A Gartner press release resulted in some very good posts in the blogosphere related to the future of enterprise architecture. Gartner coined the term ‘emergent architecture’ and encouraged companies to adopt it. For the record, I’ve decided that I really don’t like that term, and I don’t think Gartner did a very good job of defining it. They provided a list of seven differentiators from “the traditional approach to EA” but, as Mike Rollings of Burton Group pointed out in his post, most of these things are items that many practicing enterprise architects already did and knew. Do we really need a term for what many of us are already doing?
The post that I really liked came from Dion Hinchliffe at ZDNet. The reason for this is the image that he used in the post, shown here:
While I still don’t like the use of the term emergent architecture and “non-deterministic outcomes”, the picture tries to draw a picture of the forces the come into play in producing solutions.
So what is the role of EA in the future? First, the thing that doesn’t change is the role of EA in providing context. This context is an influencer on the activities that occur in the enterprise. Dion’s drawing attempts to touch on this, but goes at the scope of influence in terms of who can be influenced, rather than the information used to influence. It’s the role of the enterprise architect to bring additional context from outside of the normal scope of the effort to the solution discussion. Influence is not about centralized decision making, so as Mike Rollings called out, most EA’s have never been a centralized decision maker for all things architecture and never will be. We’re simply another party providing influence. Sometimes we have stronger methods, sometimes someone else does. In my book, SOA Governance, I emphasized policy creation first, then policy communication. If the policies are known, any decision maker can apply those policies consistently.
What Dion’s diagram doesn’t capture, is the changing way in which solutions get done. He still has the “projects” box up there. There are many of us that feel this project-based culture is part of the problem. If we take a more product-based or even service-based view of our solutions, those solutions will need to be nurtured and evolve over time, rather than stood up, ignored, and then uprooted with significant effort. This notion, as others have called out, including Neil Macehiter and Neil Ward-Dutton in their book The Technology Garden and practicing enterprise architect James McGovern in his blog, is that of gardening. Do you simply let anything emerge in your garden? No. You plant specific things, remove the weeds, remove weak plants, change some things from year to year, etc. If you don’t plan the garden properly, weeds can choke the life out of other plants, or there can be conflicts within the garden itself, with one type of plant consuming higher amounts of resources, causing others to wither and die.
Coming back to the role of EA as influencer though, the thing we must realize is that the dynamics around us are changing, and as a result, it may change who and how we influence. More and more things are bought rather than built. The level of consumer technology has changed the bar in terms of what individuals can do and expect. If we don’t change our ways along with it, our ability to influence will be diminished. This doesn’t mean things are now emergent. There have always been things that have been emergent, and a healthy company always has some efforts that fall into the category of throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. What’s changed is the pace at which we can do it. We need to incorporate this into the way we execute. I believe the trend toward business architecture is a clear sign of EA trying to do this. We must remember, however, that the artifacts and techniques used to provide context to developers and engineers may not work with the business. We need to speak the business language, not try to get them to understand ours.