Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Connected Architecture for the Creative Economy

Steve Denning’s insightful blog post ‘Leadership In The Three-Speed Economy’ has me pondering on the correlation with IT. Does ‘IT in the Three-Speed Economy’ follow a similar pattern?

I am not sure it is cut and dried. My experience suggests that IT can be like the example of GE that Steve provides, where all three economies can exist in the same organization and where pockets of creative IT thinking exist within the morass of traditionalism.  That said, IT in most Traditional Economy organizations will probably follow the pattern in the table below.

Table 1: Traditional vs Creative Economy IT
Enterprise Architecture is likely to be found at the heart of Denning’s Traditional Economy organization. Command and Control by a centralized organization attempting to exert strong governance over projects in an attempt to drive down cost. If it moves, outsource it, if it doesn’t, standardize it.

Whereas the Creative Economy organization operates on a federated basis, with minimal governance only covering the core than needs to be common and the interfaces between participants, whilst adopting a laissez faire approach to the rest.

The focus in the Creative Economy is on enabling innovation and creating business value through IT, where IT can be monetized for profit.  Is it any coincidence that Denning identifies firms like Apple, Amazon, and Salesforce as being prominent firms in the Creative Economy? Well let’s hold that thought and return to it later.

Connected Architecture

In my recent post on connected architecture, I suggested that there is no one architectural ‘style’ that encompasses everything that is required to deliver solutions for the connected planet, and that it is a mistake for architects to try and force fit whatever is their ‘pet’ approach or the hot topic of the day.
Similarly, solutions for the Creative Economy are not cloud- or mobile-based solutions, or SOA-based solutions, and so on, but as shown in figure 1 require connection and collaboration between all of these worlds.
Figure 1: Overlapping Federated Domains in a Connected Architecture

Hence, there should be no reason for enterprise architects to try to build some über model that spans all these worlds.  Rather, as suggested earlier a federated architecture is required that focuses on the way these worlds connect and only standardizes the common core.

The Collaboration Core


Figure 2: Federation and Collaboration Core

So, what is at the core? As figure 2 illustrates, federation needs be considered from two perspectives. As discussed, there are the various federated domains, but also the federated projects that utilize the core assets.

Arguably, for creativity to flourish then even the core doesn’t need to be common if business value can be demonstrated. However, it is important to note that the core isn’t necessarily an organization’s core, but that of an ecosystem. The federated projects are responsible as either the service and platform providers or as the consumers that together collaborate in an ecosystem. These may be either internal or external to the organization.

Hence the core is an ecosystem view of,
  • The services that enable each participant to connect and collaborate. Clearly participants need to agree on these services. However, that doesn’t stop a dominant participant dictating the nature of the service, just as long as the others ‘agree’ to use it.
  • The platform on which the services ‘operate’ (and here I use platform in a business, not just a technical sense. As in the ‘Amazon Platform’). As discussed in the Connected Architecture post, the concept of platform is key, as the ecosystem will often form around the platform and its provider.

Transitioning to Creative Economy

The challenge for Traditional Economy organizations is to transition to a creative one.  Of course that is easier said than done. However, it might be easier for IT to at least do its part.

As highlighted in the earlier table, even in Traditional Economy organizations there is often considerable resistance to Enterprise Architecture. That said, the resistance often isn’t due to a desire to transition to the Creative Economy, rather just a desire of the stakeholders to exert their own control rather than yield to central IT’s.  Moreover, it is often the case that such projects are very solution oriented and simply want to be self-sufficient in order to maximise control, and that is why they resist EA.  Hence, project ‘independence’ is in itself not an indicator of membership of the Creative Economy.

Hybrid Architecture

Can you plan or ‘architect’ your way into the Creative Economy? That sounds like the antithesis of what is needed. But you can plan and architect a framework that is an enabler of innovation rather than a constraint upon it.

So is it a case of out with the old – Enterprise Architecture - and in with the new – Connected and Federated Architecture? As I said at the beginning, I don’t believe it quite so cut and dried.

Adopting a laissez faire approach might encourage innovation, but it can also result in duplication and waste. Does that matter as long as business value is being derived?

Earlier I asked whether it was any coincidence that Denning identifies firms like Apple, Amazon, and Salesforce as being prominent firms in the Creative Economy? Does that mean they have eschewed Enterprise Architecture?  Well in Amazon’s case, Dr. Werner Vogels (CTO) talks in an interview  about using Enterprise Architecture as a means to look across their business and identify their shared services platform and reduce infrastructure duplication. But the result is still more akin to figure 2, with service and platform at the Amazon core.

So why not strive for the best of both? A hybrid architecture that enables innovation, but minimizes duplication and waste.

It is not Enterprise Architecture per se that must be eschewed in the Creative Economy, it is more the style in which it is pursued.  What is required is Enterprise Architecture that takes an ecosystem-wide view. Enterprise Architecture that identifies and focuses on what is common and core, and facilitates innovation elsewhere.

And Enterprise Architects by their very nature are often still the people best placed to make sense of what is going on across their enterprise and the ecosystem(s) it operates in. But they should be willing to forego command and control role in return.

* Update. I revised this post following feedback from Tom Graves that my portrait of EA looked like EA "School 1", as described by Jamie Lapalme in his Three Schools of EA. I agree with Tom, and so have revised Table 1 accordingly, and suggest that the architecture paradigm for the Creative Economy is "School 3b" as defined by Richard Veryard in his blog on "Three or Four Schools of Enterprise Architecture".

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