In my last posting, I pointed out the tribulations of Enterprise Architect – people who build magnificent edifices, if only virtually. Unlike building architects, enterprise architects can’t point to something and tell their kids, "I built that". So in addition to losing the gratification with having others admire your work, Enterprise Architects have another liability – dealing in arcana is a sure fire way to not get noticed in your company, or even your interest.
Happily, there is hope. But we need to get down to first principles. So why is it so hard for Enterprise Architects to get the respect they need and deserve? Putting it quite frankly, it’s because nobody speaks their language.
Every profession has a language that can be translated into some metaphor that lay people can understand. For builders, that language is geometry and they can shape that langauage into designs and blueprints that people can see and understand. For engineers, the language is mathematics. And while that language may not be appealing to most lay people, the results are – new airplane designs, new roads, and so on. People will only appreciate things that they can understand. The language of enterprise architects is simply just too hard to understand – even Enterprise Architects will spend hours arguing over the differences between a logical architecture and a physical architecture!
Now if you’re an Enterprise Architect, you might be forgiven for protesting a tad here. After all Enterprise Architects also use the language of geometry to craft system diagrams and flow charts. But the these drawings fail to meet the second criteria: people can’t understand them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a ‘logical architecture’ diagram only to come to the conclusion that there was nothing logical about it!
That’s because, unlike the blueprint for a home, it’s impossible to see the connection between the logical architecture of a system and the rack of servers that represent the actual implementation. Worse yet, to the untrained eye (and that could be your boss), staring at a rack of servers, they may not say, "You mean you spent hundreds of hours on this architecture and that’s all you can come up with?". They may not say it, but they are definitely thinking it. And if they’re not, their boss is.
So here is what I think: Enterprise Architects have to stop pretending that their trade is like traditional archtiecture. The traditional architect plies a well understood trade, balancing aesthetics, design and costs into something people can live, work or play in. The design work of architects may be lost on many people, not everyone can read a blueprint. but everyone can understand aesthetics and costs.
And this is where enterprise architects operate at a disadvantage. EA isn’t concerned with aesthetics – it’s not importan if that rack of servers looks good or if physical network is color coded. So that leaves enterprise architects with only two dimensions: design and cost. We’ve already established that the design work is sufficiently arcane to be lost on most customers so that leaves only one dimension – costs.
And that’s why Enterprise Architects are rarely the life of the party. "So what do you do?". "I’m an Enterprise Architect". "Oh you save companies money. My bother’s in procurement, he does the same thing."
So what is the missing dimension? Well, what do you want it to be? You can say "I make beautiful drawings in Visio". Yes, they may be beautiful to you or to anothre architect but chances are no one outside of the field cares much about what we draw. Or how about, "I balance business requirements with technology trade-offs". Don’t know, still seems like a little hard to grasp.
Let’s get abstract for a moment. An architect could say, "I design buildings for a living". Or she could say, "I ensure that everyone has a place to live". That’s how we need to address our profession.
So the language of enterprise architecture has to be able to make this point for us, "I ensure that my company can stay in business and do so profitably".
"Well, my boy, let’s have a chat, you see my company’s not doing so well and perhaps you can help us improve our performance. So tell me, how do you ensure that your business can stay in business and do so profitably?"
"It’s really quite simple when you think about it. I balance the capabilities that the business needs stay in business with the cost of acquiring and managing those capabilties">
"Yes but what are these capabilities?"
"For starters, there’s your communication network – what business can run without a telephone or email or even instant messaging? Then there’s your business systems, how many people would you need to hire to replace your ERP system?"
"So you can actually balance the costs of doing these things with their benefits? Now I’m interested, I’ve been trying to get my IT people to do that for years!"
"Well (speaking humbly of course), I can do a bit more than that. I can also help you determine what information you need to acquire to run your business and what you should spend to acquire it, and I can also help you decide what types of investments to make in emerging technologies".
"Sold, here’s my card, why don’t you come around on Monday morning and we’ll explore this further."
Notice that this conversation talking nothing about technologies, or logical architectures or any technical jargon. It focused on one word, and that word, dear architects, is our vocabulary and our language – capability.
We empower the enterprise with the capabilities it needs to operate profitably.
Next: So What do these capabilities look like.