Architects Are Key To Improving Business Processes

Focus on the information, not just the technology -- that was part of the message delivered by Allen Brown, president and CEO of The Open Group. Brown delivered a keynote talk on "The Evolving Role of the Enterprise Architect" at the Enterprise Architect Summit 2007 event held this week.

Most of the presentations at Enterprise Architect Summit took a high-level view. Presenters were typically more interested in how to make business processes work rather than code-level details. Brown also took the high road, developing a metaphor from a 1999 paper by business writer Peter Drucker on how technological innovations were slow in actually changing business processes for the better. 

Brown argued that information technology (IT) is currently stuck as far as meeting business needs. On the other hand, the enterprise architecture approach is the sort of thing that is really going to make a difference in how businesses are run.

The analogy for IT, according to Brown, is that we're at a similar point now in the information revolution as we were at in the industrial revolution after its first 50 years. In the information revolution, we're still doing the same things. We haven't actually made any real difference in how businesses are run.

Computers haven't made any difference in how businesses make decisions because of the heavy focus on the "T" (technology) by IT.

Brown argued that we need to focus on the information, not the technology, to improve business processes.

One practical attempt to improve business processes was conducted by General Motors. GM initiated a project to determine the cost of a car throughout the supply chain. However, GM used an old method to get the information, based on internal accounting methods. Drucker argued that you need to look outside of the organization to find this sort of information, Brown said.

An organization's boundaries must be permeable, so that silos don't get in the way of a business, Brown said. The problem is that each department in a company has developed its own way of working. The goal is to get them speaking the same language, but in practice that's proven to be difficult. Once you have the groups together, you have to get their information systems together -- but these systems don't talk to each other.

Under this scenario, the enterprise architecture approach is needed because no one is going to throw away their legacy applications, Brown said. He used the analogy that the enterprise architect is like a city planner who looks at the big picture and how it's all going to come together.

Governance is a big issue on the enterprise architect's side. However, when it comes to governance issues, all of the IT folks say, "We'll find a way to get away from this," Brown said. It sounds to them like the enterprise architect wants to control everything, but that's really not the point of insisting on proper governance.

Brown appealed for greater professionalism in the enterprise architecture field. For that to happen, architects need a professional body. One such is the Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA), which is designed for individuals to get more involved in the trade.

The organization that Brown heads, The Open Group, certifies people as being knowledgeable about TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework), which consists of standards for doing architecture work. TOGAF has its roots in part from a contribution by the U.S. Department of Defense, which donated TAFIM (Technical Architectural Framework for Information Management), Brown said.

The Open Group is also a standards body contributor and provides certification services for the ITAC (IT Architecture Certification) program.

A link to an audio record of this presentation from the Enterprise Architect Summit '07 can be found here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.