Enterprise Architects as Agents of Innovation

The role of the enterprise architect -- and whether or not that role fosters innovation in organizations -- was highlighted during Day 2 (Feb. 7) at Forrester's Enterprise Architect Forum 2008, held in San Diego. The topic was examined via a mock debate between two Forrester analysts, one taking the IT architect's side and the other adopting the more skeptical view of business management.

Before this debate, a demonstration of Adobe Systems' AIR rich Internet application (RIA) technology was given by Kevin Lynch, Adobe Systems' senior vice president for the platform business unit and chief software architect. The aim of the demo was to suggest how emerging RIA technologies can improve communications in organizations and increase efficiency.

RIAs for Better Communications
Lynch showed an Adobe org chart done in the form of a map, built with Adobe AIR technology. The map showed Adobe employee office locations on the building's floor. Users can click on the offices and get bios, pictures and contact information for those personnel. Lynch suggested that this AIR-built interface offered at least one way for people to get better acquainted in the company, facilitating better communications.

The use of RIAs can also have a fiscal affect on businesses, Lynch contended, citing statistics on the use of Web-enabled shopping carts in which 50 percent of people don't complete the ordering process. He claimed that there is a 24 percent increase in shopping cart conversions to sales if an RIA interface is used for the cart.

Combining RIAs with service-oriented architectures leads to more productive interactions, Lynch said. However, it also depends on how expressive the client app is. Lynch suggested that enabling audio and video in the client was an important tool for facilitating collaboration.

Lynch demonstrated another AIR-enabled application, a clothes-shopping Web site. The site allows the user to insert the color of their choice into the interface and see the site's merchandise displayed in that color. He took a photograph of a house, sampled the color and inserted it into the clothes-shopping Web site. The site's display then showed dresses and other apparel that could be purchased in that same color.

Security has been a concern for AJAX-enabled RIAs. Lynch suggested that really sensitive data should be stored on the server side to be safe. Next, there should be local data encryption for applications, and IT needs to determine how much data should be allowed to reside on the client side. The future trend will be for data to be stored both on the client side and in the Internet cloud, he added. Lynch put in a good word for storing data in Adobe's PDF file format, which he said is "hard to crack."

Lynch emphasized the value of improved communications as a consequence of deploying RIAs.

"We've been working on RIAs for a long time," he said. "People say richness doesn't matter, but I don't agree. How does increased engagement affect people in organizations? The result is that people can communicate better."

He added that new RIA applications can be rapidly built and it's easier to create them now. The new RIA technologies are returning us to earlier days of Web technology, when it was more common to just build simple Web applications, he said.

"These apps will be so cheap to make that you'll be able to make disposable apps," he added.

Lynch said that he expects to see more momentum toward improving caching for RIAs. He also saw deficiencies in using scripting code, which is not efficient. In response, Adobe added an engine in Flash to help run JavaScript much faster. Meanwhile, Moore's Law has given us greater processing power. In addition, more things are possible now in the browser due to increased Internet bandwidth access.

The next technology wave will see displays having the capability to change information, Lynch said. For instance, multiple widgets will be able to expose information to each other. In response to a question about scalable vector graphics, Lynch said that he had thought that SVG would take off as an XML descriptor of graphics, but that industry had failed to embrace it. Lynch praised AJAX as a technique for using XML and touted Adobe's Flex technology as "one of the richer ways to do that."

Debating the EA's Role
Next, Gene Leganza, Forrester's vice president and research director, and Ken Vollmer, Forrester principal analyst, squared off for a debate. Vollmer played the role of a grouchy business executive while Leganza acted as an enterprise architect struggling to be understood.

Vollmer took the view that business is facing increased domestic competition and the pressures of globalization, adding that "We need to have enterprise architects support business innovation more effectively."

Leganza claimed that enterprise architects have been trying to work toward that end, but IT has a really tough job.

"Business processes and technology are embedded," Leganza said. "Business services are instantiated in code. It's complex. We have to maintain it and make sure it's integrated."

Vollmer complained that IT doesn't speak English. He accused enterprise architects of performing R&D for themselves, treating R&D as an extracurricular activity. He said that while 90 percent of business executives feel that technology is crucial to the enterprise, only 70 percent of those executives feel that IT can deliver on projects.

Leganza said that enterprise architects are fostering innovation. For instance, according to one survey, 42 percent of organizations found some efforts were successful with their business process management (BPM) implementations. Moreover, 37 percent found clear improvements with BPM installations, and only 18 percent found no measurable success, with three percent undecided.

Vollmer and Leganza reached some general conclusions from this mock debate, which mostly served to highlight organizational communication problems. First, business management and IT need a process for collaboration. Use Wikis and other collaborative tools to help make it happen, they said.
IT needs to set aside time for communications concerning the business side of things, including allowing time for brainstorming. Finally, the organization needs to form teams that include both IT architects and business people to strategize on how to meet the organization's goals.

About the Author

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