As businesses seek to make agility a key differentiator in a rapidly changing world, applying enterprise architecture (EA) in concert with many other standards has never been more powerful. Stay with us here to explore how to define and corral a comprehensive standards resources approach for making businesses intrinsically agile and competitive.
To learn more about attaining agility via an embrace of a broad toolkit of standards, we are joined by our panel, Chris Frost, Principal Enterprise Architect and Distinguished Engineer, Application Technology Consulting Division, at Fujitsu; Sonia Gonzalez, The Open Group TOGAF® Product Manager, and Paul Homan, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technology Officer, Industrial, at IBM Services. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Sonia, why is it critical to modernize businesses in a more comprehensive and structured fashion? How do standards help best compete in this digital-intensive era?
Gonzalez: The question is more important than ever. We need to be very quickly responding to changes in the market.
It’s not only that we have more technology trends and competitors. Organizations are also changing their business models — the way they offer products and services. And there’s much more uncertainty in the business environment.
The current situation with COVID-19 has made for a very unpredictable environment. So we need to be faster in the ways we respond. We need to make better use of our resources and to be able to innovate in how we offer our products and services. And since everybody else is also doing that, we must be agile and respond quickly.
Gardner: Chris, how are things different now than a year ago? Is speed all that we’re dealing with when it comes to agility? Or is there something more to it?
Frost: Speed is clearly a very important part of it, and market trends are driving that need for speed and agility. But this has been building for a lot more than a year.
We now have, with some of the hyperscale cloud providers, the capability to deploy new systems and new business processes more quickly than ever before. And with some of the new technologies — like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and 5G – there are new technological innovations that enable us to do things that we couldn’t do before.
Faster, better, more agile
A combination of these things has come together in the last few years that has produced a unique need now for speed. That’s what I seek in the market, Dana.
Gardner: Paul, when it comes to manufacturing and industrial organizations, how do things change for them in particular? Is there something about the data, the complexity? Why are standards more important than ever in certain verticals?
Homan: The industrial world in particular, focusing on engineering and manufacturing, has brought together the physical and digital worlds. And whilst these industries have not been as quick to embrace the technologies as other sectors have, we can now see how they are connected. That means connected products, connected factories and places of work, and connected ecosystems.
There are still so many more things that need to be integrated, and fundamentally EA comes back to the how – how do you integrate all of these things? A great deal of the connectivity we’re now seeing around the world needs a higher level of integration.
Gardner: Sonia, to follow this point on broader integration, does applying standards across different parts of any organization now make more sense than in the past? Why does one part of the business need to be in concert with the others? And how does The Open Group portfolio help produce a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to integration?
Integrate with standards
Gonzalez: Yes, what Paul mentioned about being able to integrate and interconnect is paramount for us. Our portfolio of standards, which is more than just [The Open Group Architectural Forum (TOGAF®)] Standard, is like having a toolkit of different open standards that you can use to address different needs, depending upon your particular situation.
For example, there may be cases in which we need to build physical products across an extended industrial environment. In that case, certain kinds of standards will apply. Also critical is how the different standards will be used together and pursue interoperability. Therefore, borderless information flow is one of our trademarks at The Open Group.
Other more intangible cases, such as digital services, need standards. For example, the Digital Practitioner Body of Knowledge (DPBoK™) supports a scale model to support the digital enterprise.
Other standards are coming around agile enterprises and best practices. They support how to make interconnections and interoperability faster — but at the same time having the proper consistency and integration to align with the overall strategy. At the end of the day, it’s not enough to integrate for just a technical point of view. You need bring new value to your businesses. You need to be aligned with your business model, and with your business view, to your strategy.
Therefore, the change is not only to integrate technical platforms, even though that is paramount, but also to change your business and operational model and to go deeper to cover your partners and the way your company is put together.
So, therefore, we have different standards that cover all of those different areas. As I said at the beginning, these form a toolkit with which you can choose different standards and make them work together conforming a portfolio of standards.
Gardner: So, whether we look to standards individually or together as a toolkit, it’s important that they have a real-world applicability and benefits. I’m curious, Paul and Chris, what’s holding organizations back from using more standards to help them?
Homan: When we use the term traditional enterprise architecture, it always needs to be adapted to suit the environment and the context. TOGAF, for example, has to be tailored to the organization and for the individual assignment.
But I’ve been around in the industry long enough to be familiar with a number of what I call anti-patterns that have grown up around EA practices and which are not helping with the need for agility. This comes from the idea that EA has heavy governance.
