My friend (and sometimes office mate) Harry Pierson blogged a quote from Christoph Schittko and added to it:

[Christoph] “wonder[s] how many more attempts for “enterprise wide” thingies we need for people to figure out that there’s too much complexity involved to coordinate anything enterprise wide.” I couldn’t agree more, though I think it’s more than just complexity at work here. There are significant forces driving decentralization in society in general and IT in particular, and anything enterprise wide is by definition centralized.

I agree and disagree, depending on what you mean by “central.”  (As you may expect, since I work for a ‘central’ architecture team).

When Walmart moved in to my neighborhood two years ago, they went to the city council and zoning board and asked for a permit.  Of course, no one had to issue the permit, but it was in the best interest of the city to do so, so they did.  They didn’t have to change the structure of the city to allow them to come in.  There were already roads and electricity, because the planning board had already planned on the existence of a retail hub. 

Could you consider the zoning board to be central?  I would.

I live in a small-ish suburban area.  What about the zoning board(s) for larger cities?  Are they ‘central’?  Is there “too much complexity to coordinate anything enterprise wide” in the case of a city zoning board?  I don’t think so.  They regularly deal with zones for industrial, single and multifamily housing, retail, distribution, roads, utilities, etc.  Zoning works.  (If you think otherwise, spend some time in Houston, where there is no zoning board.)

So why does central control work for city zoning boards but fail for IT?

  1. Most IT architects don’t understand the boundary between solution architecture and enterprise architecture.  City planning decides that a shopping area needs to sit next to a housing area in order to meet the growth goals and trends of the town.  It does not decide who the builders are, what stores will be built, and what products will be sold.  The board does help decide where water, electricity, sewer, rainwater, and pollution mitigation needs to play into the bigger picture.   Solution architecture should take on the role of ‘architecture within the land’ and let Enterprise Architecture take on the role of ‘architecture within the city.’
  2. Most companies have not completely embraced Enterprise Architecture.  As a result, there isn’t an acceptance either of it’s value, or of the need to seek the ‘permit’ process, much less the need to comply with it.  Imagine a zoning board in a wild west town.  Now you get most IT departments.
  3. Most companies don’t have an EA permit process, so even if an IT team “wants” to play, they can’t.  Where the company may have a process, it is rarely as well managed as a city permit process.  For some reason, Enterprise Architects think that their work is somehow “different” from other large environment planning positions, when it is not.  It is time for EA to take a page from central planning models that work.

Central planning works, but not in a vacuum and not with a heavy hand.  We haven’t figured it all out yet, but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel and live in the wild west.