How to convince the boss good architecture matters

Like all preventive medicine, IT architecture management is vital to organizational health -- and a hard sell for business buy-in

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Another example: how to customize COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) software. The ETAM solution: Make use of the built-in configuration tools provided by the application vendor, and if these can't do the job, write satellite applications that integrate into the COTS application through its defined APIs.

Here's how not to do this: Modify the vendor's code. Business plans have no impact on this guidance.

Business-driven ETAM decisions

There are some business futures that truly drive decisions about the enterprise technical architecture. You need to involve senior leadership in all of them. Want an example? The trade-off between independent action and business integration is usually the most important.

Companies that value integration -- that consider the enterprise a machine with interlocking gears, pulleys, cams, and levers -- need an ERP-oriented enterprise technical architecture. They need, that is, a unifying business suite that serves as a hub for data and business logic, so that when marketing sneezes, supply chain knows to say "gesundheit!"

Companies that value independent action -- with a more entrepreneurial form of leadership -- want those responsible for a business function, shared service, or line of business to make decisions based on what will make their area more successful, without having to pay too much attention to ripple effects. This sort of company needs a federated architecture built around focused best-of-breed solutions and integrated using some form of EAI (enterprise application integration) system, service bus, or equivalent technology.

Companies that value integration more highly will ask each part of the business to sacrifice functionality if necessary to achieve superior integration. Companies that value independent action will recognize the same trade-off but will make the opposite choice.

Here's another example: The extent to which the business expects to rely on a mobile, vertical, or (to a lesser extent) virtual workforce. The issue here plays out in the need to support devices other than standard PCs that have one or more monitors plus mice and keyboards -- smartphones and tablets, that is. To the extent that need is real, companies will require applications structured to segregate business and integration logic from user-interface logic.

And a third: The more dramatically processing loads vary, whether randomly or seasonally, the more likely it is that a cloud-based solution will prove superior to internally hosted applications.

Handling the political anticase

As mentioned earlier, company politics, especially if silo-driven decision-making dominates, makes enterprise-oriented decisions about the technical architecture nearly impossible. Here's what IT can do to turn the political situation to its advantage:

  • Be blunt and overt: There's always a regular meeting of the company's top executives. Introduce the challenge at one of these meetings, and don't soft-pedal it. Say it more or less as presented above, threaten to explain the engineering behind your assertion to anyone who doesn't trust you about it, and ask everyone in the room how they propose to overcome this core IT governance challenge.
  • Don't bluster: It's highly likely the company is already experiencing several warning signs of bad architecture. Point them out, and make it clear they'll only get worse if the company doesn't invest in solutions.
  • Take advantage of the chargeback system: If you have to deal with chargebacks, corporate should add an architecture subsidy to every software-related project. While you're almost certainly better off getting rid of the chargeback system altogether, if you can't, this will eliminate the altruism obstacle.

Finally, make it clear that while the benefits of fixing existing architectural problems can be measured objectively, ETAM is mostly preventive. That makes it like everything else the company does to keep bad things from happening -- a good investment whose benefits can't be measured.

If you're challenged on that point, you already have the solution: Threaten to explain it.

This story, "How to convince the boss good architecture matters," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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