Do Architecture Principles Matter?

Jeff Scott from Forrester doesn’t think so. In his post entitled Principles Don’t Matter, he discussed the challenges with principles. Some of his assertions are:

  • Principles are not really principles… Instead they are mostly good intentions.
  • Principles are passive. A principle sits there until something comes along to test it.

I have to say I agree with Jeff on his assessment. Coming from large organizations that have implemented Enterprise Architecture I have seen this quite a bit. For example, I have seen very large EA organizations create the master set of principles that took them a better part of 3 months worth of very senior talents time to then proceed to frame them on a wall and never to be followed again. This is obviously an extreme but I have seen this behavior at more than a handful of organizations.

My opinion on issues with principles are:

  • They are subject to interpretation by the architect. Meaning that since principles are very high level there is a lot of room to make an interpretation.
  • Effectiveness hinges on the competencies of the architect.
  • Is an all or nothing implementation. Meaning, if only a select few architect follow them and the rest don’t this breaks down.
  • What is a principle any ways? Jeff Scott eludes to this when he makes reference to: “buy before build” principle? Isn’t it really a strategy?".
  • The problem is that the term principle is too generic and means different things to different people.
  • There are issues of abstraction and scope.

While there are issues, there are positives about principles as well. I would caution folks looking at building a robust set of principles from scratch in today’s economic climate and pressure on IT. I definitely wouldn’t recommend a multi-month organizational soul searching exercise on what are my company’s principles. What I would recommend is similar to Jeff’s assessment. Build out a set of pragmatic principles that are actionable and relatable to your IT strategies. Make the higher order bit the strategies rather the principles themselves.

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Is Architecture Different Based on Where You Live?

I have always enjoyed talking to architects when I visit to different places all around the world. What I find most interesting is different perspectives and approaches on how to solve technology challenges. Normally, there is many ways to solve any given problem but what I have found fascinating is that in different regions around the world, the variables change quite a bit. 

As an example, I really started to notice this with my trips to Japan. There is a very large divide between how problems are addressed in the US, than in Japan. Like many other places in the world there are multiple contributing factors or variables to this.  Most of which are not even IT related.

These factors or forces as I call them, have an both a direct and indirect impact on how the solutions are designed and subsequently developed. There are more forces but below is a  sampling of these forces to give us some context:

  • Cultural – How people interact, customs, formalities, etc.
  • Economic – The economic condition of the area, is it a developing country, is that country struggling (recession), etc.
  • Government – Form of government, how much influence that government has in business
  • Regulatory – Rules that are implemented based on laws in individual countries.
  • Geography – Specific natural locations have requirements.
  • Natural Disasters – If areas are prone or could be prone to natural disaster very specific considerations are taken.

With our example of Japan, these factors play a major role in IT. Let’s take a look at the some of the more relevant attributes:

  • Cultural – The cultural aspects have the most direct impact on the business than any other factor it seems.  Unlike in many other countries where IT has become less formal, this is not the case in Japan. Even IT is very formal and has a distinct etiquette. You may wonder how this effects IT, well it has a very strong impact on the IT decision making process. Since there is a greater level of formality decisions may take longer than it would in a less formalized environment. One could also argue that since there is more formality that the decisions are more meaningful and accurate as well. Another defining quality of the Japanese culture is attention to detail. This is everything from food preparation to IT systems. This has a profound impact on how technology solutions are built.
  • Economic – Japan is a very mature market and doesn’t fall into considerations of emerging markets. One surprising business aspect that impacts how architecture is created in Japan is that most IT work is outsourced to a Japanese consulting firms. Companies in Japan have a much smaller IT staff than most organizations in the world. What they do have are senior IT planners (project management) and strategists. 

Note: This is a general interpretation based on the exposure I have had with companies in Japan.

As a result of most  development work being done outside the company it interjects interesting dynamics on how their systems are architected. With this one detail of outsourcing a large chunk of IT impacts architecture decisions. Where are some of the impacts:

  1. Strong emphasis on systematic reusability, mechanizing IT through frameworks
  2. Time to market usually takes a little longer but the trade-off is quality. Attention to detail is a key aspect of the culture and radiates through-out IT solutions.
  3. Considerable amount of architects that are in the system integration company instead of the organization company of the services which could result in efficiencies for the Japanese enterprises because these consultants will have a large amount of experience with a variety of different organizations in that market thus increasing quality and time to market.

As you can see from the above points that these external forces have a concrete impact on IT. These forces are different all over the world and can be localized to a country, region or state based on these various factors. As architects it is important for us to understand these forces, why they impact our work and how we can leverage this knowledge to  create the right IT solutions for our businesses.

This is just a high level analysis of my thoughts on how we architect based on where we live. I haven’t seen any research that shows this at a global level but defiantly see it from a regional level. It would be an interesting study to see these attributes formalized and take areas from all around the world and apply them to a matrix. For global organizations this would be a very valuable resource.