We have all witnessed such core practices — and I will confess to having being part of some of them. And these obviously fly in the face of the agility, flexibility, of being able to push decisions out to the edge and pivot quickly, and to make mistakes and be allowed to learn from them. So kind of an experimental attitude.
And so gaining such adaptation is more than just promoting good architectural decision-making within a set of guide rails — it allows decision-making to happen at the point of need. So that’s the needed adaption that I see.
Gardner: Chris, what challenges do you see organizations dealing with, and why are standards be so important to helping them attain a higher level of agility?
Frost: The standards are important, not so much because they are a standard but because they represent industry best practices. The way standards are developed in The Open Group are not some sort of theoretical exercise. It’s very much member-driven and brought together by the members drawing on their practical experiences.
To me, the point is more about industry best practice, and not so much the standard. There are good things about standard ways of working, being able to share things, and everybody having a common understanding about what things mean. But that aspect of the standard that represents industry best practices — that’s the real value right now.
Coming back to what Paul said, there is a certain historical perspective here that we have to acknowledge. EA projects in the past — and certainly things I have been personally involved in — were often delivered in a very waterfall fashion. That created a certain perception that somehow EA means big-design-upfront-waterfall-style projects — and that absolutely isn’t the case.
That is one of the reasons why a certain adaptation is needed. Guidance about how to adapt is needed. The word adapt is very important because it’s not as if all of the knowledge and fundamental techniques that we have learned over the past few years are being thrown away. It’s a question of how we adapt to agile delivery, and the things we have been doing recently in The Open Group demonstrate exactly how to do that.
Gardner: And does this concept of a minimum viable architecture fit in to that? Does that help people move past the notion of the older waterfall structure to EA?
Reach minimum viable architecture
Frost: Yes, very much it does. It’s something that you might regard as reaching first base. In architectural terms, that minimum viable architecture is like reaching first base, and that emphasizes a notion of rapidly getting to something that you can take forward to the next stage. You can get feedback and also an acknowledgment that you will improve and iterate in the future. Those are fundamental about agile working. So, yes, that minimum viable architecture concept is a really important one.
Gardner: Sonia, if we are thinking about a minimum viable architecture we are probably also working toward a maximum value standards portfolio. How do standards like TOGAF work in concert with other open standards, standards not in The Open Group? How do we get to that maximum value when it comes to a portfolio of standards?
Gonzalez: That’s very important. First, it has to do with adapting the practice, and not only the standard. In order to face new challenges, especially ones with agile and digital, the practices need to evolve and therefore, the standards – including the whole portfolio of The Open Group standards which are constantly in evolution and improvement. Our members are the ones contributing with the content that follows the new trends, best practices, and uses for all of those practices.
The standards need to evolve to cover areas like digital and agile. And with the concept of minimal viable architecture, the standards are evolving to provide guidance on how EA as a practice supports agile. Actually, nothing in the standard says it has to be used in the waterfall way, even though some people may say that.
TOGAF is now building guidance for how people can use the standards supporting the agile enterprise, delivering that in an agile way, and also supporting an agile approach, which is having a different view of how the practice is applied following this new shift and this new adaption.
Adapt to sector-specific needs
The practice needs to be adapted, the standards need to evolve to fulfill that, and need to be applied to specific situations. For example, it’s not the same to architect organizations in which you have ground processes, especially in a back office than other ones that are more customer facing. For the first ones, their processes are heavier, they don’t need to be that agile. That agile architecture is for upfront customers that need to support a faster pace.
So, you might have cases in which you need to mix different ways to apply the practices and standards. Less agile approach for the back office and a more agile approach for customer facing applications such as, for example, online banking.
Adaptation also depends on the nature of companies. The healthcare industry is one example. We cannot experiment that much in that area because that’s more risk assessment and less subject to experimentation. For these kinds of organizations a different approach is needed.
There is work in progress in different sectors. For example, we have a very good guide and case study about how to use the TOGAF standard along with the ArchiMate® modeling notation in the banking industry using the BIAN® Reference Model. That’s a very good use case in The Open Group library. We also have a work in progress in the forum around how governments architect. The IndEA Reference Model is another example of a reference model for that government and has been put together based on open standards.
We also have work in progress around security, such as with the SABSA [framework for Business Security Architecture], for example. We have developed guidance about standards and security along with SABSA. We also have a partnership with the Object Management Group (OMG), in which we are pioneers and have a liaison to build products that will go to market to help practitioners use external standards along with our own portfolio.
