Architecting to adapt

Published on the 16/05/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

Architecting to adapt

Imagination and creativity key for enterprise architecture…

Marcus Blosch is on a mission to get Australian and New Zealand enterprise architecture teams – and indeed the wider IT team and overall business – to develop some wonder and imagination.

It is, the Auckland-based VP of research for Gartner’s Asia Pacific enterprise architecture team, key to survival in a rapidly changing world.

“Architecture really is about creativity, not plumbing.”

“The truth is no one knows what the next six months is going to look like, let alone the next two or three years. So how do you create an organisation that can change and adapt quickly and efficiently?,” he told iStart.

“To survive in this new world you have to change the way you think. We’re not talking about an organisation as a machine anymore, but the organisation as an organism with more of an ecosystem mentality or approach.”

That requires big changes for the enterprise architecture and tech teams in organisations, with architecture teams transitioning from being the plumbers, to more consulting and advisory roles, enabling a decentralised, federated ecosystem of participants who can innovate based on their own needs.

“Just like buildings, don’t see architecture as plumbing and building regulations and standards. Sure, that is there. But architecture really is about creativity – about having great ideas and then bringing them into reality.

“Think about the design side of architecture – what cool things can you do, where can you find inspiration and how can you bring that into reality? That’s where architecture is powerful. Making sure one system connects to another, sure that has some value, but it’s not as transformative as thinking of a really new service or experience for a customer.”

Taking a step back, Blosch says the way organisations are approaching digital transformation is changing.

“In many ways the last flavour of it was just basic updating and optimising of existing processes. Nothing spectacular,” he says.

Democratisation, with digital delivering shifting out into the business, the influx of digital natives into the business, including in middle management roles and the rise of low code, no code toolsets and federate organisational models, combined with AI and the reinvention of work are resulting in organisations seeing digital transformation in ‘completely, radically different’ ways to before.

“You can’t do it the same way and get away with it.”

Where one of the old metaphors for architecture was city planning – “a terrible way of thinking because it was all command and control” – Blosch calls on an updated version: Smart cities, where multiple participants play different roles built on the exchange of information and different parts of the organisation are moving at different speeds.

“It’s a better metaphor because it allows the organisation to change but it takes away the command and control, centralising-type dynamic.”

But with those changes comes a big question from an architecture perspective: How do you enable a decentralised, federated ecosystem of participants who can innovate based on their own needs, making use of information for everything to work together.

“That’s what we are heading into and it’s a much more complicated world. That’s a big challenge.

“Traditional forms of architecture which are plumbing orientated, aren’t relevant in this. In our conception, architecture is much more useful as consulting and advisory, enabling this new connected ecosystem inside the organisation.

“But how do we build that?”

On the technology front, the answer lies in componentisation – a concept Gartner has been talking up for a number of years now. It’s essentially making everything out of ‘lego’ blocks, and enabling information sharing through APIs.

“From a technology perspective, modular, service-orientated architectures, connected up via APIs, are designed to change.”

For companies who have already bought into the big international vendor systems, but are keen to embrace a more component-based model, Blosch has some bad news.

“Unfortunately, as an organisation, when you buy into the big vendors you pretty much go into a medieval fiefdom. You pretty much nail your future to them. Your ability to control your destiny is limited, so you have to be careful about how far down that rabbit hole you go.”

Despite that – and a reluctance on the part of vendors – there are options to modularise or break up the monolith in some areas and add on best of breed solutions.

“You don’t have the same amount of freedom as if you didn’t do that but you can adopt that strategy.”

But it’s not all bad news, with Blosch noting that technology is only one part of the story.

“You may be a bit more limited in your underlying technology, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited in your people and the skills or competencies they have, or in your management processes and governance models.”

Those two areas are key in preparing for change and future innovation.

“You have to look at the people, skills and competencies. Do you have the people with the right skill sets who can innovate and implement and do it over and over?”

Blosch says too many organisations are almost entirely orientated around business as usual with no capacity to innovate and change.

“We have to have the right people to do that.”

Governance models too, are key

“Do you have the processes and skills and methodologies to innovate and change over and over and over again? Can you future proof yourselves so you as an organisation can adapt to the needs of customers and markets whichever direction they go? And then assume it is going to change and it’s going to change quickly and we don’t know how so what is it we can do to future proof ourselves for that?”

He’s keen for local businesses to get back to being more innovative and experimental, saying organisations have become too risk averse.

“One of the problems is people often have the ideas but then end up doing nothing about it.

“Create little experiments, try something out, see if you can make it work.”

Blosch says the future of architecture lies in imaging the possible – what we could be doing, where we could be going, the types of services we could be creating.

“It’s how can we use technology creatively. That design side, rather than the execution side, because the execution side – well, in future that will just disappear into the toolsets and into the cloud.”

Gartner research – it’s global, but Blosch believes A/NZ results would be on par, if not slightly behind – shows 40 percent of respondents are stuck in traditional architecture modes, but almost all are trying to step into more ‘business outcome driven architecture’.

Another 40 percent said architecture begins with the business, not the technology and are trying to mature their business driven architecture. And 15-20 percent say architecture is about consulting, helping business and IT stakeholders make smart decisions.

“That’s the direction of travel,” Blosch says.

So what should A/NZ organisations consider doing now to prepare for this new future?

Blosch says it all starts with developing ‘some wonder’.

“Develop your imagination about what the future can be and what cool things you could be able to do. A lot of innovation and new ideas flow from the power of imagination, yet a lot of organisatins and managers seem to have that beaten out of them. They’re forced into innovation kicking and screaming rather than having that wonder and imagination with them all the time.”

Second is to look at your technology, people and processes and design yourself for adaptability and change.

“How do we drive ourselves around learning and training cycles faster than anyone else?,” he says.

“People have lost imagination and creativity, but without that how are you going to imagine a future?”

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