Horizontal and Vertical Thinking, part 2

John Wu commented on my horizontal and vertical thinking post earlier in the week, and I felt it warranted a followup post. He stated:

Enterprise Architecture is a horizontal thinking while application development is a vertical thinking.

While I understand where John was coming from, I think that this approach is only appropriate at the very early stages of an EA practice. The first problem that an organization may face is that no one is thinking horizontally. This may go all the way down to the infrastructure level. Projects are always structured as a top-to-bottom vertical solution. While there may be individuals that are calling out some horizontal needs, unless the organization formally makes it someone’s responsibility to be thinking that way, it will have difficulty gaining traction.

Unfortunately, simply creating an EA organization that thinks horizontally and still letting the project efforts think vertically is not going to fix the problem. If anything, it will introduce tension in the organization, with developers claiming EA is an ivory tower and EA claiming that developers are a bunch of rogues that are doing whatever they want in the name of the project schedule.

If we characterize where the organization needs to go, it’s where both EA and the development organization are thinking both vertically and horizontally. This does come back to governance. Governance is about decision making principles to elicit the desired behavior. The governance policies should help an organization decide what things are horizontal, what things are vertical, and then assign people to work on those efforts within those architectural boundaries. Right now, many organizations are letting project definitions establish architectural boundaries rather than having architectural boundaries first, and then projects within those boundaries. Project boundaries are artificial, and end when the project ends. Architectural boundaries, while they may change over time, should not be tied to the lifecycle of a project.

So, EA should be concerned with both the vertical and the horizontal nature of IT solutions. Based upon the corporate objectives, they should know where it is appropriate to leverage existing, horizontal solutions and where it is appropriate to cede more control (although maintaining architectural consistency) to a vertical domain. Two systems that have some redundant capabilities but are architecturally consistent at least create the potential for a consolidation at some later point in time, when the corporate objectives and policies change. In order to do this, the project staff must also be aware of both the vertical and horizontal nature of IT solutions.

3 Responses to “Horizontal and Vertical Thinking, part 2”

  • Agree. The IT community must weave the cross-cutting and vertical solutions together to compose a fine fabric that can be tailored to fit the enterprise. My purpose by saying EA is the horizontal solution is to distinguish EA from application development. Vertical solution is always the basic but not the high light of EA. Horizontal solution is the added value of EA. The link to the Engineering of reuse does not work properly in my last comment.

  • […] I was recently having a conversation regarding data services and my recent posts (here and here) on horizontal versus vertical thinking put it in a new light. My experience has shown me that data services are one of the most controversial topics within an enterprise. […]

  • […] Previously, I had a post on horizontal and vertical thinking. In this discussion, I called out that an organization needs to understand what domains of functionality are horizontal, and what domains are vertical. When looking at vendors, if their model doesn’t match up with the organization’s model, conflict will occur. It may not be at an integration level, it may be at a higher semantic level where the way the business wants to use a tool just doesn’t match with the way the vendor chose to provide those capabilities. Having a domain model of the business functionality provides a way to quantitatively assess (or at least get a step closer to it) the ability of a product to be successful in the enterprise. This is the notion of SOA compliance, in my opinion. […]

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