Panning for Gold
By Bob Rhubart
Finding real value in conversations about enterprise architecture
Everybody’s talking about enterprise architecture (EA). The conversations are happening in offices and meeting rooms and on blogs and social networks and everywhere else IT professionals congregate in the real and virtual worlds. And while all that jawboning does a great job of increasing awareness of what most would agree is an issue of no small importance, how much of it has any real value in helping organizations implement and benefit from EA?
There is gold buried in the growing mountain of words about EA. But it is rare and precious.
One problem, according to Oracle ACE Director Jordan Braunstein, a SOA, enterprise architecture, and middleware partner at TUSC, is that much of the conversation about EA is too academic.
“Some of our customers see EA as an ivory tower type of fluff exercise,” says Braunstein. “They just want us to implement Oracle SOA Suite, crank out business process models and workflows, and get actual code out the door. It’s been a challenge trying to educate them, trying to make them understand EA and not ignore it.”
Todd Biske, a veteran enterprise architect and SOA author, believes that conversations about EA are too infrequent and focus too often on project architecture.
“We still struggle at really defining the enterprise piece of it,” Biske says. “IT still operates on a project-by-project basis. And admittedly, that’s where a lot of the focus is. But you can pick anything that has more of an enterprise moniker, be it application management or project management office activities. They all struggle with the same challenge: how do we create more systemic practices with an enterprise scope?” That challenge will continue, Biske believes, until stakeholders can achieve a better understanding of the IT processes involved and a broader perspective that sees beyond a single project or domain.
“Until then, the conversations will continue to drill down to project-level, rather than enterprise-level, activities,” says Biske, “and the enterprise team will struggle to show how they are adding value beyond that project architect role.”
Pat Shepherd, an enterprise architect with Oracle’s enterprise solutions group, believes that conversations about EA are too short and too narrow, particularly when SOA is involved.
“Sometimes the conversation leads to an agreement of what SOA means in general and what it means in relation to customer needs, or what it means to a specific project,” Shepherd says. “But sometimes that’s as far as the conversation goes.”
A project-level focus on SOA doesn’t serve the larger cause of EA, according to Shepherd. But SOA at the department level can have value in the gradual implementation of EA. “A department that starts ubiquitously using SOA techniques will play better with the enterprise stuff when it comes along,” he says.
But sharing toys in the enterprise sandbox means playing by enterprise rules. “I always tell my customers that you have to get your own backyard in order before you look to move beyond your backyard,” says Shepherd.
Oracle ACE Director Basheer Khan, founder and CEO of Innowave Technology, believes that conversations about EA have been too hardware- and platform-centric.
“It still has not sunk in for many organizations that when they talk about EA, about rationalizing hardware or infrastructure, or about cloud computing or virtualization, that there is bigger value in moving those discussions to a business level,” Khan says.
But times are changing, and Khan sees a new trend emerging. “The industry is slowly moving away from IT architects to business architects,” he says.
In the end, finding real value in the multitude of conversations about EA can be a lot like panning for gold. But there are nuggets to be found, each bringing the dedicated seeker of EA value a step closer to the mother lode.
Bob Rhubart ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is manager of the architect community on Oracle Technology Network (OTN), the host of the Oracle Technology Network Arch2Arch podcast series, and the author of the ArchBeat blog ( blogs.oracle.com/archbeat ).