Good news, I think, from the 2017 IT & Enterprise Architecture Conference, which I attended earlier this week. As is well known, “Traditional” architecture, and Enterprise Architecture in general, has been on the endangered list for a while now – but I’m starting to see really positive signs that (some) architects are bouncing back and starting to successfully adapt.
In due course, I’ll share some of the many notes and great ideas I captured during the event, but before I do I just wanted to quickly preface the whole thing with this overarching theme (that architects are starting to adapt) – because it was a theme that permeated much of the conferences content – and from what I could see these ideas were generally being embraced by the attendees – but it’s still very early days…
So what are these magical signs?
#1 – Attitudes
It was clear from the architects I spoke with that they recognised the need to adapt, have a positive attitude about doing so, and are on that journey.
#2 – Platform as a Product
One of the clearest signals was from Mike Nooney, who shared with us how Air New Zealand are developing their platform strategy. A key takeaway here was “platform as product”, in other words, start thinking about your organisations platform and systems as a product (and everything that mental-model entails).
Of course it’s a non-trivial exercise – there’s lots of deep and subtle implications in the statement. I’ll be looking into this more (a lot more, I’m sure), but for now I suggest you start by thinking about what good products are and how they come into being – i.e. “it’s not just about technology”; thinking about the entire ecosystem: end-users, API-users, support, marketing (and so on); and how you’d actually work with the other human beings across that entire ecosystem to make it happen.
It’s worth noting that there’s a spectrum here; in some circumstances you might simply get away with (or start with) a simply terminology change: “(Digital) Platform” instead of “EA”, although obviously a deeper change is likely to be needed at some point.
#3 – Embracing ‘new’ techniques, such as Design Thinking
Design thinking is one of several approaches that have been gaining serious traction in recent years. Sure, some of the core concepts inside some of these approaches are not necessarily new, but they’ve reached a level of maturity and market presence that means ignoring them isn’t wise.
There’s this fuzzy nexus of concepts – Digital is one, taking a (platform as) product centric view is another – think of it as the new/emerging paradigm for how the mainstream now conceptualises systems. Design thinking, and related approaches, are a part of that paradigm.
The good news for architects is that, as mentioned above, the core stuff inside these approaches isn’t necessarily new – it’s stuff that as architects we kinda mentally do already, so the leap isn’t as big as it looks.
Positive evidence of architects taking this sort of approach on was visible in several presentations beyond Mike’s:
- Nick Malik emphasised the importance of gaining a deep understanding of the problem,
and whilst he didn’t refer to design thinking directly I found it to be a pretty easy mental leap from his advice to leveraging design thinking as one of the ways of getting there. Update – as per Nick’s comment below, design thinking was a focus of his talk – my memory here isn’t quite as accurate as I’d like it to be (thanks for correcting me). I’ll share more on this in due course, including links to where you can get Nick’s thoughts first hand.
- Nick also made reference to several books including “Stories that Move Mountains: Storytelling and Visual Design for Persuasive Presentations” – and whilst this isn’t billed as “design thinking”, (as a newbie) I can see some parallels.
- Blair Loveday did a whole session on design thinking – the fact that this even happened is itself an indication of how things are moving in architecture circles.
- Chris Tuohy spoke about his experiences with Agile and culture change at Westpac – design thinking was explicitly called out as being part of their approach.
So whilst “traditional” architecture may be dying, I’d think the good bits from that legacy will continue – with some new additions and perhaps adapted a little in terms of tactics and approach. When you realise that such a major transformation is slowly happening right before your very eyes, and that you’re part of it – that’s pretty cool.