We see an emerging interest to manage the information management and meta-data of large organisations, simply to improve the common understanding of what is what, and who can do what with what information. The value of such an overview will inevitably be that organisations become better to align processes on more structured data earning corporate agility. It also helps the strategy to execution as the long-term planning becomes tighter aligned to the current way of doing stuff. It is easy to scratch a target picture on a white-board and call it “strategy”, but to make it actionable is a different exercise where people need to understand what ties into what, and who should be changing what stuff.
To pass that bridge, or to close that gap, the architecture information needs to be alive, connecting the moving parts of the enterprise (operations) also with some of the more static information, that hardly change year-on-year. This is what we refer to as a living architecture, or simply enterprise information management, which at heart is what can make master data management an alive discipline (MDM).
What is the alternative to this?
“Imagine you worked within architecture producing piles of documents – documents which are structured in a document container (if we are lucky), poorly connected (meaning they are typically not, each document is an entity of its own) and where the likelihood of people to read it declines for every month it has situated in the document container. If it is really bad, the manager with the longest seniority and largest inbox has the power to retrieve email attachments to share his or her view on the (‘dead’) architecture. It happens a lot of places. Managers leave, projects complete, and with this the architecture silently dies”. — dead architecture
So how to make the architecture alive?
“Think of the contents as information and try to re-use that information across your strategies, services and improvements form a pattern of what ties into what – a pattern of a ‘living architecture’ where SharePoint, PowerPoints, email etc. do not provide the full picture, but where the elements and records from this documentation, is tightly interconnected, and that PowerPoints and Word-documents may be produced for reading and reporting purposes, but not as the source of data. This creates a bigger picture that is continuously updated. This is the place where model-driven documents (MDD) goes in hand with master-data-management (MDM) techniques”. — new architecture
What is a living architecture?
A Living Architecture is not dead – it is something that still breathes, as opposed to static and dead architectures that once they were built, they never received more updates. Typically, this is what happens to project architectures and other process optimization projects where piles of academic thoughts are left in documents – isolated, left alone, or maybe as properties in a legacy repository.
Why do we need a living architecture?
Because pace of change is increasing, and management calls for better ways to get insight to data and relationships, such as which product is the most important one? Which services should we plan to use coming years? Where are the candidates for take-out? Such analysis should not be project deliverables, but be part of an ongoing process where data may be connected and viewed in new ways to support few-clicks to better fact-based decision support. By revitalize the architectural information you can move the data governance to be automated and part of the strategic analytics agenda.
Is the strategic agenda related to architecture?
Many people have different perspectives to what-is-what and what-connects-to-what. The only way to get the larger organisation to view this in the same way is to share actively the interpretations and definitions to iteratively get consensus to what an enterprise mean by this or that. This is not something that is thought-up in the architecture office as an ivory-tower exercise. Only by federating data and expressions you will get to the collaboration of the enterprise to view things in the same way, then to realize that many of the ‘things’ mean different to different stakeholders. A living architecture serves the need to embrace it all, connect it all, and structure the information with updates and relationships to make it relevant for as many people in the business as possible. Enterprise Architecture is the practice to master this across the entire business – so whoever gets a question like ‘what projects do we have’ or ‘what services do we offer’ or ‘what investments do we plan next year’ can provide updated and meaningful answers – irrespectively of who he or she is. If you relate this to services, the SOA expert and the infrastructure guys will likely get different views and perspectives – but it will relate to much of the same information. As people come and go, processes change with new mergers and acquisitions, innovations in the pace that business is buying new stuff, there are things that need to be updated and live after the projects are closed, this is the living architectural information that must be managed to provide a common platform for living artefacts. We also see an increasing interest to relate this to external vendors and external services, simply to provide a connected picture of what offerings the company with partners is able to provide, see also how to enable SIAM.
Does this mean there is only one truth?
It means that information should be mastered where they are master best – and the Enterprise Architecture should be able to connect and structure information online so that there always is the overall system for providing the connected insight. Will there be stored information only once, typically yes, however, the perspectives and views might be different, so that the answer may look different for different uses/use-cases. If you work with infrastructure, your interest in services might be a different perspective, then if you are developer working with SOA services, and yet again different from the business analyst’s that is planning the services in the market for next season. A living architecture is about the perspectives are different – so that different people will see different things – from whatever they find interesting! It’s not about making many large documents with ‘dead’ artefacts or huge process diagrams only the designer can understand!
A living architecture is about connecting the many types of data that are continuously changing at different frequencies in an organization and relate to each other. A good architecture description exhibit and collaborate with all stakeholders so that they can all see their perspective. A living architecture is the vibrant mean to succeed in the digital transformation. It provides the living links between the data. It may be useful for projects, but it may also be a subset to carry-on after projects are completed. The living architecture creates insight by building bridges between concepts and the many data in the real-world. And does it relate to governance? It certainly does, as we need to know who updates what from where. This is why a living architecture often is related to the digital governance offered by the MooD solutions.
There are plenty of frameworks that supports this. Open Group includes e.g. IT4IT working with value stream, and descriptions of how to enable the business with plan, build, run and subscriptions.
If you like architecture – and enterprise architecture in particular, then make sure you deliver to people in the business constantly updated views of the estate. Make sure you embrace the terms and definitions to make it relevant and urgent for the users. Don’t waste your energy of detailed process diagramming that no managers will understand, but let it supplement where needed and focus on master the living updates of information that enables a live digital platform – and a prerequisite for creating successful transformation.
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