I’ve got to that age when one reflects on one’s career; the troubled projects, late nights, cancelled holidays, “go live” celebrations and [it's work, honestly] client entertaining. Not quite rock-n-roll but a rich tapestry of consultancy and what strikes me, repeatedly, is how things change, but yet remain the same.
For my undergraduate thesis, I looked at three small businesses (we now call them SMEs), developing a picture of their business objectives, critical success factors and key performance indicators (motivation modelling) in order to understand what they wanted to be able to do (capability modelling) and what technology facilities (architecture building blocks) they needed. Since then, I’ve done analysis, development, management, selling (shh!) and lots of other stuff but I’m back doing architecture again. Like Viggo Mortensen’s character, I just can’t escape my past.
What we now call enterprise architecture was once an aspect of business analysis and before that was strategic planning. So if things really have remained the same, what can we learn from our architecture forebears? Our architecture is relatively young so let’s look at traditional architecture.
Physical architecture typically involves a professional team being commissioned by their client to plan, design and supervise the building of structures. The formative academic study of architecture in the UK (University College, 1841) shaped architecture as a fusion of art and science, I think this mostly holds for our architecture. We have clients (internal or external), we undertake commissions (contractual or not) and we plan, design & supervise. Do we, however, see art and science in our architecture? The importance of communicating ideas in a digestible and attractive way certainly needs artistic flare and the development of pleasant user experience needs artistic understanding and creativity. The need to understand people and their inter-relationships is critical to success so humanities come in to play, too. Maybe architects are the polymaths of the information world. To balance this accolade, maybe I should question whether we’re professional but let’s make that rhetorical.
One area of difference is the reach of architectural projects. Physical architecture is comfortably project based and, even when developing the head offices of corporate giants, has a specific area of impact. Our architecture, dealing with information rather than concrete and steel, has a much more enterprise impact and hence has an existence and mandate beyond the project. This is important as it does require an elevation for the practitioners of our architecture and it requires us to supervise for a longer period of time. Further, physical structures have a clear purpose (to get across the river safely, to comfortably house 1000 staff) so benefits realisation is clearer and sooner. As long as the bridge is inspected safe and cars can cross the river on it, the purpose has been achieved; Norman and Richard can be given a pat on the back and can cash their cheques. With our information structures, the basic achievement of purpose cannot be so clearly signed off and the full realisation of benefit may need a while to confirm. Our Zaha cannot be congratulated quite so readily.
Final, let’s consider context. Byzantine, Renaissance and other, older architectures are reflections of prevailing, cultural norms. Modern architectures can be said to be establishing styles and setting trends that other aspects of society later adopt; notable in this regard is Bauhaus. Corporately, the move from evolved to architected enterprises (though early stage) emulates this lifecycle of physical architecture.
- Architecture needs a wide variety of skills; arts, humanities & science
- Architecture is about change so buying in architecture is completely valid
- Information architecture does not have physical form on which rules of certainty can be employed so we must accept a degree of ambiguity
- The change from evolved to architected happened in the physical world and is rightly happening in the information world
Our history is indeed shadowing that of our cousins in physical architecture; things do remain the same.
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