There is something symbolic about it: organising an IT conference in the Central Hall in London. Right next to the Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, The Open Group’s Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference takes place in one of the landmark buildings of the protestant Methodist church. Established in the 18th century by John Wesley, the Methodist movement consists of people that aim to live a devout, serious life. Not some noncommittal philosophising about the heavenly glory and all that, but practicing faith every dag again, through dedicated, hard work. It’s only when you share your meal in the soup kitchen with the underprivileged of this world, that you start to experience the real essence of faith, so the Methodists believe.
Interesting thinking and at the very least, it gives an extra dimension to the panel discussion on the podium. The topic today is the eternal tension between the long term and the short term. In the panel team we find enterprise architects, IT strategists and a market analyst (no, not exactly the underprivileged). The hypothesis discussed is that the shallowness of today’s economic climate asks for a more careful, architected approach. That way, the requirements of the business can be much better aligned with solutions and it will be easier to achieve – and demonstrate – the value of IT.
A politically correct argument that nobody can really oppose to.
But one of the panel members, the CIO of Transport for London, is in no mood to be politically correct. “Yes, architecture and strategy” he pronounces these words with just the subtlest hint of disdain “all of that is absolutely crucial, but if the buses don’t run tomorrow because of a computer error nothing else matters much anymore; let’s make sure we master the basics first”. Being a seasoned manager of quite some IT departments, he is proud to tell the audience that he brought back the size of his architects team to just one fifth. “Anybody who doesn’t truly understand what happens in the everyday operations or fails to bring direct value to it, is of no use to me”.
Now that warms up the audience. John Wesley would be proud of it: how spiritual and high-aiming our ambitions may be, we can only truly live up to them through the sobering experience of daily practice. Dreaming about Business/IT fusion, perpetual innovation and Web 2.0? Fine. Just make sure my workstation functions every morning first.
And the one does not exclude the other. Having an extraordinary good grip on infrastructure and core applications motivates: it generates exactly the positive energy that is needed to explore new ways over and over again. The foundation of change therefore is in repetition, routine and control.
Wax On, Wax Off, as another spiritual leader would say. Change yourself, but always with both feet firmly on the ground. For that, you don’t need to be a Methodist to say hallelujah.