Increasingly, enterprise architecture looks outward

The rise of public cloud adoption and digital channels is pushing enterprise architecture far beyond the bounds of the enterprise. Is it time for a "two-speed" mode?

Enterprise architecture may have recently emerged from the shadows, but it is already being challenged with missions that take it well beyond the bounds of its original enterprise box. Over the course of its existence, EA has focused on the identification of business needs and development of technology roadmaps to address inside-the-firewall corporate requirements, such as internal governance, workflow, data flow between applications, and reporting processes.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

Now, EA needs to encompass the technology, services and opportunities outside the walls of enterprises. Yes, outward-facing interfaces have been part of the EA mission since its earliest days, but now, it's reaching a point in which the external is outweighing the internal. IT planners need to look at the intersection of public cloud services with on-premises systems, and, at the same time, support the emergence of customer-facing digital capabilities.

From a customer-facing perspective, EAs are now getting intimately involved in planning and managing digital strategies, along with existing internal systems. Oliver Bossert, Chris Ip, and Jürgen Laartz, all with McKinsey, point out that many organizations have extensive legacy systems wired into their organizations, yet are challenged with getting on the digital track as fast as possible. In a new post, they recommend organizations adopt a "two-speed IT architecture" that will meet the needs of planning back-end systems of record with digital front ends.

Such a two-speed strategy would consist of "a fast-speed, customer-centric front end running alongside a slow-speed, transaction-focused legacy back end," the analysts explain. Customer-facing systems should be lightweight and modular, built for quick changes. The transactional core systems of record, on the other hand, "must be designed for stability and high-quality data management, which leads to longer release cycles."

Such a two-speed approach may be needed from an operational perspective as well, with the work of EAs is increasingly becoming enmeshed with adoption of external cloud services. Peter Heller, senior director of enterprise architecture marketing for Oracle, states that public cloud represents a new frontier for enterprise architecture. He channels the observations of Oracle colleague Thomas Kurian, who notes how "in the next two years, a growing number of companies plan to move key parts of their computing workloads to public clouds to take advantage of lights-out automated software provisioning and management, rapid project implementation, elastic scalability, and subscription-based pricing models." As a result, IT is evolving into the role of external service broker -- requiring the establish of enterprise governance principles.

Heller and Kurian note that EAs "need to understand how to move data to and from their public cloud software-as-a-service applications and their on-premises systems." In addition EAs "need to understand which business processes will extend across cloud and on-premises systems, what integration technology to use to best automate business processes across the two types of environments, and how best to test business processes when cloud SaaS offerings are upgraded." Additional considerations in this new hybrid environment include the integration of user identity and security.

McKinsey's Bossert, Ip, and Laartz say there is an urgency to moving quickly to EA that supports fast-moving digital approaches. "While most companies would have been comfortable in the past going through a three- to five-year transformation and not implementing new features in the meantime, today's highly competitive markets no longer allow players to alter architecture and business models sequentially. It is therefore important to realize that the transformation toward digital is a continuous process of delivering new functionality."

The bottom line is to expect to see EA focusing on proposing and planning hybrid target architectures "with very different platforms." Traditional transactional platforms need to coexist and integrate with systems optimized for customer experience. "The transformation can be sustained only if a high-level target architecture and standards in critical areas such as cybersecurity are clearly described from the beginning," the McKinsey analysts observe. "Without them, the transformation can be slowed down by the complexity of legacy and new hardware and application provisioning."

EAs also need to plan for ongoing software delivery based on various blends of methodologies -- mainly waterfall used for typical long-term IT transformations, combined with agile approaches for rapid iterations of front-end customer applications. The key is the two-track approach: "Those systems of record require rigorous development and testing methodologies and must be managed for resilience and scalability, with no compromises." Think of it as a partnership between the two worlds, the analysts urge.

(Disclosure: I have done project work within the past year for Oracle, mentioned in this post.)

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