Agile, Business Performance Consulting

How CIOs can overcome big enterprise architecture (EA) challenges:

The challenges facing enterprise architecture (EA) today relate to the growing demands of the evolving enterprise. A changing culture has as much an impact on EA as does how an organization strategizes to use technology to achieve set business objectives. EA is no longer the domain of just the CIO, the entire leadership team must be conversant in EA.

Modernizing EA is something most organizations still struggle with and often don’t understand the importance of. EA projects are tough projects to get going. Launching them in isolation is much harder than getting them integrated into all facets of a collaborative organization.

Often these EA initiatives are approached as standalone projects and are retrofitted into a live environment. There is a lot of expensive retrofitting going on out there of forcing organizations to bite off chucks that are often too big to chew. These include projects for SOA, business process management and event driven architecture.

As these tend to be big (read expensive) initiatives, the only way to really control them is to have them exist and survive within a solid, transparent, flexible and collaborative enterprise architectural plan linked to the customer interface.

Typical challenging EA projects include: enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, service oriented architecture (SOA), infrastructure and middleware upgrades, and software services and processes that will be used to integrate processes through to the customer and make the architecture operational.

These are formidable challenges because they are associated with the way people do things more than the products they buy. The reason this is so difficult is because the change is multidimensional (people, process and technology).

When we start thinking about how we can succeed in terms of SOA, we have to ask ourselves what should the structure of those applications be? We’re now changing them more readily than we have in the past and exposing the processes of ERP systems with business process management to manipulate the processes independently of the application. This is highly complex work!

When you think about  those two things together, to get collaborative processes done when building something it must be built while integrating with the infrastructure (cloud) that will support it.

In the old days, the big vendors would pre-integrate all this for us. The applications would do what they were built to do. Often they did this regardless of what the existing business processes were. I’ve been part of major SAP implementations that wreaked havoc with rigid pre-ordained business processes that even after expensive customization created a cliff for the organization to climb in terms of process maturity. Best intentions, but very painful and sometimes destructive change.

Today, when we start to break these projects apart and build software services, in some ways integration of architecture gets a lot harder than it used to be. The good news is there are ways to navigate this problem.

To overcome these challenges a few suggestions include:

  • Understand it is a journey, this is no longer something you buy from a big name vendor but instead is something that will require constant revision and alignment of the architecture to support business strategy.
  • Plan for compositions of systems rather than the traditional applications to achieve a better success rate in delivering ERP systems based on a SOA.
  • Ensure functionality is delivered from the network up and have teams of people who understand all the different aspects of analysis, process, systems and network administrators and architects working together with the business. It’s very difficult to get the right people together at the table to pull this thing together in an agile way but is essential.

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