Architecture and governance in an on-demand world
Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Over the next few years, organisations will increasingly adopt outsourcing and everything-as-a-service delivery models. We need to understand how to respond to these changes.
We need to start by considering the current approaches. At the risk of gross generalisation, current approaches to enterprise architecture (EA) and IT governance are detailed and standardised. EA involves formal models of business, covering business processes, organisational structure, information, business applications and supporting technology. IT governance involves controls on the change and service delivery processes used by the IT organisation. Both EA and IT governance assume a good deal of standardisation and maturity within the organisation.
Many organisations have problems adopting and getting value from EA and IT governance. Generalising again, many organisations view EA and IT governance as optional activities, that are only focussed on the IT organisation, and are disconnected from the realities of IT and of business.
It is tempting to think that outsourcing and everything-as-a-service will reduce our need for EA and IT governance, and sidestep these problems. It is certainly true that some aspects architecture and governance will diminish. If you run fewer in-house development projects, then you need less governance on your development processes. If you buy in software-as-a-service (SaaS), then you need less technical architecture. Overall, however, I think there will be a need for much more architecture and governance.
Take information architecture for example. When everything is in-house, using bespoke systems, the organisation's information architecture is implicit in the existing systems, and it can be hard to justify an architectural effort to formalise it. However, as soon as you adopt more packages and more software-as-a-service, you absolutely have to understand the relationship between the information assumed by these and your organisation's needs. The same is true for business processes. IT will be more heterogeneous, more dynamic, and less controlled, which makes architecture more relevant, not less.
Governance is similar. Where IT processes are all in-house, the case for IT governance is weaker because everyone involved is basically working towards the same goals. As soon as you introduce a service provider, there are potentially conflicting interests. The relationship, and every aspect of the service, has to be governed. IT processes will be less standardised, which makes governance more important, not less.
To respond to these new challenges, and to overcome existing problems, we need to change how we approach EA and IT governance.
I think we need to "get real", and to adopt a much more practical and down-to-earth approach. Current EA and IT governance are far too detailed, and their requirement for elegant models and defined processes places far too much of a burden on the organisation. We need simple, robust approaches that add value to the organisation even if its architecture and processes are heterogeneous and somewhat chaotic.
In this newsletter, I often write about taking a system view of IT, looking at IT as large lumps of business systems, rather than the whole complex of technology, processes and organisation. Simpler approaches like this are a good starting point for understanding architecture and IT governance in an on-demand world.