Saturday, July 14, 2012

IT Architecture Meltdown - Are we prepared?

If you are an IT Architect, Am sure you must have come across a similar situation in your career..

Few years ago, in my previous company, I used to lead Architecture practice. During those days, One of the senior program managers came to me asked - 'Bala - As you know, We are developing this application for an internal need, do you think we need to go all nine yards in Architecture?. Is it even worth it?. Can we do it in some scripting langauges like cold fusion? Would that suffice?'. My answer was a resounding 'Yes'.

In most of the unstructured scenarios where a new custom application gets developed, it may be worthwile to watch out for following scenarios:

- The so called new app may be for a non-critical internal business need
- The app may be an interim arrangement till a suitable solution becomes available in the company / market.
  For example, most of these custom apps may get replaced by a huge ERP or a cloud service or COTS package in near future
- The underlying business process itself may be temporal / short-living in nature
- The app can be an 'early-bird' experiment in a specific technology - for example, a mobile application for a specific platform.

In all these cases, the app is not expected to be built for durability. I would like to stress the word 'durability'.
Durability calls for high-commitment, high reliability, huge upfront costs/investments, plan for future support (example - versioning). In short, durability means 'built to last'.

In the absence of durability, we are referring to a low-touch, low-commitment application. You may say, it may of of low-quality.  And Customers are perfectly fine with that, purely because of the fact that those apps are not expected to be durable.

Only when you build a highly durable software, you will need the 'Architecture'. Having a robust architecture will address all the non-functional requirements of the software.

In my view, we are at the 'tertiary' phase of Enterprise IT applications, where the core apps that form the foundation & custom apps that form the differentiation were all built in the last few decades. We have now entered in to the decade of discontinuities where architecture multiplicity has become the norm, not the exception. Business is flooded with abundant of choices in disruptive technologies with their own architectural choices - be it mobility, social media, cloud and analytics.

And We live in highly uncertain times where predicting the business climate for next few months itself has become a huge challenge. For the first time in many years, Indian IT services company Infosys has suspended its quarterly revenue guidance, owing to uncertainities across its global customers across many verticals.  In those conditions, businesses are forced to take tactical, incremental and sometimes non-durable/experimental steps to sustain and grow the business. Of course, not to mention with least upfront costs. In another story, most of the IT outsourcing companies are holding around hundreds of thousands of people on Bench - without utilization - due to decline in demand.

In times where just-enough functional outcomes are valued lot more than durable qualities, Architecture would be underutilized. If done in force, unvalued by the business.

And that is exactly happening in the industry right now - be it Enterprise IT or outsourcing / IT services industry.
For Architects who have not come to terms with this reality, finding themselves misplaced and misunderstood. And businesses end up underutilizing Architecture in places where its not appropriate.

The whole reason that triggered me to write this post was an article on the traditional civil architecture called - Architecture Meltdown - that talks about the fate of building architects post recession.  For hundreds of years, art and architecture usedt to be the symbolic representations of a city's prosperity.

Ok, If this is the issue for the Architecture meltdown in Enterprise IT, what is the solution?

Is the role of Architect dead and not required any more?. If not, what are the options in leveraging the best of Architecture and Architects in these uncertain times?

Have some suggestions...Stay tuned for my next post.

No comments: