Phrases Architects HAVE To Stop Using
By Paul Preiss
The enterprise and technology architect field is still growing and needs to grow further. We are involved in more projects and more levels of business than ever before. We have a seat at the table. Now we need to deliver on expectations. Unfortunately, we as a group are still debating with ourselves so much we just might not be able to do that. I am not positive it is this way in other professions but I believe there are a few central themes and expressions that architects have internalized that keep us from fully fulfilling our promise. And some of them are just annoying as well. Here are four key expressions that are killing our credibility and confusing our customers.
1. "Serve the Business" - While this expression is, thankfully, on it's way out, it still pervades IT and technology mentality. The notion that technologists 'serve the business' causes a great deal of confusion. The internal service model primarily comes from two flawed ideas; 1) that 'the business' can select external partners so our IT team must be able to provide rates and services that are equivalent in quality but at a reduced price, 2) that IT members are not business-minded. Both of these assumptions have proven to be false. Technologists are business and businesses are becoming technologists. Just look at the recent HBR article on CTMOs to recognize the relationship http://hbr.org/2014/07/the-rise-of-the-chief-marketing-technologist/ar/1. The only thing keeping us from acting like a business unit is that we are too busy serving 'the business' to be the business.
2. "Architect the Enterprise" - Neither the word Architect nor the word Architecture is a verb. There is a reason. Architect is a person, architecture is a strategic design normally in some form of document. Unless you are terribly uneducated you do not get 'doctored', you get treated. If you mean design the enterprise then say it that way. It may sound like a semantic difference but it isn't. Second, let's be honest, the idea is silly if not plain stupid. If nothing else it just makes us sound like we are reaching for relevance to 'the business' when in fact if we are doing our jobs well, we are already relevant. Global enterprises are not designed they are organic. Complex systems theory tells us clearly that a entity that reaches a significant degree of complexity cannot be designed nor truly governed from the top down. Instead it must function like all ecosystems with significant degree of coordination and autonomy.
3. "IT is Dead/Dying" - At the core of every technologist is the desire to create, implement or buy something that replaces themselves or other people. It is the 2nd most powerful aspect of technology, the ability to replace people with machines and software. But never forget the most powerful aspect of technology is innovation or the ability to do things that have never been done before. It is technology that has created the global economy and that services it and there really is no end in sight. We heard that IT was dying with the micro-computer, the internet, the outsourcing craze, SOA and now the cloud. There are more technology jobs today than ever before. (See Ultimate guide to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)). Some are in new areas, some are lower level than they used to be, some have moved from one company to another. There are still three billion people without an IP address of any kind much less the dozens we often have in the west. We have a long way to go before we replace ourselves. Instead of constantly talking about our own demise, why not focus on the new business that having a brilliant technologist like you around can bring your company? Or are you still just trying to cut costs?
4. "We Have to be Agile" - Agile is good. Agile can be great. Especially when used when appropriate and when the culture supports it. A recent Forbes article discusses how Netflix used agile approaches to architecture to be successful and there are probably ways your organization can benefit as well. But religion is the antithesis of architecture. If I had a hammer you would be a nail has never been an architecturally relevant approach. But always remember, enterprises are not yet agile for one big fat non-technology reason; the budget cycle. Until we have enterprises that do not need to plan investment a year or more in advance there will be a big hole in the agile approach. Also you might ask yourself how much you want to fly on a plane designed on a white board and implemented with an agile approach next time you fly. Sometimes it is right, sometimes it isn't. Architects are optimists by nature and pessimists by training. Remember that when you hop on a bandwagon.