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When people discuss digital transformation, they talk mostly about innovation, agility, and new technologies. Companies put a tremendous amount of effort into initiatives that should make them more agile and innovative, but most of the companies do not manage their innovation initiatives towards a big architectural picture. The overly complex structure of dependencies between innovation- and other projects, and between new technologies and legacy-IT, are not handled with intent. Just present a fancy technology to top-level executives. If it has a low time-to-market and includes AI, chances are high that you can do it. No matter if its integration with legacy IT results in unnecessary complexity, ‘technical debt’ that introduces a total cost of ownership that outnumbers the business benefits by far. No matter if it is architecturally sound.

Let’s have a closer look at what ‘architecturally sound’ means, what architecture is all about, and why the concept of architecture is helpful, especially in the context of innovation:

A widely accepted definition of ‘architecture’ is given by ‘The Institute of Electrical Engineering’ (IEEE):

Architecture is the fundamental organization of systems embodied by their elements, their relationships to each other and to the environment, and the principles guiding their design and evolution.

Architecture is very much about structuring elements in a way that provides convenient functionality to its users. It defines how elements should be composed to maximize value to its users.

The circular windows of the famous cathedral of Florence, for example, are located to create the most meditative light effects in the aisle. The position of the cathedral's architectural elements is sound – ‘window’ and ‘aisle’ are architected to maximize business value for its customers – the believers.

Now, let's apply the concepts of building architecture to the business & IT world. Like in constructing buildings, enterprise architecture is about the relationships between its elements. But what are the elements that form an enterprise architecture?

  • Capabilities describe what a business needs to do to create its products
  • Processes define the activities needed to create the necessary outputs
  • Information Objects define which information is needed in the capabilities and value streams
  • Applications are computer programs that support value streams and business capabilities and store business objects in form of data.
  • Technology components support applications

Why the concept of architecture is essential in the business & IT world:

  • It's a robust skeleton for aligning IT (-applications) and their data to business (-capabilities) and their business objects. This helps to maximize the business value/IT spendings ratio.
  • An architecture provides an abstract representation of an enterprise. By doing so, it acts as an effective communication framework between distinct business units and solution teams. This helps in translating strategy into implementation.
  • Careful integration of the solution architecture of innovation projects into existing business- and IT architecture helps to remain complexity and technical debt within reasonable bounds.
  • A sound business architecture (as part of your overall enterprise design) makes an excellent framework for managing and prioritizing the large number of projects a company runs.

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About the author

Wolfgang Goebl

Wolfgang Goebl

Intersection Group
Vienna, Austria

Wolfgang Goebl is the founder and President of the Intersection Group, and a lateral thinker and visionary with a passion for challenging state-of-the-practice concepts from new and exciting viewpoints. He’s been working in the field of Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM) in several large companies in Austria for fourteen years now. He is a recognized speaker at various EAM conferences and author of several publications in journals in Germany and Austria.