Enterprise by Design, Not Chance

Publish date:

This is the last of my three part series here on IT Transformation and Enterprise Architecture, and reflects on the words of wisdom from Andy Mulholland’s swan song post before his retirement IT professionals: Very much the time to change our approach and his final advice to the IT Professionals- “It’s time for change – […]

This is the last of my three part series here on IT Transformation and Enterprise Architecture, and reflects on the words of wisdom from Andy Mulholland’s swan song post before his retirement IT professionals: Very much the time to change our approach and his final advice to the IT Professionals- “It’s time for change – for all of us!”

I would like to take you back to the starting of my original post Holding the Candlelight Vigil for Traditional Enterprise Architecture and Traditional IT.

Fast forward to 21st century and we have a situation where the Business Users are in the 21st century, the Enterprise IT Department is in the 20th century and IT – Business Alignment (EA) is in the 19th century.”

To begin the transformative journey of change, which enables IT Departments to constantly catch up with the imagination of the business, first we need to change our thinking.

Let’s forget IT for a moment. The biggest change in human thinking and our knowledge of the universe (and who we are) came after we realized that ” The earth, the sun, the solar system, milky way galaxy is NOT at the center of the Universe” Similarly a realization and acceptance of the truth that “Information Technology is not the center of the business universe” but is a part of a set of interconnected interrelated, and interdependent larger enterprise ecosystem, will liberate you to see a very different perspective.

 Change your thinking, Change your world.

I don’t see innovation as all that amazing or complicated. The amazing part is being able to understand the problem you are trying to solve.” Ralph Szygenda General Motors CIO, March 30, 2005.

The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

The understanding that many vital “systemic problems” that plague most enterprises today are complex and involve multiple factors, and actors, and are at least partly the result of past actions that were taken to alleviate them with a siloed approach, will help us to think differently to address the problems in a holistic manner.

The key is bringing problem solving skills and capabilities people have, by viewing the “systemic problems” as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended complexity or consequences. We should start looking at how the equilibrium of a system is changed when you change one part of the system, and proactively adapt, evolve and mutate as change happens, by paying attention to the feedback and make constant corrections until you attain the equilibrium again. 

Standardize, Simplify, Integrate, and Collaborate.

My golden design principles for the transformative thinking of Enterprise, Enterprise Architecture and IT are – Standardize, Integrate, Simplify, and Collaborate.

The right business outcomes happen in some enterprise most of the time, in most enterprises some of the time, but an Enterprise Architect’s desire is that right business outcomes should happen in all enterprises all of the time, for that to become a reality, outcomes should happen by design and not chance. If you look at the nature (universe) it has lot of entropy- chaos, and complexity, but look at a higher level, things didn’t and don’t happen in the universe by chance. There is an Intelligent Design that physicist and cosmologist are seeing, there are laws of Physics that decides the predictability from the smallest atom to the largest galaxies. One lesson that nature teaches is that everything in the world is connected to other things. As John Muir famously wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

In the context of an enterprise, that design is the primary function of Enterprise Architecture, the intelligent design that EA should strive for, where in enterprise business outcomes just don’t happen by chance, but happen because they are designed to happen that way. Aristotle was known for the phrase, “The more perfect a nature is, the fewer means it requires for its operation”, let me emphasize we are talking about Architecting the Enterprise as a whole and not a part of it.

  • Standardize: Standardization should lead to 3 enterprise outcomes-

    • Trustworthiness: Instill confidence that lead to lasting trust between all the parts of the enterprise eco system,– Trust in People (Employees, Customers, Partners, Suppliers, and Society) , Trust in Technology (Devices, Hardware, Software, and Data), Trust in Processes.
    • Predictable Execution: Justifiable confidence that the enterprise functions as a whole as intended when strategies and operational plans get executed, not just a parts.
    • Conformance: Planned and systematic conformance to enterprise values, enterprise vision, enterprise goals, enterprise strategies, enterprise standards, and also societal values.
  • Simplify – Don’t add unnecessary complexity: It is very important to remember that complexity adds risks and risks decreases predictable execution and also complexity is accumulative and a drag on agility (what business is looking for). Follow the principle from the mediaeval philosopher William Occam – Occam’s razor: “One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything” or simply stated – simplest answer is often correct. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, most probably the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.
  • Integrate: Most enterprises have many technologies, and processes that they have acquired/adopted over a long period of time, these technologies and processes have become islands of their own and they can’t be made to work as one seamless platform or engine for innovation. We need to basically take the mundane stuff that doesn’t differentiate and make it work together; we need to start thinking how we can make all the disparate parts of the enterprise ecosystem consisting of People, Process and Technology to work together as one holistic “System” – the foundation for seamless integration, without that foundation IT cannot innovate any more, but will be constantly fighting fires.
    Mutate: When we think about integration, we should not just think about backward integration, we should also think about forward integration (Mutation). 4 Billion years ago life on earth stared as a bacteria, after that we become a fish, after that a frog, after that a monkey, then now a super-monkey, and the fun is we are at half of the story. Do we know what we will be a billion years from now? And if we don’t understand this and, if we don’t integrate that we are mutants, we completely miss the story, because every generation thinks we are the final one.
    We have come a long way since Thomas Watson president of IBM said in 1943 “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” To Ken Olson in 1977 “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home?” Many of us act like a concept like cloud computing is the final chapter, While we cannot predict the future, we need to design and integrate for mutation, especially whenever we are going through a disruptive technology phase like cloud computing, and mobile computing.
  • Collaborate: This is the key to trustworthiness. Trust does not happen automatically – in order for trust to be earned, worth (value) and integrity must be proven over time. How does a Business to Customer, IT to Business, Employee to Employer earn or prove their worth (value) and how do they show integrity? It has to be through collaboration and positive interaction, and ultimately confidence building that leads to trust. Collaboration also leads to listening for feedback and making constant systemic course corrections to stabilize any imbalance in the equilibrium.

It’s Time for Change – For all of us!

What does that change entail? To answer that question we will have to go back to December 1 1862, when Abraham Lincoln addressed the second US Congress.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Yes, we in IT must disenthrall ourselves and rise with the occasion, and we must think anew and act anew, because the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present in world of Business and Information Technology, because if we don’t Information Technology and Business will move on without us (its pioneering practitioners).

I would like to end this series with a snippet from a poem by William Butler Yeats – “He wishes for the cloths of Heaven. ” – “…I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” And every day and every where the businesses spread their dreams beneath our feet, and (we as Architects and IT professionals) should tread softly, because we are treading on their dreams.

Related Posts


The Distribution Transformation Voyage: Leveraging the Open Insurer Architecture

Chad Hersh
Date icon December 17, 2020

As insurers look at their overall strategy for a digital transformation, they will need to...


Two considerations when migrating analytics platforms to the cloud

Date icon December 10, 2020

When migrating to the cloud, AWS provides an extensive library of services that encourages...