Monday, November 10, 2008

The Job of the Enterprise Architect

ZDNet recently published an article on My Awesome IT Job: Enterprise Architect, IBM. The article is an interview with Martine Combes, an Enterprise Architect working with the CIO Organization of IBM in France. In the article, Martine says, "It is very easy to become overwhelmed by complexity and it is very difficult to maintain simplicity, especially when the scope is large, the number of team members is high. So better to have a simple architecture from the start, clearly showing the benefits for the Business."

On one hand, I applaud Martine's awareness of the importance of simplicity when it comes to Enterprise Architecture. On the other hand, I feel there is some degree of naivety in this understanding of the nature of complexity.

Marine appears to be saying that if you build your architectures simple from the beginning, you will have addressed the problem of complexity. There are several problems with this understanding of complexity. First of all, making an architecture "simple" depends on the eyes of the viewer. What is simple to me may be complex to you. A better goal than making architectures "simple" is to make architectures "as simple as possible." It is not possible to prove that an architecture is "simple", since "simple" is subjective. But it is possible to show that an architecture is "as simple as possible." The test for "as simple as possible" involves showing that the functionality follows the rules of synergistic partitioning. If you can find a subset of functionality that violates synergistic partitioning, then you know the architecture can be made simpler. If there is no such subset, the architecture is as simple as it can possibly get, and any further efforts to simplify the architecture will actually make it more complex.

My second issue with Martine's understanding of complexity involves the implicit assumption that just because an architecture starts simple that it will stay simple. In fact, architectures tend towards increasing complexity unless ongoing effort is put into keeping them simple. It is harder to keep an architecture simple than it is to make it simple in the first place. It requires an continuing analysis of new functionality and rigorous placement of all new functionality according to the rules of synergistic partitioning.

Whose job is it to keep make sure than architectures start out "as simple as possible" and stay that way for the system's lifespan? In my view, this is the primary responsibility of the enterprise architect. Only this person has the business perspective needed to identify synergies and the technical perspective needed to understand partitioning.

An organization that lacks a viable program in enterprise architecture will pay a severe cost in IT complexity. Complexity is the enemy. Enterprise Architecture is the solution. The only solution.

- Roger Sessions

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