Something Old, Something NewBy Bob Rhubart
Bridging the generation gap—in enterprise architecture
Enterprise architecture is about change, about how a business evolves from its as-is to its to-be state. But if you think getting from as-is to to-be is a simple matter of swapping out old technologies, think again.
“Enterprise architecture,” says Oracle ACE Director Mike van Alst, “has almost nothing to do with technology.” But it has almost everything to do with people.
On the organizational/human side of the enterprise architecture equation, the convergence of Baby Boomers and members of Generations X and Y—as both employees of the enterprise and as its customers—has exposed differences in each generation’s experience and expectations. Does bridging the generation gap hold an important key to enterprise architecture success?
Do fish swim?
“A lot of the old architects—well, I’m one of them—have IT backgrounds,” observes van Alst, an independent architect. “A lot of the younger architects have more of a business background. That helps the older architects maintain a focus on business properties.”
Younger architects, in turn, can benefit from the fact that older architects have been around the block more than once. “We can help them,” van Alst says, “by adding our experience with all those solutions that did not work well for the last 25 years.”
That experience can also help to imbue younger architects with a long view that can counteract the hype that often surrounds new technologies.
“Usually, in 10 years of experience, people have been sucked into enough hype cycles that they get a little jaded,” says Jeff Davies, a principal product manager at Oracle. “They’re no longer going to believe that Technology X is going to save the world.”
But Davies warns that hype-resistant architects shouldn’t become closed-minded.
“You need to have a healthy skepticism of the technologies you’re looking at, but you need to be open to new ideas,” he says. “You need to be looking to the future.”
Of course, any roadmap to the enterprise’s future has a starting point in the past. “New technologies are always popping up, and things are always evolving,” says Oracle ACE Director Jordan Braunstein, founder of Visual Integrator Consulting. “The enterprise architect has to keep up with the pace of change,” says Braunstein, “but he’s got to be retrospective as well. Maybe he’s got to understand what that old COBOL system is doing so that he has a better understanding of how to support the business. The enterprise architect has to be able to dive into these old systems and create business models on top of them, and abstract them and leverage them.”
Although old technologies still have a place in the evolving enterprise, stasis at any level poses a significant problem.
But that imbalance is far from permanent. “Change is happening faster because you have more different generations of people in companies now,” van Alst says.
Finding ways to bridge the gaps between those generations within the enterprise can help to facilitate change and keep pace with the rapidly evolving marketplace. Social computing is likely to play a significant role.
“Younger people are used to doing things with other people even if they don’t know them, don’t see them,” says van Alst. “These are our potential customers for the next few years, but they are also our potential employees. So you have two forces to contend with: your marketplace demands it, and your own employees demand it. Social computing is definitely going to change the way we think and work.”
Bridging the enterprise generation gap is more than just a nice idea. “Cooperation in itself will be a very pervasive principle,” says van Alst, adding that it’s “a guiding principle for enterprise architecture.”
Bob Rhubart (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of the architect community on Oracle Technology Network, the host of the Oracle Technology Network ArchBeat podcast series, and the author of the ArchBeat blog.