Don’t become an Enterprise/IT Architect…

… really: don’t. It’s going to be nasty business.

I recently read:

Work was never meant to be fun. Consider the etymology of the French travail and the Spanish trabajo, each a translation of the English noun “work”: their Latin root is trepaliare, “to torture, to inflict suffering or agony.”

How the chicken nugget became the true symbol of our era

Right.

The same is true for the germanic Arbeit (German), arbeid (Dutch) which have their roots in ‘hard work’, ‘forced to do hard work’. There are links outside germanic, eg. Armenian arbaneak (servant), slavic rabŭ, robŭ (servant, slave), rabota (slavery — see robot). You get the drift.

Having done the usual digression upfront (one can always hope 😊), this post is about why — for many true professionals — Enterprise/IT Architecture/Strategy is getting more and more frustrating, and less and less the fun ‘let’s get this complex problem solved’ discipline it can be.

Enterprise landscapes (and society) are getting harder and harder to change, mostly as a result of increasing IT volumes. Technical decoupling may be rife, logical decoupling is a completely different story. Hence, adding to the landscapes is relatively easy(-ish…), which is why IT volume still grows fast, but that ‘ease’ masks the real difficulties regarding change. Growth masks the difficulties above all for those unaware of the reality of the shop floor (mostly found in ‘upper management’ of organisations and society — i.e. Boards of Directors, politicians, etc.).

In other words, yes, there are two speeds in IT: change is slow, growth is fast(-ish). Even if upper management (and many others, but the focus of this post is directed at the gap between ‘top’ and ‘bottom’) thinks they understand the complexity and effects, in reality, most of the time they have no clue as to the actual scale of the problem (there are always exceptions, of course, and lucky the Enterprise/IT Architect–Strategist who works for one).

The gap between upper management expectations for the capacity to change versus the reality of the difficulty to change also increases, because the difficulty to change grows much faster than upper management — without IT insight — can adapt to. Adaptation here amongst other things means: lowering expectations with regard to the capacity for change to make these expectations more realistic. It also means: saying goodbye to good-old trusted top-down ways of trying to manage the problem. To make matters worse, regarding the IT in their landscape, (upper) management is generally at phase one of the four stages of competence.

There is a strong irony here: upper management is often very focused on the difficulty getting the shop floor (the employees) to adapt to change. But it apparently escapes most of them that this holds for themselves too. Mirror, mirror…

Whatever assessment there has been of the success of enterprise architecture and other instruments to fight the results of the complexities of IT, one things has invariably be concluded: without engagement of top management (which of course will educate them to something they may currently be blind to), it is not going to work.

The world is somewhere on the rapid growth part of the S-curve of the information revolution. It is at the point that the S-curve is going into maturity that speed of change slows down. It is at that point that the gap between expectation of change capacity by upper management and the reality of the actual capacity for change is going to increase. And Enterprise/IT Architects–Strategists are amongst other things tasked with bridging that worsening gap.

Which means that — for Enterprise/IT Architects–Strategists and many more people who actually are active in shaping that digital landscape — as long as there is no true engagement of top management, the gap between them and their upper management looks like this red curve, which incidentally also represents how enjoyable/frustrating EA-like jobs are:

We’re in the period of rapid growth, the middle of the blue curve. That is also the period where (IT-related, which is much) change inside organisations (and society) gets more difficult every day, and thus noticeably slows down. Well run and successful projects that take more than five years are no exception. Conclusion: we are still in rapid growth, but the speed of growth is diminishing, the acceleration of growth seems to be over.

But as expectations of upper management follows past experience, expectations are still high, leading to many people in IT, and good Enterprise IT Architects–Strategists in particular, have jobs that put them on a psychological equivalent of the medieval torture rack (yes, I am exaggerating). They constantly are bearers of ‘bad news’, they try to convince people of different paradigms, which are not yet welcome as the expectations are still based on poor ideas about what is assumed to work. Making their life worse is a constant stream of bad Enterprise/IT Architects–Strategists that — generally as consultants — bring welcome (but faulty) good news to the top. Those bad Enterprise/IT Architects–Strategists experience less frustration, obviously. Ignorance is bliss…

Is your relation as an Enterprise/IT Architect–Strategist with upper management frustrating you because they do not truly engage and are clearly unaware of the actual complexities of reality? Brace yourself. It’s probably only going to get worse.

