The twitwebs and blognets are full of grandiose 140-character statements and breathless treatises regarding what IT Architecture is. This will be the first entry in what I hope to be a series of short memes on the topic of what IT Architecture is not.
Let’s set the stage a bit. I’m originally an infrastructure guy. I used to believe any problem could be solved with a good machine and top notch middleware. Business requirements were fluff, the domain of the older, non-technical crowd. The cool kids played with infrastructure. After spending nearly a decade in consulting with technical and management consulting firms, I saw the damage that line of thinking can cause.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a first rate infrastructure. Far from it. The problem is when the word “system” comes to mean “machine”. That is, when discussions and thought around hardware and software, network and disk array, are substituted for thought about all the components needed to address a business problem. I mean, isn’t that what IT is all about? Solving business problems? Technology alone can’t solve business problems. An architecture is required to address those problems and enable the business to do what all business should be doing, make mo’ money mo’ faster and mo’ efficiently.
A comprehensive architecture that is made up of things like mission, vision, goals, objectives, requirements, roles, activities, capabilities, services, technical components and yes, physical components is a holistic thing. It is something we bake, not something served up in piecemeal ingredients. We don’t eat flour and call it bread just because everyone around us happens to be an expert in flour. An architecture is not a single one of those ingredients. It is the result of an intentional effort to bring those parts together so that they positively impact the matter at hand. Talking about servers and middleware and network all day, no matter how appealing to some (including myself) will never go far in solving business problems. Frankly it will just make you look like the stereotype Dilbert character. Your organization will lose all credibility with the folks who pay the bills.
Architecture is not merely an infrastructure. Let’s start calling folks out when they talk about it that way.