A Copernican Shift (And A Tip Of My Hat To Randy Heffner)

Brian Hopkins
Vice President, Principal Analyst
December 20, 2011

As my first calendar year as an analyst draws to a close, I wanted to thank everybody who has read and commented on my blog and say that I look forward to even more next year. In closing out the year, I turn for a moment away from emerging technology to share an email I wrote to one of our clients in response to some questions he had about the changing nature of EA. In describing the future, I'm going to blatantly pirate a term that Randy Heffner has been using for a while because as I sought to answer this client's questions, I realized how absolutely spot on it is. here is the relevant text of that email:

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Happy to answer your questions as outlined below in the inquiry request. We have published a report along similar lines, BT 2020: IT's Future In The Empowered Era, that I recommend for additional ideas. Regarding timing, 2015 will be a stepping stone towards 2020, so I’ll focus answers on 2020, and you can extrapolate to 2015 in terms of the migration that needs to occur.

My colleague Randy Heffner has been using the phrase “a Copernican shift” to describe what’s happening to enterprise architecture – similar to when Copernicus’ idea of the Earth actually moving in and around the heavens (instead of vice versa) finally took hold, people’s view of themselves in the universe profoundly and dramatically changed, forever. It wasn’t a swing of the pendulum, in other words. That’s what’s going on in the practice of EA – our view of the world is changing from techno-centric to business-centric. Along the same lines, savvy businesses are shifting their view of EA as a technology thing to EA for business.

How does this idea apply to your specific questions?

a) What will be the scope and focus of enterprise architecture in 2015 and 2020? We have been saying for a while that business and technology have become inseparable. There is no business that can be successful without a technology backbone that keeps it competitive in the information age; the implication is that offloading responsibility for technology selection and delivery to an “IT” department will not work in the future. Further, the rise of the cloud, outsourcing, and “everything-as-a-service” is eroding the notion that big, centralized IT is even necessary. The natural extension of the shift is that EA is becoming a thing that companies do, not a team they have. Furthermore, the focus or central outcome is not technology success; it’s business success. The highest manifestation of this is a firm where business planning and strategy, enterprise architecture, and corporate governance all report up to the same CEO or COO. This has profound implications for the skills and techniques that EAs need for the future.

b) To what extent will system architectures move toward a modular and granular approach, and how are integration layers formed in this approach? It seems that this question may be based in the notion that EA is still about IT systems. Based on a), I think that while this is probably true today, it will not be in 2020. To answer your question from that context, I think that “system architectures” will still be important so long as the system is the entire enterprise (the business) and not just a technology that the business uses. Integration takes on a broader context that includes people integration, process integration, and traditional technology integration. People integration? That’s collaboration, which includes face time as well as technology-enabled collaboration, as an example. Regarding modularity and granularity, the same approaches that made IT systems more agile (modularity, service interfaces, etc.), can make business more agile.

c) On which part(s) of the enterprise stack (business, functionality, infrastructure) lies the strategic focus of the company? The enterprise = the business in the future. Businesses have always and will always focus on a strategy to compete in their markets. The “enterprise stack” must readjust to this fact and focus on helping architect for successful business outcomes and not successful technology deployments.

d) What is the mandate of enterprise architecture by 2015 and 2020 (still in IT or more closely to business changes)? By 2020, the most successful firms will be “architecting their businesses for success,” even if they don’t call this practice enterprise architecture. I’m already seeing firms eschew the term “EA” as being to laden with techno-baggage. Internally, we have been discussing the notion of the practice of EA as being more important than the team called EA. Given this, the mandate for EA will be to help its firm craft the business future state and the road map to get there. These architecture deliverables will include people, process, and technology components, and most importantly, like any good architecture, they will be developed specifically to address the concerns of a set of stakeholders, starting with the business executives who are ultimately accountable for their firm’s future. This is something my colleagues Randy Heffner and Henry Peyret have dubbed business-centered EA. More from us on that soon.

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Happy holidays!

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