In a recent visit to Germany I was privileged to have dinner with a seasoned solution architect. Over a vegetarian German pizza, we discussed implementing agile into legacy systems, the rise of micro services and then the perils of strategic architecture and how a business can become a victim. It sounds like a dichotomy strategic and architecture, strategy is fluid and every changing and architecture can be static if not managed correctly.
What is meant by Strategic Architecture?
Its architecture that is strategic obviously! This would be a very small blog post if I left it at that. My personal view is that strategic architecture is when the technology aligns with the mission, objective, strategy and tactics (MOST) of the business.
You will have come across transformation initiatives in your working lives which drive change and cost a lot of money. Transformation occurs for many reasons including enhancing customer experience, enabling new revenue streams and reducing the cost of technology ownership. Ultimately keeping old and new customers happy, reducing costs of doing business and sometimes just to stay in business.
How do you make sure your architecture is strategic?
The tales of the 3 solution architects.
Once upon a time there were 3 solution architects.
Steve was a perfectionist he ordered his potatoes chips in size order on his plate before eating them! He mandated everyone to follow the architecture exactly as prescribed with no deviation. Sara enjoyed cooking and experimenting with food, she followed the general premises of recipes. She understood the business strategy and was pragmatic in her approach of adhering to strategic architecture. Paul enjoyed the wild west, when he wasn’t watching Clint Eastwood films, his mantra was as long as it works the job is done.
They were sent to the 3 corners of the earth to work on separate digital transformation projects armed with their reference architecture. After 12 months the transformation was “done”! Post go live the definition of done (DoD) was really tested.
Cow boy Paul’s project finished first, the business was happy, it was cheap quick and the system worked. However, as more customers used the system, unplanned outages, low system availability and slow response times became the norm. As the architecture was not regulated and many tactical solutions the changes became cumbersome and costly and required expertise across many bespoke systems.
Perfectionist Steve’s project was delayed and over budget. The project spent a lot of money making sure all the architecture was strategic and all services irrelevant of cost followed what was prescribed. The cost of change was very high so feature changes were prohibited until the team showed a positive ROI. Over time the organisation changed whilst the architecture stayed the same. The system became some what irrelevant to the goals of the organisation.
Pragmatic Sara’s project finished as estimated, the cost was within tolerance and the system worked. Sara ensured loosely coupled architecture using her knowledge of the business and knowing the costs she ensured the architecture was relevant, cost effective and inline with the business strategy. Her pragmatic approach balanced strategic architecture with the business value, she recommended solutions that were generally strategic. The project implemented appropriate monitoring and health checks proactively swapping out end of life architecture.
Forcing the business to invest in rigid strategic architecture will cause the business to feel like victims. Remember strategic architecture has a use by date. What is strategic today may not be strategic tomorrow.
To ensure architecture is strategic and relevant their needs to be an understanding of ROI inline with the business strategy. For transformation to be a success you need a strong cohesion between the business strategy and the underlining technology architecture, so that when the business changes the technology can react seamlessly and compliment the change.
Pragmatism in architecture does not mean short term thinking these questions still apply:
1)Is it flexible?
2)Is it maintainable?
3)Is it sustainable?
4)Is it interchangeable?
5)Does it enable business value?
All models and architecture can be defined as a future state, but this does not make them strategic. Only by aligning them to the the mission, objective, strategy and tactics of the organisation will make them strategic. Without a deep understanding of the business goals your strategic architecture is destine to fail.