PS. Yes E., “speaking truth to power” is part of the job description…

Addendum (31 Jul 17:52): this article apparently has hit a nerve, given the reactions. To prevent misunderstandings, let me clarify some things:

  • The title is of course firmly tongue in cheek (I’ve announced the post with a wink, I did not want that in the title). I do not seriously propose nobody should become an Enterprise/IT Architect–Strategist. Nor do I propose people should simply give up;
  • I am not simply blaming ‘upper management’ for everything. I am laying out that the paradigm shift that comes with a slowly appearing ‘complexity crunch’ starts at the bottom, in the hard reality, and may be accepted by the top (who are as human as the rest of us in slowly adapting to paradigm shifts) the last;
  • When I talk about frustration it is not the kind that comes from keeping your mouth shut. The Enterprise/IT Architect–Strategist has ‘speaking truth to power’ in the job description. One is supposed to be a trusted advisor and only in really toxic environments is it wise to keep your mouth shut (and look for another job). The frustration is that it will become harder to explain the ‘top’ what is going on and it will be particularly difficult to convince. This is especially true if that top has no interest in actually paying attention, because then it will be even harder as the first difficult step is to get them to hear you out.

12 comments

  1. In Italian “lavoro” is from the same root as “labour”, while “travaglio” (same root as French travail and Spanish trabajo) has the exactly the same meaning as “labour”, this makes it interesting when we study French and Spanish which have a real close vocabulary but “work” is said using a word cognate to “labour”.

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  2. One point of correction:

    In your addendum bullet point 2 you state:

    “ appearing ‘complexity crunch’ starts ate the bottom”

    “Ate” should be edited to be “at”.

    Secondly, I read an article recently on the tide of cyber threats that enterprises face today and the lack of objective and knowledge representation on most all corporate boards with qualified board members on cyber security. Although the article focuses on cyber security it is a seminal example of the conundrum that EA faces as you have discussed.

    The problem is obvious and points directly to the challenges faced by EA and have always faced. Upper management is in most all case driven by the BOD. The BOD in turn has historically focused on profitability and the bottom line (another topic entirely but relevant).

    The fundamental change that has to unfold is that the nature of expectation has to better informed at the upper echelons . Hence the flattening of the red curve as you infer.

    Unfortunately this is a monumental task given the competing goals of the BOD, upper management and EA. Yet the Darwinian reality is also obvious. Those enterprises that fail to first recognize and embrace the gap in the red curve to reduce it and those who willfully ignore the reality of the changing landscape of IT are ultimately doomed to fail. Others will simply fill the space. It become a battle of the fittest.

    EA has always had the challenges of painting the reality accurately but the speed of change in IT and the threats and challenges to the enterprise has made this role even more so challenging.

    Unless there are BOD members who are experienced, have the knowledge and understanding the challenges then the BOD will continue to follow the old paradigms.

    There have been many well written papers on this topic over the past decade. In most part it appears that the foreboding dilemma has simply been ignored in the MBA classroom as well as at the tables of the BOD. To their own peril the reality of change will suffocate them.

    The times they are a changing and the fish stinks from the head down are two very applicable quotes.

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    1. In my experiences, ‘upper management’ is not just profitability driven (or cost/performance driven when not-for-profit), it is for a large part risk-driven (a combination of both, which is not surprising). And they often have specialist support for certain risks, larger organisations always have something like a chief legal counsel (and staff) to help them manage legal and compliance risk. If they have such functions, they generally do engage (i.e. the chief legal counsel often sits in on the BoD meetings or has 1-on-1’s with BoD members) with the subject matter.

      As written above, I think the speed of change in IT is not high in general. Growth is much faster than change. Of course growth is a form of change (a matter of definition), but to cater for growth, change of what-there-is is becoming more and more a deciding factor. It is that paradigm shift (which I infer, it is not yet a commonly accepted fact) that hasn’t been recognised widely enough, I think.

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  3. The business culture is still cowboy-style due to high complexity, and proper design concern of EA is just not there yet. Maybe EA should embrace the challenges as the realization of the limitations, and focus on what the value they can give to the specific stakeholders, not in general. The subjectivity of the leadership is the factor, not the framework. It comes down to educating people, and evaluating the readiness for change.

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  4. Next to “don’t start a land war in Asia”, and “don’t fall in love with a cowboy.” Most of the real heavy lifting is good comms between IT and the business units, which is really hard to get and keep right. Way too many consultants with complex charts that they have never convinced anyone to truly follow. Enough bullshit here to fertilize Kansas. BTW, if you were a consultant firm who had to pay over $600 million in fines for talking doctors into prescribing more opioids, you should be banned from EA consulting already. Really.

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