Making Architecture Success VisibleBy Bob Rhubart
When you see something, say something.
Lonneke Dikmans, an Oracle ACE director and an enterprise architect with Approach Alliance in the Netherlands, was working to implement an enterprise architecture at one of Holland’s largest municipalities. Ironically, the success of that architecture made its value all but invisible to stakeholders in the organization.
Early in that endeavor, newly completed development projects and those already underway were subject to architectural review by Dikmans and her team. “We would say, ‘Oh, that’s a shame; you built your own document management system. But we already have one. We won’t let you go into production with what you did,’” Dikmans says. “We chased the process.”
Dikmans and her team are now more proactive in their reviews, implementing the new architecture by heading off redundant or noncompliant projects long before they begin and speeding approved projects into production. The architecture is working, and there’s the rub.
“Nobody notices us because we’re no longer in the way of moving on. We’re actually speeding stuff up, but they can’t see that it’s because of the architecture,” says Dikmans.
One problem is that increases in efficiency that occur behind the IT curtain may not be obvious to business stakeholders. “If we’re talking speeds and feeds—‘oh, I made it go x times faster’—business owners don’t necessarily care because they’re still getting the service levels that they need,” says Mans Bhuller, an enterprise architect and a senior director with Oracle’s Enterprise Solutions Group.
Mark Simpson, an Oracle ACE director and SOA practice director at Griffiths Waite in the U.K., says, “The challenge is in aligning what you deliver in IT with the business so those business users actually see that IT is a lot more effective.”
But business stakeholders can be a tough crowd. “There’s such a huge focus at the moment around immediate return on investments,” Simpson says, “that it always seems to be the architecture role that gets squeezed.”
Simpson suggests getting stakeholders to think beyond bottom-line ROI to business sustainability and the reduction of what he calls “architectural debt.” “Get them thinking: is this project going to make things harder to rework, harder to maintain, and more risky moving forward to both the business and IT?”
“If you can show through each milestone on the project that you’re keeping the architectural debt in check or you’re actually reducing it, not only are you delivering business benefits directly, but you’re delivering long-term sustainability,” Simpson says.
Still, proving those business benefits can be difficult without baseline metrics. “If you don’t have any insight into IT efforts before enterprise architecture,” Dikmans asks, “how can you tell that you made a difference?”
And finding those before-architecture metrics can be tricky. “Sometimes you don’t have the insight into the business to collect the metrics,” says Bhuller. “In some cases, you’re not allowed to because you’re just told to architect something new.”
One solution is to look to similar organizations. “You can collect at least something anecdotally close to what you do,” Bhuller says, “and then try and extrapolate upon that.”
“For every business, there are benchmarks, leaders, and laggards,” Bhuller says. He suggests Stratascope and other business research services for information from which to infer a baseline model.
Even with compelling metrics and a strong before-and-after story, don’t wait for stakeholders to notice. Take your architecture success story to them early and often.
Enterprise Architect Pat Shepherd, also with Oracle’s Enterprise Solutions Group, recommends regular meetings with all stakeholders, from the architects to the business people. “Define a crisp, clear message,” he says. “You have to be able to speak the language of whomever you’re meeting with, but you have to call out the successes all the time.”
“It’s important to keep a running list of things that have been successful and call those out,” says Shepherd.
“That’s actually one of the things I noticed that helps,” says Dikmans. “People have the feeling that something is growing because I’m updating the list.”
Bob Rhubart (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of the architect community on Oracle Technology Network (OTN), the host of the OTN Arch2Arch podcast series, and the author of the ArchBeat blog (blogs.oracle.com/archbeat).