Saturday, December 10, 2005


Why Enterprise Architects should eschew IT / Business alignment

The phrase, IT should align with the business is commonly heard in magazines such as CIO. I have blogged sporadically on the fact that this form of hype is actually detrimental to the health of the enterprise. Figured it was time to provide additional detail.

If Enterprise Architects solely take guidance from the business they will ultimately fail. Of course, guidance nowadays comes from many external factors such as Eliott Spitzer if you are in the financial services industry, congress in the form of Sarbanes Oxley if you are a publicly traded company and so on. In all reality, gathering “requirements” will result in only incremental improvements at the expense of game changing lost opportunities.

If everyone is aligning with the business, someone ultimately needs to understand the technology and do so in a very deep manner. Alignment is not a direction and if practiced as such is just plain wrong. Alignment in of itself causes IT to further become order takers, albeit better branded ones.

Enterprise Architects that embrace agile methods understand that there is a chaordic balance and attempting to make everything predictable is not only limiting the possibilities of greatness but in many situations futile. Predictability as a system quality is further championed by folks who don’t write working software for a living and instead focus in on comprehensive documentation. These folks encourage practices such as Six Sigma, Eight Omega, CMM and other efforts without focusing on the real problem space; lack of innovation.

Predictability causes mediocrity. Enterprises that desire to be predictable buy the same software as their competitors, are rare to implement technology within their vertical first and prefer to let other enterprises work out all the bugs. This feels an aweful lot like outsourcing innovation to your competitors. At best, this approach gives the business average technology with at best average budgets, but more than likely missed budgets due to overhead created by mediocrity.

Predictable enterprises also eschew technologies that can provide competitive advantage such as open source. Maybe predictability also erases confidence in architecture teams in that they learn not to trust their instincts nor even believe in their own visions. For example, if you believe in SOA and the notion of an Enterprise Service Bus, have courage and ignore what industry analysts are telling you. You may discover that they are not telling the whole truth. Download and pilot an open source ESB such as ServiceMix. Study its architecture and conclude for yourself the value of using an ESB within your nervous system.

Likewise, if you believe that portals can provide competitive advantage. Consider downloading Liferay Enterprise Portal. You will of course discover that it happens to be the first portal platform certified to scale to 384 CPUs. You may also learn through the grapevine that it was validated by multiple third-parties to be the most secure portal platform (commercial or open source) available.

I am firm in my own belief that the recent practice of vendor consolidation may be the decline of the IT enterprise as many within our profession have outsourced their architecture via Powerpoint to vendors whose sole competency is commoditizing solutions and promoting them to your competitors. Alignment is important but innovation and community participation are more important…

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