Gardner: When we look at standards as promoting greater business agility, there might be people who look to the past and say, “Well, yes, but it was associated with a structured waterfall approach for so long.”
But what happens if you don’t have architecture and you try to be agile? What’s the downside if you don’t have enough structure; you don’t put in these best practices? What can happen if you try to be agile without a necessary amount of architectural integrity?
Homan: I’m glad that you asked, because I have a number of organizations that I have worked with that have experienced the results of diminishing their architectural governance. I won’t name who they are for obvious reasons, but I know of organizations that have embraced agility. They had great responses to being able to do things quickly, find things out, move fleet-of-foot, and then combined with that cloud computing capabilities. They had great freedom to exercise where they choose to source commodity cloud services.
And, as an enterprise architect, if I look in, that freedom created a massive amount of mini-silos. As soon as those need to come together and scale — and scale is the big word — that’s where the problems started. I’ve seen, for example, around common use of information and standards, processes and workflows that don’t cross between one cloud vendor and another. And these are end-customer-facing services and deliveries that frankly clash from the same organization, from the same brand.
And those sorts of things came about because they weren’t using common reference architectures. There wasn’t a common understanding of the value propositions that were being worked toward, and they manifested because you could rapidly spin stuff out.
When you have a small, agile model of everybody co-located in a relatively contained space — where they can readily connect and communicate — great. But unfortunately as soon as you go and disperse the model, have a round of additional development, distribute to more geographies and markets, with lots of different products, you behave like a large organization. It’s inevitable that people are going to plough their own furrow and go in different directions. And so, you need to have a way of bringing it back together again.
And that’s typically where people come in and start asking how to reintegrate. They love the freedom and we want to keep the freedom, but they need to combine that with a way of having some gentle guardrails that allow them to exercise freedom of speed but not diverge too much.
Frost: The word guardrails is really important because that is very much the emphasis of how agile architectures need to work. My observation is that, without some amount of architecture and planning, what tends to go wrong is some of the foundational things – such as using common descriptions of data or common underlying platforms. If you don’t get those right, different aspects of an overall solution can diverge and fail to integrate.
Some of those things may include what we generally refer to as non-functional requirements, things like capacity, performance, and possibly safety or regulatory compliance. These rules are often things that easily tend to get overlooked unless there is some degree of planning and architecture, surrounding architecture definitions that think through how to incorporate some of those really important features.
A really important judgment point is what’s just enough architecture upfront to set down those important guardrails without going too far and going back into the big design upfront approach, which we want to avoid to still create the most freedom that we can.
Gardner: Sonia, a big part of the COVID-19 response has been rapidly reorganizing or refactoring supply chains. This requires extended enterprise cooperation and ultimately integration. How are standards like TOGAF and the toolkit from The Open Group important to allow organizations to enjoy agility across organizational boundaries, perhaps under dire circumstances?
COVID-19 necessitates holistic view
Gonzalez: That is precisely when more architecture is needed, because you need to be able to put together a landscape, a whole view of your organization, which is now a standard organization. Your partners, customers, customer alliances, all of your liaisons, are a part of your value chain and you need to have visibility over this.
You mentioned suppliers and providers. These are changing due to the current situation. The way they work, everything is going more digital and virtual, with less face-to-face. So we need to change processes. We need to change value streams. And we need to be sure that we have the right capabilities. Having standards, it’s spot-on, because one of the advantages of having standards, and open standards especially, is that you facilitate communication with other parties. If you are talking the same language it will be easier to integrate and get people together.
Now that most people are working virtually, that implies the need for very good management or your whole portfolio of products and lifecycle. For addressing all this complexity and to gain a holistic view of your capabilities you need to have an architecture focus. Therefore, there are different standards that can fit together in those different areas.
For example, you may need to deliver more digital capabilities to work virtually. You may need to change your whole process view to become more efficient and allow such remote work, and to do that you use standards. In the TOGAF standard we have a set of very good guidance for our business architecture, business models, business capabilities, and value streams; all of them are providing guidance on how to do that.
Another very good guide under the TOGAF standard umbrella for their organization is called Organization Map Guide. It’s much more than having a formal organizational chart to your company. It’s how you map to different resources to respond quickly to changes in your landscape. So, having a more dynamic view, having a cross-coding view of your working teams, is required to be agile and to have interdisciplinary teams work together. So you need to have architecture, and you need to have open standards to address those challenges.
Gardner: And, of course, The Open Group is not standing still, along with many other organizations, in trying to react to the environment and help organizations become more digital and enhance their customer and end-user experiences. What are some of the latest developments at The Open Group?
