Structure in Threes: Positioning and Lessons not Learned

Had great discussion last night at Starbucks on Mercer Island with some former Microsoft Alumni.   One is at a Microsoft competitor now working at developing a competitive service to our mutual former employer’s.  The change in strategy at Microsoft has yielded a large shift in the Architecture domain enabling competitors to move in and eventually succeed.  My colleagues and I rather than sit around the table discussing what could have been are busy creating the future; spending several hours mapping out the landscape and what pieces need to be build or remodeled.  Sounds like Enterprise Architects at work.  However, unlike the paper mill approach that was being pushed we’ve been taking a more engineering design approach looking at how the methodologies we’ve each been developing yield implementable designs specific to client’s needs using modular componentry.

Discipline Maturity Lifecycle

I was wondering how much longer it would be before Enterprise Architecture would reach the next stage in its’ maturity.  I’ve been watching TOGAF, ZACHMAN, COBIT, ITIL, etc. for the past several years ideate and mature into a robust collection of heuristics waiting for the day these take the next step towards modularity. last night’s discussion inferred the time was rapidly approaching, both my colleagues began discussing their specific domains in context of creating a reusable component based approach.  That is to say having a set of design rules as to how to choose what components from a library or catalog of components to achieve design goals.  I was really pleased with the direction the discussion was talking.  Had I had my copy of Jon Lang’s Creating Architectural Theory –I leant it out to another peer at Microsoft this past month– I would have pointed out we’re finally making some progress.  However, that most likely would have confirmed in their eyes I was an academic (odd considering I spend more of my time building tools and applying these concepts than doing primary research in the area).

At different times during the conversation I was frantically searching for documents on my Windows Phone to point out some of the pieces I’ve already built or are in the process of building.  Unfortunately, this is where the promise doesn’t measure up to reality.  I could not get to my Office365 Small Business Online site or SkyDrive (it couldn’t recognize ANY or the Userids I entered).  Microsoft has a lot of work to do to get Services right before they can compete effectively with Amazon, Google, and Apple.  Sure individual components run, however, when combined in a system which is where the Services business is, they’re having challenges.  This systems approach is still elusive to the culture at Microsoft.  

We parted with a plan for a plan which could either mean this will result in just an nice academic discussion or that we will really start assembling a next generation of Architectural practice that will take one step closer to a engineering-like discipline rather than a artist colony debating about aesthetics of design.  In either event the discussion confirmed to me I am on the right track with ‘Structure in Threes” and creating the design methodology that enables using modular componentry at all levels of abstraction.

Strategy Alignment and I.T.

Been away from my blog the past few days as I’m heads down packing to leave my corporate apartment for new digs.   I had time then to mull over some ideas regarding Business and I.T. strategic alignment.  These circled back to ideas I had in the 80s regarding Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) and a quote from a friend “Technology makes a good servant but a poor master”.    Most of the strategies, and I’ve seen a lot these days.  Everyone has an I.T. strategy and so called architecture –I’ll get on my soapbox about architecture another time—which is positioned as the silver bullet for what ails a corporation.  The problem I see with these is there is no linkage between Business and I.T. Strategies and Architectures.   

I spent most of yesterday in discussion with one of the people I’m mentoring about such.  She’s starting a new position as a Sr. Architect and was trying to figure out her first steps.   I suggested getting to know the organization and its business model first.  We spent time discussion Michael Porter, Adrian Slywotzky approaches and how to analyze the business.  In a short time we had decomposed her new employer’s business model and the competitive threats on the horizon.    She was amazed at how easy yet difficult this was to do.  The “wow” was in her voice.  I replied this was the easy part.  The tough part is determining what to do and aligning the critical stakeholders to do it. 

I had previously worked an engagement years ago, with IBM, in which we used a business strategic analysis method; Strategic Capabilities Network (SCN).  At that time it was just a IBM Research paper.  A subordinate and I built a quick tool to support the method out of MS Access for a strategy engagement we were doing.   We collected the data, analyzed it which helped us develop and eCommerce strategy for the client.  I took a quick mental note that this could be eventually used as the bridge between business and I.T. strategy.  

Fast forward to today, I still see gaps between business and I.T. that Evel Knievel would have second thoughts about jumping.  However, as I started pondering this issue It came to me the reason why was it still was a translation issue.  Business and Technology don’t talk the same language which has brought me back to my SCN application a few other tools and methods I’ve used in the past and how to integrate them into a more cohesive methodology than TOGAF or many of the other technology driven architecture approaches.   This is not a slight against TOGAF, etc. but rather a thought how to bridge Business Strategy and I.T. Architecture into a symbiotic relationship.

In the new role I’m looking at fulfilling I can see this greatly helping my peers be more successful; faster and with greater results that delight clients.