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Listening to today’s debate about whether an organization should move to the cloud or not, brings me back to my youth and a song by Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now.” It begins with the lines “Rows and flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air, and feather canyons everywhere, I've looked at clouds that way.” That reminds me of the wonderful things we have all heard about this new, bright shiny thing we call “The Cloud.” We have been told that moving to the cloud will solve all of our problems, and make our IT solutions Cheaper, Faster, and more flexible to market demands. I would like to curb that enthusiasm a little with Joni’s next verse, “But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone, so many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.” You see, we in IT are way too often chasing the next “Shiny Thing” and not paying attention to the foundation of what our current infrastructure and how that aligns with business’s vision is for tomorrow. That my friends, is the heart of the discipline that has been around since John Zachman’s breakthrough publication that created the very concept of Enterprise Architecture. Gartner states “Enterprise architecture is defined as a discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces (i.e. Cloud, Hyper-Convergence, etc.) by identifying and analyzing the execution of change towards desired business vision and outcomes.” I know that EA in general has fallen out of favor over recent years mostly because of the authoritarian way in which it was implemented in the early days using absolute framework execution (Zachman, TOGAF, FEA). However, I feel at its core it has never been more needed than in today’s world of rapidly our evolving infrastructure.
In today’s business models, technology is shifting to an often un-integrated network of smaller, more agile applications that are often hosted in the cloud (SaaS). With the business units now less reliant on massive enterprise solutions like ERP, it’s tempting to think that the hard work of creating sustainable enterprise architecture (EA) is also behind us. So, as many companies make the move to cloud computing they anticipate leaving behind a lot of the headaches of EA. But is that how things will really play out?
For even as we push business processes into the cloud, none of it can standalone. Proper Enterprise Architecture discipline is still needed to make sure that everything works together to support business vision and future needs. You see, no matter how great the appli-structure is, or where it is housed, someone will still need to define and manage the relationships and dependencies between business vision, technologies and business initiatives. Many customers have paid the price for the absence of an EA “due diligence” at the price of project failure or missed expectations.
Stephen Mann, analyst at Ovum, says “SaaS is now becoming a mainstream part of the corporate IT mix but using it for the right reasons, in the right places and in the right way within an organization is crucial.” That is the very definition of Enterprise Architecture.
"In today’s business models, technology is shifting to an often un-integrated network of smaller, more agile applications that are often hosted in the cloud (SaaS)"
Cloud computing does not replace “real” enterprise architecture. Contrary to what the salesmen say to your business units, it isn’t a simple, easily deployed solution, when you look at the enterprise in its totality! Explain to them it is a technology that holds the promise of providing more effective and elastic computing platforms, but explain to them to not believe all of the selling hype. Remember, salesmen are usually more interested in selling the product than the actual long-term impact on your organization.
New technologies are great and everyone loves to think they will solve our problems. However, using new technology just because it is touted as the latest and greatest is usually a costly mistake. Technology selection should be driven not by its “coolness factor,” but rather by business mission and its integration into the current underlying appli-structure. Moving some enterprise applications to the cloud may in fact, make some current technology issues go away, but badly architected solutions may only make your failure more, because the problem often is not the technology but people and/ or process.
So when your business partners come to you with the latest cloud solution that will make their life easier, refer them to another verse in Joni’s song: “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.” Our business units don’t know clouds at all, they are simply looking for the best solution to solve their issues. It is our job as IT leaders to remind them that the best way to accomplish their business mission is to use Enterprise Architecture methodologies to ensure the proper alignment of business vision with IT solutions, and one of those MAY certainly be the cloud!
If you don’t currently have Enterprise Architecture in your organization, or it has not been designed to accommodate extreme complexity and change, then I would start working fast to create your EA processes to accommodate the coming storm of an exponential growth in complexity and rate of change, because Cloud Computing in its current form is not likely to be the last technology innovation you are going to have to address.
You see, much like Joni Mitchell, I’ve also looked a clouds from both sides now, both chasing the new shiny thing in disregard to an encompassing EA strategy, and going into it with eyes wide open with an understanding of “future business vision” and stitching the “as-is” and “to-be” technology stacks together into an executable Enterprise Architecture Strategy. Therefore, my conclusion is we need Enterprise Architecture now more than ever!
“Seven thousand years of known history of humankind establishes that the only known strategy for accommodating extreme complexity and extreme change is… ARCHITECTURE!!!” Fabio Castiglioni, September 25, 2012.