Standards evolve steadily
Gonzalez: First, we are evolving our standards constantly. The TOGAF standard is evolving to address more of these agile-digital trends, how to adopt new technology trends in a way that they will be adopted in accord with your business model for your strategy and organizational culture. That’s an improvement that is coming. Also, the structure of the standard has evolved to be easier to use and more agile. It has been designed to evolve through new and improved versions more frequently than in the past.
We also have other components coming into the portfolio. One of them is the Agile Architecture Standard, which is going to be released soon. That one is going straight into the agile space. It’s proposing a holistic view of the organization. This coupling between agile and digital is addressed in that standard. It is also suitable to be used along with the TOGAF standard. Both complement each other. The DPBoK is also evolving to address new trends in the market.
We also have other standards. The Microservice Architecture is a very active working group that is delivering guidance on microservices delivered using the TOGAF standard. Another important one is the Zero Trust Architecturein the security space. Now more than ever, as we go virtual and rely on platforms, we need to be sure that we are having proper consistency in security and compliance. We have, for example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) considerations, which are stronger than ever. Those kinds of security breaches are addressed in that specific context.
The IT4IT standard, which is another reference architecture, is evolving toward becoming more oriented to a digital product concept to precisely address all of those changes.
All of these standards, all the pieces, are moving together. There are other things coming, for example, delivering standards to serve specific areas like oil, gas, and electricity, which are more facility-oriented, more physically-oriented. We are also working toward those to be sure that we are addressing all of the different possibilities.
Another very important thing here is we are aiming for every standard we deliver into the market to have a certification program along with it. We have that for the TOGAF standard, ArchiMate standard, IT4IT, and DPBoK. So the idea is to continue increasing our portfolio of certification along with the portfolio of standards.
Furthermore, we have more credentials as part of the TOGAF certification to allow people to go into specializations. For example, I’m TOGAF-certified but I also wanted to go for a Solution Architect Practitioner or a Digital Architect. So, we are combining the different products that we have, different standards, to have these building blocks we’re putting together for this learning curve around certifications, which is an important part of our offering.
Gardner: I think it’s important to illustrate where these standards are put to work and how organizations find the right balance between a minimum viable architecture and a maximum value portfolio for agility.
So let’s go through our panel for some examples. Are there organizations you are working with that come to mind that have found and struck the right balance? Are they using a portfolio to gain agility and integration across organizational boundaries?
More tools in the toolkit
Homan: The key part for me is do these resources help people do architecture? And in some of the organizations I’ve worked with, some of the greatest successes have been where they have been able to pick and choose – cherry pick, if you like — bits of different things and create a toolkit. It’s not about following just one thing. It’s about having a kit.
The reason I mentioned that is because one of the examples I want to reference has to do with development of ecosystems. In ecosystems, it’s about how organizations work with each other to deliver some kind of customer-centric propositions. I’ve seen this in the construction industry in particular, where lots of organizations historically have had to come together to undertake large construction efforts.
And we’re now seeing what I consider to be an architected approach across those ecosystems. That helps build a digital thread, a digital twin equivalent of what is being designed, what is being constructed for safety reasons, both in terms of what is being built at the time for the people that are building it, but also for the people that then occupy it or use it, for the reasons of being able to share common standards and interoperate across the processes from end-to-end to be able to do these thing in a more agile way of course, but in a business agile way.
So that’s one industry that always had ecosystems, but IT has come in and therefore architects have had to better collaborate and find ways to integrate beyond the boundary of their organization, coming back to the whole mission of boundaryless information flow, if you will.
Gardner: Chris, any examples that put a spotlight on some of the best uses of standards and the best applicability of them particularly for fostering agility?
Frost: Yes, a number of customers in both the private and public sector are going through this transition to using agile processes. Some have been there for quite some time; some are just starting on that journey. We shouldn’t be surprised by this in the public and private sectors because everybody is reacting to the same market fundamentals driving the need for agile delivery.
We’ve certainly worked with a few customers that have been very much at the forefront of developing new agile practices and how that integrates with EA and benefits from all of the good architectural skills and experiences that are in frameworks like the TOGAF standard.
Paul talked about developing ecosystems. We’ve seen things such as organizations embarking on large-scale internal re-engineering where they are adjusting their own internal IT portfolios to react to the changing marketplace that they are confronted by.
I am seeing a lot of common problems about fitting together agile techniques and architecture and needing to work in these iterative styles. But overwhelmingly, these problems are being solved. We are seeing the benefits of this iterative way of working with rapid feedback and the more rapid response to changing market techniques.
