Form follows function

4 weeks ago admin Comments Off on Form follows function

Sometimes I get the feeling that there is an unresolved tension between business architects (BA) and enterprise architects (EA).  The various discussions regarding the scope of each role, the business-focus to IT-focus ratio for EA and BA, and other lines of demarcation between this architecture duo intrigue me.

Should we even care about the “enterprise” and “business” architecture labels?  I say no.  It is more important that architecture leaders, executives, and key organizational stakeholders align on the organizational areas managed by the architecture practice and the authority granted for each.  Upon reaching this agreement, I think that enterprise architecture and business architecture become much closer to one in the same—both focused on the full breadth and depth of their organization.  Business architects might start with business models and value chains, but they need to address the technology-enabled “how.”  Conversely, enterprise architects could begin with application landscape diagrams and dependency matrices, then map up to strategic business roadmaps to deliver the desired business results.

The optics of architecture

When someone mentions architecture, she is likely referring to the arrangement of a company’s information technology environment.  And, in the pre-digital era, it was quite natural to relegate architects to the dark corners of the IT room, working alongside the engineers who sustained the corporate operational engine.  To be dubbed “architectwas both something of a non-manager title of last resort in IT and an indicator of someone who genuinely knew the most about how everything in IT worked to keep the lights on. 

The concept of architecture can by scary for some business stakeholders.  It forces discussions that are more conceptual and contextual.  Architecture is complicated and messy.  While many architects were busy seeking ways to control (or document) an increasingly uncontrollable environment, they ended up turning much more inward, disconnected from business results and a changing business climate.

One of the most passionate discussions among architects centers on the question of “to which role should (enterprise or business) architecture report?”  While most organization-wide architecture leaders typically report to the CIO, there is a growing call for the architecture discipline to move into the office of the CEO.  Again, I suggest that this is less relevant when the CEO, CIO, and architecture leader(s) are of the same mind regarding the function of architects.

Reporting structures matter, but execution, results—and relevancy—occur in the dynamic, sociopolitical organization.  When architects are disconnected from the corporate interpersonal network, they will miss out on key conversations and decisions.  They will also continue being branded as some IT wizard, not appropriate to help navigate the tumultuous digital seas.  Form follows function, so I trust that for architects who operate on with broad “outside-in” perspective, the view of architecture’s value in co-workers’ hearts and minds will reflect the desired structure even if it doesn’t match the one on paper.

Focus on the people

I’ve been examining the concept of organizational architecture a lot over the past few months.  HR professionals might evoke organizational architecture when discussing the organizational design or the reporting structure at rest, but they might be addressing the enterprise organism—the living, functioning company in motion

The organizational architecture Wikipedia page contains an image from Miroslav Žugaj and Markus Schatten’s textbook Arhitektura suvremenih organizacija (Architecture of Contemporary Organizations), shown below:

This simple diagram contains some powerful concepts to unpack.  A collection of individuals is arranged into a formal, hierarchical structure.  They also work together in various lateral and zig-zag directions to produce value.  Business processes and strategy are included to constitute the full organizational architecture. 

The formal organization is a vertical one with the levels within each functional silo working from individual contributor at the bottom to executive at the top.  The goal of functional management is to coach, develop, and supervise (to varying degrees) its employees to ensure efficient operations.  Business processes occur within functional areas, but also stretch across the organization to deliver value streams.  It is when we look at the cross-functional processes that we see the skeleton of the informal organization.  This provides an opportunity to understand how things really get done and envision how things truly should work.

Architects cannot overlook the kinetic organization.  In the words of Dr. Jeanne Ross, Research Director and Principal Research Scientist at MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research: “organizational surgery is now mandatory.”

Digital equals convergence

Fast-forward to now, the rapid-fire days of digital transformation.  The competition is faster, the velvet rope separating business operators from technology VIPs is gone, and the old nice-to-haves are today’s table stakes.  But, consider the notion of transformation.  The definition I find from a quick Google search states that it is “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.”

The form of what an organization does must change in a thorough or dramatic manner.  Many business capabilities and services currently exist much as a pizza does—as a heterogeneous mixture of various raw materials.  Architects must take their business landscape into the operating room (or, kitchen) to separate the meal and expose the dough, cheese, sauce, and toppings as individual components.  Only then can the new digitalized products and services emerge.  Those who know how all of the raw ingredients are currently sourced and combined are instrumental in breathing new life into proven organizational components (human and technological). If the company’s form is bloated and monolithic, then it will function in a similar manner.

Architects also need to turn their attention outwards and get an intimate understanding of customer preferences.  We can look at Domino’s Pizza as a great example of this; they have focused on mastering multiple customer channels while transcending physical locations with their “hotspots” for delivery to various public locations.  It’s a small world, as the saying goes, and the digital revolution continues to reveal exactly how small things can feel.  Well-executed digital transformation draws people, technology, and companies closer together.

So, to all of the enterprise architects and business architects of the world:  How about a truce?  After all, doesn’t the very act of executing architectural change come down to people?  And to that end, it looks like the HR folks bring a strong third horse into the race for architectural supremacy.

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