I’ve been thinking about IT architecture – more correctly, Enterprise Architecture, and most recently, something I’m referring to as Ecosystem Architecture.  This thinking was stimulated by some of the results of our recent Reaching Level 3 multi-company research project.  That research showed that one of the most critical gaps in many companies IT capabilities is around Enterprise Architecture (EA). 

I don’t find this deficiency in Enterprise Architecture capabilities particularly surprising – the nature and role of architecture in the IT world has been evolving over the last few years – especially from a relatively limited focus on technology, to a more contemporary and potentially higher value focus on the enterprise.  At its best, this incorporates enterprise information, business processes, and even the business operating model.  I also recognize that architecture is one of those things that is rarely fully understood or appreciated, is often staffed by people who are technically very bright, with great analytical and conceptual skills, but sometimes lack the kinds of business communication skills that enable them to convince their customers and managers of the value of architectures, and of the need to properly position and resource the EA role.

Compounding the problem, many companies have managed to stave off the need for a real architecture capability by implementing vendor application packages such as an ERP.  One of the “great things” about ERP packages (actually, this is a double-edged sword – see my post “Did You Accidentally Outsource Your Enterprise Architecture“) is that they bring with them much of the IT architecture.  It’s like the buyer of a “Home-Theater-in-a-Box” does not need to be concerned with the arcane technical interface details such as whether and where to use Component Video, s-video, DVI, HDMI, etc.  The buyer who wants, on the other hand, future flexibility by buying individual components and upgrading piece-by-piece as the technology evolves (DVD to Blue-ray, for example) does need to be aware of the ins and outs of component interfacing, and needs to select standards and design an architecture for their home theater.  Of course, they can outsource this to an installation company, but then they may be at the mercy of this company (and their high fees) when they want to add or change components.  The Home-Theater-in-a-Box solution finesses the need for architectural discipline until some type of flexibility is needed that was not anticipated by or addressed by the integrated unit.  If I can push the analogy too far, it’s as if your business partner comes home one day and says, “Look, I just got a great deal on this library of Blue-ray disks – let’s watch them!”  And you, the IT manager of your home entertainment system has to tell the excited business partner, “Em, sorry, but we went for the integrated system, and it is not compatible with Blue-ray!”

So, I find most IT organizations are weak in this Enterprise Architecture space, and I believe this is a dangerous deficiency that over time will create a business disadvantage.  This is especially true as companies move towards becoming Next Generation Enterprises (NGE), or Enterprise 2.0.  In the NGE world, the notion of the business ecosystem becomes key, as does shifting the focus of IT architecture – hence, Ecosystem Architecture.

As I was preparing for this post, I googled Ecosystem Architecture and came across some interesting things.  See for example this presentation on a Digital Ecosystem for E-Logistics Enterprises, and this tutorial on Dynamic Self-Organizing Digital Ecosystem Architectures, and this one on Ultra-Large-Scale Systems.  This is clearly a topic with some interesting work being done, at least in the academic domain, and a topic I will explore further in upcoming posts.