I would say even inside The Open Group we’re seeing some of the effects of that. We’ve been talking about the development of some of the agile guidance for the TOGAF standard within The Open Group, and even within the working group itself we’ve seen adaption of more agile styles of working using some of the tools that are common in agile activities. Things like GitLab and Slack and these sorts of things. So it really is quite a pervasive thing we are seeing in the marketplace.
Gardner: Sonia, are there any examples that come to mind that illustrate where organizations will be in the coming few years when it comes to the right intersection of agile, architecture, and the use of open standard? Any early adopters, if you will, or trendsetters that come to mind that illustrate where we should be expecting more organizations to be in the near future?
Steering wheel for agility
Gonzalez: Things are evolving rapidly. In order to be agile and a digital enterprise there are different things that need to change around the organization. It’s a business issue, it’s not something related to only platforms of technology, or technology adoption. It’s going ahead of that to the business models.
For example, we now see more-and-more the need to have an outside-in view of the market and trends. Being efficient and effective is not enough anymore. We need to innovate to figure out what the market is asking for. And sometimes to even generate that demand and generate new digital offerings for your market.
That means more experimentation and more innovation, keeping in mind that in order to really deliver that digital offering you must have the right capabilities, so changes in your business and operational models, your backbone, need to be identified and then of course connected and delivered through technical platforms.
Data is also another key component. We have several working groups and Forums working around data management and data science. If you don’t have the information, you won’t be able to understand your customers. That’s another trend, having a more customer journey-oriented view. At the end, you need to give your value to your end users and of course also internally to your company.
That’s why even internally, at The Open Group, we are considering having our own standards get a closer view of the customer. That is something that companies need to be addressing. And for them to do that, practitioners need to be able to develop new skills and to evolve rapidly. They will need to study not only the new technology trends, but how you can communicate that to your business, so more communications, marketing, and a more aggressive approach through innovation.
Sustainability is another area we are considering at The Open Group, being able to deliver standards that will support organizations make better use of resources internally and externally and selecting the tools to be sustainable within their environments.
Those are some of the things we see for the coming years. As we have all learned this year, we should be able to shift very quickly. I was recently reading a very good blog that said agile is not only having a good engine, but also having a good steering wheel to be able to change direction quickly. That’s a very good metaphor for how you should evolve. It’s great to have a good engine, but you need to have a good direction, and that direction is precisely what they need to pay attention to, not being agile only for the sake of being agile.
So, that’s the direction we are taking with our whole portfolio. We are also considering other areas. For example, we are trying to improve our offering in vertical industry areas. We have other things on the move like Open Communities, especially for the ArchiMate Standard, which is one of our executable standards easier to be implemented using architecture tools.
So, those are the kinds of things in our strategy at The Open Group as we work to serve our customers.
Gardner: And what’s next when it comes to The Open Group events? How are you helping people become the types of architects who reach that balance between agility and structure in the next wave of digital innovation?
New virtual direction for events
Gonzalez: We have many different kinds of customers. We have our members, of course. We have our trainers. We have people that are not members but are using our standards and they are very important. They might eventually become members. So, we have been identifying those different markets on building customer journeys for all of them in order to serve them properly.
Serving them, for example, means providing better ways for them to find information on our website and to get access to our resources. All of our publications are free to be downloaded and used if you are and end user organization. You only need a commercial license if you will apply them to deliver services to others.
In terms of events, we have had a very good experience with virtual events. The good thing about our crisis is that you can use it for learning, and we have learned that virtual events are very good. First, because we can address more coverage. For example, if you organize a face-to-face event in Europe, probably people from Europe will attend, but it’s very unlikely that people from Asia or even the U.S. or Latin America will attend. But a virtual event, also being free events, are attracting people from different countries, different geographies.
We have very good attendance on those virtual events. This year, all four events, except the one that we had in San Antonio have been virtual. Besides the big ones that we have every three months, we also have organized other smaller ones. We had a very good one in Brazil, we have another one from the Latin-American community in Spanish, and we’re organizing more of these events.
For next year, probably we are going to have some kind of a mix of virtual and face-to-face, because, of course, face-to-face is very important. And for our members, for example, sharing experiences as a network is a value that you can only have if you’re physically there. So, probably for next year, depending on how the situation is evolving, it will be a mix of virtual and face-to-face events.
We are trying to get a closer view what the market is demanding from us, not only in the architecture space but in general.
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