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Apr 15

Enterprise Architecture and Thou

A commenter pointed me to this article on the struggles and frustrations of an enterprise architect.   I have no particular quibbles with the author or the post – he seems to be trying to figure out how to deal with a difficult environment.  But I do think that over time, he has given up the good fight, and let “that’s the way we’ve always done it” rule his thinking.

Now, admittedly, I don’t know anything about Enterprise Architecture, since over the last nine years I’ve been the only architect, one of two or (luxury) one of three architects for the entire company.  I’ve only had to integrate products and services with F500 architectures, I’ve never had to own one.  Correspondingly this “fisking” of the previous artitle resonated with me.  But after further reflection, I think it is also unfair to Mr. McIlree is working for a large company.  People who work for large companies typically do not care about the company.  They care about having and keeping a job.  For many people, their employer is nothing more than an endless salad bar – whose function in life is to provide the employee with a salary.  (That, typically, is one of the key differences between working for large and small companies)
In that kind of environment, large budgets are a symptom of sponsors who care about their own projects.  Let’s say we have Edna, who has money for a project that will improve her department.  Because of architectural constraints, it will cost her $1MM (1 million dollars).  Now, you’re the architect, and you know that with a $2MM extra investment, you could do a radical overhaul of the company’s architecture and make it so the next project for Edna would only cost $100,000 instead of $1MM.
But Edna is not going to authorize $3MM to pay for a $1MM project, unless she’s astonishingly perceptive or swimming in excess budget.  It’s not particularly fair to her to expect her to do so.   So you have to try to go to all of the department heads to convince them that $2MM divided up by 10 departments is a pittance in exchange for a cheaper/better/faster enterprise.

But I doubt that it would work.  Why?  Because many of those department heads know that they can free ride.  If you can get the other 9 to pony up $220K, they get the benefit for free.  And suddenly, only a couple of the department heads are in, and they aren’t willing to shoulder the cost for everyone else.

And so the architecture stays expensive, stays cumbersome and unresponsive, and the architect continues to be frustrated trying to make a difference.  In thinking about how I would solve this problem, should I ever be so fortunate to be in a position where I can, I would create a policy where IT projects automatically have a 20% ‘architectural maintenance’ tax attached to them, specifically in order to pay for ongoing enterprise architecture improvements.  Not sure if it will work, but it’s the best idea I’ve had on the subject so far.

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