Is Your Head in the Cloud Yet?
In Jeanne Ross’ book “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy”, she tells the story of the Winchester House in Santa Clara, California. For those who haven’t been there, it was assembled without a master plan. They think there are 160 rooms but no one seems to agree upon the exact number. If this sounds eerily familiar, Jeanne claims it is because many incumbent enterprises have cobbled together their systems and processes year after year just like the Winchester House. And these incumbent enterprises—which are increasing at risk of digital disruption–are moving today to add another layer of complexity as they move more and more of their systems and technology to the cloud. At the very same time, newer businesses are finding there is risk too in being “cloud first” businesses. The IT version of the Winchester House is built on sprawl regardless of where it happens.
Recently, David Bray, CIO of the FCC, suggested that that enterprise architects should be “refocused upon cloud integration and modular reuse”. I think this makes sense but it unfortunately leaves off some of the elements of the enterprise architecture function. Enterprise Architecture should still delineate the key processes, systems, and data composing the core of a company’s operation. The key to effective enterprise architecture in the cloud era involves being able “to identify the processes, data, technologies, and customer interfaces that take the operating model from vision to reality” (Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, pg. 47). Regardless of the location for the datacenter and IT operations, I believe that Jeanne Ross is right in claiming that enterprise architects should come up with foundational models that describe the following:
- Core processes/capabilities that enable it to respond to market opportunities
- Shared data driving core processes. To implement this, she claims often requires mastering entities like customer or supplier.
- Key integration technology which enable integration of applications and access to shared data
- Key customers served by an enterprise architecture and operating model
Architecture in the cloud era
So as most enterprises move systems and technology to the cloud and some even start to go without a data center, does this mean that enterprise architecture has lost its relevance? I argue the answer is no.
In a recent #CIOChat, I had the opportunity to ask CIOs and Enterprise Architects about the role architecture plays in the cloud era. They claim that enterprise architectures need to continue to focus upon the technologies that are best suited to drive organizational goals. This starts by focusing upon business goals, operational capabilities and then identifying appropriate technology in support. This means enterprise architects need to continue to focus on providing an architecture that enables their firm’s goals.
So what are the business goals that drive enterprise’s to the cloud? According to report by Cloud Sherpas, cloud has been shown to impact business growth, efficiency, customer experience, agility, cost, and security. Given that business strategy can be enabled by cloud, then the enterprise architecture today needs to explicitly consider cloud. Validating this point, one CIO in the #CIOChat asserted cloud is “inevitably at least part of portfolio of every enterprise”.
Another of the #CIOChat participants followed this by making a very important point. He said that organizations that go in on cloud before they have a cloud strategy tied to business strategy are almost 3 times more likely to fail “. Given this, I believe that enterprise architects are needed today more than ever. Specifically, they need to be actively involved with their organization’s cloud strategy and with integrating the cloud strategy into their organization’s enterprise architecture.
As I look at cloud, I would argue that enterprise architects should take a broader view of cloud than just integration and reuse. Instead, they should to do the following things well whether it be for SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, or hybrid implementations:
- Define the core processes and operational capabilities that are enabled on premise, on premise cloud, off premise cloud, or SaaS
- Determine all shared data driving core processes. What data needs to flow between all applications regardless of who owns or manages them? There should be, once again, only one enterprise architecture.
- Establish key integration technology which enables integration of applications and access to shared data. This needs to managed entire enterprise wide rather than in piece meal fashion.
- Derive key customers served by the enterprise architecture and an operating model that is congruent with how they are served.
So in conclusion, I believe the enterprise architect has a critical role to play in the cloud. Sometimes they should even be responsible for determining how cloud enables business strategy. But also, it is critical that with this they be the connection point that provides an architecture that answers all of the above questions. To do this, they often can use help with two things. First is organizing everything together including core models from a Business, Operations, Systems, and Technology view. This goes after items 1, 2, and 4. The second is managing the integration of cloud and non cloud systems alike. And this goes after 3. Regardless of how you implement these, enterprise architects should stay focused upon on building a go forward architecture that links IT strategy to business strategy.