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Publications

Mike J. Walker has written and been featured in online and print articles, books and trade publications. IT luminaries have published his quotes and referenced his ideas in articles and books such as, “Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post- Gates Era”, where he is named as a key thought leader at the Microsoft Corporation. His works have been featured in media outlets such as: InfoWorld.com, CNN.com, eWeek.com, ComputerWorld.com, and has been demonstrated in keynotes by Bill Gates at industry events.

Websites

Online Publications

  1. Business and Infformation Architecture Proven Practices
  2. Cloud Strategy and Planning Series
  3. Pragmatic Approach to Describing Solution Architectures
  4. Architecture in Turbulent Times
  5. A Day in the Life of an Enterprise Architect
  6. Synergies between Enterprise Architecture and Application Portfolio Management
  7. Architecting Regulatory Complaint Banking Architectures
  8. Building Interoperable Insurance Systems with .Net 3.0
  9. Building Sustainable Banking Architectures
  10. Architecting Enterprise Workflows and Orchestrations
  11. Building the Loan Origination Framework
  12. The Banking Integration Factory
  13. Application Architecture Guide 2.0

Print Publications
Architecture Journal 19 & 20
Mike Walker Architecture Journal

Nikkei Systems
Mike Walker Nikkei Article

Press and Analysts
Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post- Gates Era

Windows in Financial Service Magazine

Nekkei Systems Magazine 05-2008 (Online) 

The Lending Services Hub (Gartner 2008)

Banks must Redesign their Lending Systems (Gartner 2008)

Microsoft Watch – “put real substance between Microsoft business intelligence and SOA strategies” – Joe Wilcox

CNNFOXInfoWorld

Public Speaker

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Mike J. Walker is internationally known as an expert in enterprise architecture. Walker’s insights are sought-after at major events worldwide. Events range from industry events in Financial Services to authorities in architecture like Gartner EA summits and The Open Group Practitioner conferences.  Additionally, he has delivered keynote speeches for conferences and events on five continents.

Executive Briefings

Walker has spoken to over 100 companies through executive briefings. These fortune 1000 companies request proven guidance from experts in the industry. Walker is highly tuned to speaking with top executives such as, Chief Executive Officer’s, Information Officer’s, Financial Officer’s, and Operations Officer’s. Through these briefings, he has aided in technology strategy, dissection of problem sets to derive to executable solutions and the orchestration of product sets in a meaningful way.

Conferences

  • Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summits
  • Open Group Architect Practitioners Conferences
  • Microsoft Strategic Architecture Forums
  • ACORD / LOMA Conferences (Insurance)
  • Financial Service Technology Consortium (FSTC) Enterprise Architecture
  • Financial Services Developer Conferences
  • Mortgage Bankers Association MISMO Conferences
  • LIXI Technology Summit (AU Lending Standards)
  • IFX Forums (Banking)
  • Microsoft TechEd’s
  • Microsoft Professional Developer Conferences (PDC)

Regional Architecture Summits include:

  • Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Finland, Spain, England, Ireland

You can find some of his presentations on SlideShare:

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Speaker   |   Publications   |   Reference Architectures

 

Role and perception of Enterprise Architects needs to align better with business goals

Dana Gardner  shares a panel discussion, at The Open Group’s 22nd annual Enterprise Architecture Practitioner’s Conference in London through his post on the EA’s Aligning better with business goals. The topic was probed, “Resisting Short-term Thinking: Rationalizing Investments in Enterprise Architecture During a Recession” uncovered surprising insights into how enterprise architects can help businesses and IT departments, especially during periods of turmoil.

Guests include Henry Peyret, principal analyst at Forrester Research; Phil Pavitt, the group CIO for Transport for London; Thomas Obitz, a principal architect at Infosys; Mike Turner, enterprise architect at Capgemini, and Terry Blevins, a senior principal information systems engineer at MITRE and Open Group Customer Council Board member.

Read a full transcript of the discussion. Find it on iTunes and Podcast.com.

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CEO’s Embracing YouTube

I ran across an interesting article in the New York Times entitled, "The C.E.O., Now Appearing on YouTube". It is really refreshing to see how Zuirch Financial Services has embraced these newer social technologies to create value in their business. This not only shows how to get creative in these uncertain economic times but also shows how to embrace the right technologies for the right job.

The chief executive James Schiro has created a YouTube channel for the company that documents his road show across the globe.

An example of this below:

James outlines the following benefits to using this method of communication:

  • Lower costs in communications (the non-private ones that is)
  • Embracing the mediums that younger generations prefer and ultimately relate to
  • Tied to the bullet above, there is a hope to draw in talent into the company as well by showing the progressiveness of the company
  • Demonstrate how to communicate without PowerPoint

There are some other great topics discussed in the article around leadership. The interview is worth the time to read.