Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, architecture has been, for the most part, completely overlooked, underappreciated or even entirely misunderstood by those companies most in need of the discipline which results from its implementation. Furthermore, because of their lack of understanding of its merits and purpose, some companies actually overspend on technology architecture rather than spend wisely.
From the perspective of a skilled craftsman in architecture, the typical 'troubled company' is one which states upfront that, for example, it is considering 'virtualization,' with its resultant need for an infrastructure plan.
Before adding new infrastructure to achieve its goal, however, a company should ask itself: have we taken all of the necessary steps to ensure we implement the new infrastructure in a way to minimize the need for new software? Can we collapse systems we no longer need for prime-time operations?
This is where the value of technology architecture comes in, but unfortunately has not been embraced by the technology sector.
Of course, in some cases, the problem lies in the fact that some of those who call themselves architects are very vendor specific, and we can argue that they are not architects at all. A core value of being an architect lies in being 'agnostic,' that is, embracing any vendor and product set as long as it matches the needs of the business. The last thing we need is three different databases and three database administrators, each trained specifically in a particular vendor's product. And, let's not forget that the aim is to actually deliver on tangible, measurable, and realistic metrics, and not just wishy-washy ROI.
My experience is that companies will often spend capital and operational budgets to solve each problem individually, with the result that, before long, the infrastructure is three times what is required.
The benefits of technology architecture are wide reaching, and measurable. For example, the utilization of an architecture roadmap keeps businesses better informed on IT progress, or at least its goals and priorities. As well, risk identification and aversion and the ability to become agile when a critical business need erupts are very much the goal of architecture.
Architecture achieves its goal by linking definitive information in an accurate and timely fashion. Now, when you define a business problem and approach outside vendors for the solution, you will have dramatically reduced costs, even eliminated them outright, because you made the effort to inventory, document and control your infrastructure. Again, when you want to integrate a number of disparate systems, your roadmap will radically lessen the time it takes for implementation.
It is time for businesses to take a more serious look at technology architecture. CIOs and CFOs should seriously consider empowering technology architects with the authority to match their responsibility and lay out the expectations and guidelines they require to measure the benefits expected.
There is an impression, however, held by many in business, that architects are Ivory-Tower dwellers, dictating technical direction. It is important that architects acquire business acumen, and respect the demands, challenges, and budgetary constraints of the business. Architects must be on-side and in tune to each development within the business, whether marketing, sales, products/services, or other areas. Finally, they must remain 'agnostic' for the sake of both the profession and the business they represent
Long gone are the days of technology being about the sizzle . . . it's now all about the steak! Long gone are the days where we implemented a technology for the sake of the spin. Businesses now demand solutions linked directly and accurately to their true problems. They also expect them to work as advertised, on budget and as planned. It is technology architecture that will ensure businesses no longer spend for the sake of spending.
Roger Glasel is a technical and executive architect with Syscom Consulting (www.syscom-consulting.com), Telus Communications in Vancouver, British Columbia.