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EA the DNA Way

EA the DNA Way

Enterprise architecture is a means of understanding an organization's DNA as well as providing a platform for innovation and experimentation.

Reader ROI

  • The importance of culture and behaviour in driving the IT agenda
  • Why a DNA approach to EA allows the architect to plan for business agility
  • How to establish structures and processes that reflect both business imperatives and the culture of an organization

In all the world's religious cultures, particularly the most extreme, every adherent knows exactly what constitutes acceptable behaviour. There is usually a rigid hierarchy, and everyone shares a language, set of ideas and beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, rituals and ceremonies. Typically, the culture was defined so long ago that no living person has any real idea how the habits and practices now considered the norm evolved. And typically, that does not matter one whit, because everyone knows what they need to know: if they move beyond those norms they will be ostracized.

Culture, in that sense, is all about behaviour. And very often, like dead high priestesses or archbishops, the people who most strongly defined that social architecture have long departed, even as their legacy lingers on in rigid codes of behaviour, cumbersome processes and the clunky, outmoded software installed to facilitate those processes.

Simon Shapiro, a CIO with international specialist banking group Investec, has come to think that most organizations are not unlike those rigid religions. People come into the organization from all walks of life, backgrounds and experience. Over time they collectively, even individually, negotiate patterns of acceptable social behaviour. Those patterns eventually crystallize into the hard core, the DNA if you like, of the organization. They define who people are and the roles they are allowed to play; how decisions are made; what meetings are held in order to make those decisions, and who is allowed to make the decisions and check on them. Few of these unbending prescriptions were forged deliberately and consciously.

"All of these are somehow bundled into the 'social architecture' or the 'organizational dimension: the seat of governance'," Shapiro says.

Or, as he put it even more graphically in a slide from a recent presentation to a conference in Barcelona entitled From Hardware to Wetware: Developing an Enterprise Architecture Framework Consistent with Enterprise Culture and Values: There is always a story attached to the question: "Why do you have this !!@#$% in your application portfolio or infrastructure".

"A lot of your IT has been driven by past decisions that people have made," Shapiro told CIO. "When you speak to people about their application portfolio there is always a story. You ask them why they have that application, and they say: 'Well, at the time . . . ' So you can almost go on an archaeological dig into the IT in the organization, going back and back and back to the decisions that were made and the politics that were in play at the time that the decision was made, and you see this reflected in the IT that's on the ground today. When you start digging you see the echo of the politics that were around at the time the decision was first made, which is important, because 70 to 80 percent of the IT budget goes on supporting those past decisions."

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