delivery cycles through reuse. Of course, this requires IT folks to not get too hung up on frameworks and rely more on people and agile best practices.
- Extending the enterprise - Today's demands require IT to connect to customers, partners, and suppliers. Architecting a secure platform for integrating with external entities can be a huge competitive advantage. Doing it wrong can be a disaster.