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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0 thoughts on “Is Architecture Different Based on Where You Live?”

  1. I completely agree with this actually.
    Environment is a critical influence to the tendencies of the architect. Technologies and patterns which customers accept as successfully meeting thier criteria will promote a tendency towards re-use and a higher level of “thought share” if you will during the stages of decomposing the vision to technologies and systems.
    My experience with global organizations based out of Europe, for example, indicates a much stronger tendency towards open-source solutions, for example. This often impacts the architecutre in that any Microsoft components if possible need to be abstracted as much as possible to lend at least a basic amount of interoperability/modifiability.

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  2. Wayne, you make some excellent points. The scenario is even further deepened with the EU and their tendencies to look at Open Source as well. So even if the general IT community prefers to go towards Open Source, the feeling is amplified with an authoritative source preferring it. This is a similar situation in South American countries like Brazil.
    Thanks for adding your feedback!
    ~Mike

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