Becoming Digital Transformers

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty in our profession right now, and rightly so. The architecture practice, especially the enterprise architecture, of the past 10-15 years is dead. I am reasonably certain that architecture never actually lived, just wandered around companies like zombies looking for brains. “Architecting the enterprise” and governance thinking from EA and in some cases business architecture from one side and agile transformations from the other side, have demolished the perceived value of architects across the globe. CIOs, CTOs and other executives are looking to deliver value now, not for a comprehensive picture of their enterprise to aid in decision making. I have personally met with over 2 dozen companies who have taken their EA teams and pushed them out to a delivery role related to a capability or line of business. They are looking for people to help them compete. They are looking for ‘owners’, ‘skin in the game’, ‘leaders’, and people who can make real transformation happen and be willing to get fired if they can’t. I don’t mean that artifacts are not valuable tools, but that is all they are.

In the most part this follows with what Iasa has been teaching for those same 15 years. There is a reason we don’t have a certified EA program. To be honest, I am not sure that EA as it has been described is even possible. The chief of medicine for a company still sees patients. If they didn’t you wouldn’t want them to be the chief of medicine for very long. So what do you do with an architect who hasn’t delivered anything with measurable customer impact, revenue impact or operational impact for 10 years. In my opinion, you move them to a delivery role and if they can’t deliver you fire them. This is where digital transformation started and where we need to be, and this time we need to stay there. But how do we do this, especially with 500,000 to a million architects in the world?

Architecture is not documentation, it is change. It is finding the most important things as a team and saying to yourself and your employer/customer, “I will make this happen. When it does, you can reward me. If it doesn’t I will carry the liability.” Architecture is a practice, a set of skills, and a reputation for finding and delivering the most important and valuable digital initiatives for the company. We built the Iasa curriculum to learn, practice, reinforce and certify exactly these skills.

Here is what to do (and NOT do) if you want to become a Digital Transformer:

  1. Stop trying to work on every project. I have written this in so many posts that I feel like I’m plagiarizing myself. Your team should only be involved in projects/products you can clearly show demonstrable value – and this means the EA’s too. If their is an EA role of the future, a much larger percentage of their time will be dedicated to actual delivery. Possibly only bigger stuff, but delivery none the less.
  2. Be mentoring focused not governance focused. Let governance be governance. Architects should be subject to governance not manage it. If you are going to work with teams, be a part of their success, put some skin in the game.
  3. Make profit, customer, citizen or mission measurements your primary measure of success instead of reuse or cost. If you talk about value from cost savings you are not innovating, you are a part of the finance team. Grow your company. Impact your actual customer (there is no such thing as an internal customer, those are called employees, they may be team members, but they are not customers).
  4. Stop trying to be the best engineer in the room. Let engineers be good or bad and let them take the credit or the liability.
  5. Focus on the teams that directly touch customers or products first. Your team should be spending every minute they can with customer/citizen focused activities. Innovation happens close to the customer.
  6. If your team isn’t writing business cases (or the equivalent) then you’re not transformers. One of the best ways to tell if an architecture team is innovation focused or engineering focused is to ask how many business cases they authored (not influenced). Innovators have ideas and get them delivered. Start writing a business case today.
  7. Get your team the business skills they need, no mater what. Forget frameworks. Forget tools. Once a person is able to write a business case for a digital business model and has measured the customer outcome from delivering it, they are there. If you rely on the cheapest labor, negotiated down to the finest point. If you rely on unskilled people to drive digital strategy, you have already failed. Get them the skills they need. It may sound self serving and it is, but we teach this stuff and mentor organizations in this stuff. Call us.
  8. Revel in the data and information. A transformer goes into a new business and wallows in their customers, programs, initiatives, strategies, products, people, culture and data, data, data. Let it seep into your bones. If you need a ‘business’ person to come up with ideas, then you are not a business person, just part of a ‘damn fine staff’. You will have to get access to it, and that is the hardest part. But you can get there if you really try. Start using your human dynamics skills. Best project of my career happened because of having lunch with the sales team everyday. One day an idea hit me, I wrote the business case, got the buy off, delivered and WHAM I was a chief architect.
  9. Stop being afraid to be technologists, technology focused, and technology driven. There are people in the world that like to know how things work and why. There are people who don’t. One of the reasons the ‘business’ is in sales, finance and marketing is because they didn’t want to understand technology. Now sales, marketing, finance and operations ARE technology. Stop trying to convince people you aren’t a technologist at heart. My bet is anyone reading this is the person at a family reunion that everyone goes to and asks to fix their laptop, tablet, or other device. My bet is you are the one setting up the family WiFi and who bought the Amazon dot or Google home for christmas. You probably have a stack of Rasberry PIs. Finance people are not ashamed that finance is their primary way of helping a business succeed. If you want to be a transformer, you damn well better include the digital part. If you ever hear someone say architecture is not about technology at your company, either correct that or run, don’t walk, to your next employer.
  10. Hype is bull#$%^. Microservices are not better than SOA categorically. Cloud is not better than data center categorically. Web based is not better than mainframe categorically. AI and machine learning are not going to save your business. Buy is not better than build. Java is not better than .NET. Agile is not better than waterfall. Technology, project management processes, and trends are tools. They apply to one situation but not another. You must become an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist. If you cannot show that a choice is better in numbers then it is opinion. And we all know what opinions are worth.
  11. Change your RFP and your job description. Easiest way to convert the architecture profession into value creators is to change your RFP and REQUIRE experience based certified architects as a part of EVERY project, program or engagement based on complexity and/or price of contract. It will cost your company nothing but the change in basic RFP language, but the result? Think if everyone of your vendors sent you a highly skilled digital business strategist for every project. This is where real change begins and working with real professionals changes the industry.

As a final note, be very careful as EA teams begin to rebrand as Digital Transformation teams. Stay focused on actually doing business, information, infrastructure, software and solution architecture. More importantly if you their ass isn’t on the line for delivering something of value, they are not doing what Iasa recommends. I don’t know maybe they are doing TOGAF (that was a low blow I admit).

We all know the vendors that relabeled there SOA platform as a Microservices platform or their hosting service as a cloud service. In Texas we call this putting lipstick on a pig. Don’t be one of them. Before you can transform your enterprise you have to transform yourselves. If you are just doing governance, documentation, and architecting the enterprise (by the way that is the WORST expression ever invented), you are not going to be successful in becoming a transformer.