Architects: How Will You Stay Relevant?

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We are way past the point where the architecture needs to be aligned with business goals and value delivery.  That is necessary but no longer sufficient.  We are now at the point where architecture needs to be central to the creation of an organization’s strategy process.  Not to get hyperbolic, but anything less is risky for your career.

The Challenge: Digitization

I just came back from the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) research forum.  One of the leading topics was digitization and how every business is becoming digitized.  To those in the High Tech industry, this may be an “of course” topic, but to most other industries it is a wrenching change.  Even those who are comfortable with the idea of digitization risk taking this too lightly.

The fact is that most products and services will have a digital component to them in the near future and an increasing number of  products and services will be entirely digital.  The fact is that digitization and the technologies that enable it are going to bring about a period of increased disruption.  This will mean:

  • New competitors.  Examples: autonomous cars, sports equipment with embedded sensors that provide feedback, personal assistant fully capable of making decisions and taking action.  Gartner is predicting that almost everything over $100 will have a sensor by the turn of the decade.
  • New competitors jumping across industry boundaries.  Examples: Apple iTunes and Google cars to name a few.

Why Architects Are Important

Architects are in a unique position to not only understand the technology trends driving this disruption, but they also to know how to leverage these trends to drive business value within their organizations.  The very best architects are going to be those who are deeply involved in defining the organization strategy, not just figuring out how to implement it.

Evidence of Change

Many architects and CIOs currently report very little interest from upper management in IT.  That is about to change, and quickly.  At the MIT CISR forum I attended last week, they presented research around this area that is very telling:

  • Half of Board of Directors members believe that their board’s ability to oversee the strategic use of IT is “less than effective.”
  • 26% of Boards hired consultants to evaluate major projects or the IT unit.
  • 60% of Boards want to spend more time on digital issues next year.
  • Board members estimate that 32% of their company’s revenues are under threat from digital disruption.

That last bullet is the really interesting piece of research.  32% is a huge impact.

The Role of Data in Digitization

Digitization by its very nature is all about data.  The winners in this space will be those that can manage and deliver relevant data the quickest.  The question for architects is this: Do you have the architecture and agility to take advantage of the coming disruptions and opportunities?  Are you actively advising your organization on how to leverage them?  As we have documented in many previous blogs, many organizations are poorly positioned to manage their data as a discoverable and easily sharable asset.  This will essential for:

  • Delivering business initiatives and showing value faster (agility).
  • Enabling business self-service so that IT is not the bottleneck in new analyses and decisions.

All of this requires new thinking around enterprise data architecture.  For fresh thinking on this subject see Thinking “Data First” to Drive Business Value.

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