A Matter of Influence
Shapiro says it is important to recognize how cultural and social influences play into all of the decisions around infrastructure and technology.
"Of course this is especially true in organizations that are package-centric," he says. "In these organizations, once you have looked at the desired business processes then you go out and look at applications that meet those needs or deliver those business processes, and then you leave behind a trail of data.
"Often when you buy a package you can't predict the way in which the package itself arranges the database. In our place, which has grown from a lot of acquisitions, you can't even dictate the base technology that it is on: You need these business processes, you need these to get this product to market, therefore you need this application, you get by default this data, and in this or that format. So often what you have to do to serve the need of the organization is to take that data, integrate it, and somehow analyze it and turn it into information in the language of the organization," he says.
While the approach is paying dividends for Investec, Shapiro believes there is valid research to be done on ways to make the development of the meta-model (or language of the organization) more rigorous so that organizations can be compared on this level, and to determine whether there really is such a thing as "true organizational DNA".
In the meantime, he says CIOs should consider architecture as a set of tools they can use in a coherent manner to record the style of an organization and its culture, behaviour and organizational architecture. An enterprise architecture can be very powerful if its architects take a leaf out of the book of construction architects, he says.
"You know what architects do: they all do drawings. They often use the new 3D modelling tools to make sure that things work dynamically as well as statically, and they bring in cardboard models, they bring in samples, they do almost everything that they need to do to communicate an idea to their clients. That's what the architecture practice based in an organization should be doing.
"It is all about using whatever devices that you have at your disposal, hopefully captured in a coherent fashion, against that framework I spoke about earlier, but then you have to expose these so that discussions that need to can take place. The key feature of this approach that is different is that it's more encompassing. It recognizes the very important role that business process plays and the interplay between process and IT. So it gives a lot of prominence to the process part rather than the IT part," he says.
That is a lesson they have already learned at Investec. Shapiro says at one point the organization did a "zero base" project, which turned into a classic enterprise architecture project. All of the difficulties, he says, were there and observable: the lack of documentation, the amount of time that it took to re-establish the fundamentals of the architecture, the difficulties of documenting it in a coherent fashion, and the fact that you spend 95 percent of your time in data collection and only 5 percent doing analysis because it was not documented originally. In short, the project suffered from all of the usually complexities that come with an architecture project. What it did shine some light on was why the organization had, after years of acquisitions, ended up with six or seven CRM applications, three or four banking applications and numerous trading applications.
"You start asking the people why, and the stuff starts coming out and you always trace the most difficult roots back to the people and the attitudes that they have towards each other and why they need to hide behind their system. You can't rationalize jobs if the systems are different and all this soft politics lurks in that discussion," he says.
"It gets to the point where you just have to turn all that on its head and look at it from a different angle. And as you do that you realize how important culture and behaviour are in driving the IT agenda rather than the other way around.
"Otherwise, as you know, we all just follow the Zachman Framework [a formal and highly structured way of defining an enterprise's systems architecture] and spend our lives documenting the different layers of Zachman's diagram because he told us to."
His theme, Shapiro says, resonated in Barcelona, where numbers of people welcomed such non-classical thinking on the topic. Some might almost say it was a religious conversion.
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