By Frank Greco

March 2018

Promises and Challenges of Modern Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Are Not Singular Entities


As most successful enterprise architects and experienced senior technologists deeply understand, an enterprise is not a single entity.  An enterprise is a collection of related business units with a common goal of profitability.  It is an aggregate, dynamic yet unified entity that provides a product or service to benefit customers in return for revenue and profit.  Quite often the term is loosely and incorrectly used interchangeably with “company” or “business”.


If you investigate the original meaning of enterprise, the tone of initiative, resourcefulness, innovation and managed risks resonates often.  And over the years we have discovered the importance of acting as change agents in the world of IT management.  An enterprise is an environment that accepts change to benefit both customers and the organizations in an enterprise.


But it’s more than this.


The design of an enterprise, that is, its architecture, must exhibit this changeability and adaptability as a core meme.  No longer can an enterprise describe the current state of the enterprise and unequivocally predict a final, target state.  The business world changes too rapidly today.  An enterprise can march their teams toward a desirable target, but along with way, the business environment may shift in unexpected ways.  Moving from one steady state to another steady state now seems dangerously primitive for large organizations.




Rigorous Adaptability Addresses The Element Of Uncertainty


To address the element of uncertainty, an enterprise should be modeled as a complex and active collection of systems.  This ecosystem has biological overtones and at its core, fundamentally must understand dynamic and rapid adaptability.  This agility must be a foundational quality of any successful enterprise, not a peripheral nice-to-have feature.


The CEO understands the importance of this agility.  The COO and CIO certainly understand.  The leaders of the business units understand.  But it is even more important for all the participants in the enterprise, both inside and outside of the firewall, to develop and manage their systems with agility as a core feature.  This is critical in adapting to a perpetually changing technology and business environment.



For Many Enterprises, No Risk Means No Reward


We all know the IT business is always in a constant state of permutation and transformation.  Boy, do we know this.  It’s the nature of the beast.  And it’s our job to take calculated risks to deftly adopt these changes to benefit the business or to actually become the business in some instances.  Most of us already know the reward of economic success, whether it’s the form of increased revenue or reduced costs, is closely associated with new technology adoption.


Sometimes these new technology innovations come in small waves.  Sometimes there are large, sustained waves to ride.  And at certain magic times, there is a collection of technology waves that bring significant innovative alterations to enterprise information systems.


Recently there has been a tremendous influx of new technologies, techniques and tools that are dizzying.  We now have several technology trends, with some of them potentially game-changing.  It is important for us to not look at each one individually but view them as potential ingredients for more comprehensive solutions.  Quite often, major advances in the IT business occur when several technologies are combined and used in innovative ways. 


Modern Tools And Techniques Focus On Agility


The crucial characteristics of agility and adaptability is clearly behind the trends in information technology during the last 5 years.  We’ve evolved from continuous testing and continuous deployment with our software to rapid deployment using robust cloud platforms and a ever-expanding universe of APIs inside and outside of the firewall.


The popularity of cloud platforms over the past few years are indications of the deep interest of enterprises to move rapidly in a constantly changing business environment.  During this time we’ve learned the true advantages of cloud deployment.  Initially the prevailing consensus of early cloud users was centered on cost reduction as the primary advantage.  Instead, the true advantage of cloud computing is the ability to rapidly deploy new apps or scale existing apps up (or down) to quickly address customer demand or react to an unexpected business event. 


In addition to the evolution of cloud computing in the enterprise, we’ve also learned the huge advantages of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).  This has allowed organizations to build software rapidly with highly functional, external APIs, and not necessarily our own.  The usage of APIs not only allowed us to be consumers of services; it offered enterprises to become service providers, which in many cases has helped to accelerate monetization of our own internal service offerings.


The API economy is massive and along with cloud deployment, is becoming a critical component of enterprise IT.  Enterprises now bestow the title of Chief Cloud Architect and API Product Manager to trusted members of their executive staff.  This is a clear example of the interest in reduced business latency. 


But these tools reflect just the adolescent stage of our lowered IT latency era. 




The New Enterprise IT Toolset and Best Practices


Enterprise IT now has even more technologies at its disposal to help increase business velocity.  The current philosophy of software construction, deployment and maintenance has huge implications for enterprise IT.  Microservices, containers, hybrid cloud, serverless, next generation PaaS, devops, novel security techniques, machine learning, modern web, blockchain and network advances all reflect the continuing need of the enterprise to even further reduce technical and business latency. 


These tools are quite powerful.  They promise to provide the enterprise with a toolset and collection of strategies that offer even more rapid development and instantly scalable deployment.  For example, “Serverless” computing is a huge trend that removes servers and server administration responsibility, and focuses on functions as the unit of scalable deployment.  Machine Learning is another powerful wave that will prevail for the next 5-10 years at least.  Allowing software to detect patterns from data and then changing its behavior based on that data has potentially significant benefits for many enterprises.  Innovative business models and new revenue streams would seem to be awaiting the enterprises that properly leverage these tools.


These new tools are also seductive and present challenges.  While they massively change how IT organizations design, develop, deploy and manage systems, they still require best practices to use them effectively in the enterprise.


As we know all too well, our new business environment is complex, extremely dynamic, hugely event-driven, and constantly challenging our strategies and deliverables.  This unpredictable environment requires enterprises to rapidly adapt to change and provide viable reactions to business events. 


Quite simply, modern enterprise IT requires extreme agility.  And IT managers need to know about the new tools and strategies, and how to best leverage them.