Explore the Merits of Taking a Data-led Approach to any Digital Transformation Journey

Envitia’s Simon Green turns the camera round on his role as an Enterprise Architect and shares his thoughts on different ways to start on the road to transformation.

What came first – the chicken or the egg?  Ah, the age-old paradox about cause and effect.

 As Enterprise Architects, we are well tuned-in to effects;  How can we have the greatest beneficial effect (read impact or outcome) from the change transformations we propose, and the constraints we work within?

As we study the enterprise landscape in front of us to identify problems and opportunities, we tend to look at the current situation through a number of lenses.  The most common of these are: Business, Data/Information, Applications, Technology/Infrastructure, and not forgetting Security of course.  Depending on which architecture methodology you are using, you may call these lenses different things, or slice the cake slightly differently, but generally we are talking about the same approach.

So, where to start?  Technology/Infra?  This is a tricky one; you’ll end-up with a rigid business model shackled to your technology choices if you’re not careful. But some EA tools I’ve used are biased that way; capture an inventory of hosts, servers and devices, and decompose from there.  How about Applications? More common than you may think – engineers (and many architects are current or former software engineers, myself included) tend to think apps first – “I need an app to do this, another to do that” – then work out the processes and data to fit.  The outcome to that is rarely transformational.

So that leaves us with Business and Data, and the chicken and egg conundrum.  The generally accepted status-quo in terms of architecture methodology is to start with the Business side of things.  Sure: capture strategy, goals, drivers, PESTLE and all that good stuff.  Capability-based planning, value stream analysis, and organisational design are all super important. But what about the business processes?  Should we think about designing the optimal business processes, and then fit the data into these – making some compromises around your information landscape along the way?  Many a costly ERP implementation have trodden that painful path (enough said!).  Or, should you start with what I believe is the most important lens of all, your data?  Let’s face it, all the other lenses are there to support your data and information.

 A key tenet of digital transformation is about extracting the maximum possible exploitation and business advantage from your data assets, so it’s imperative that you start your journey with the best possible data foundations to build upon [See my colleague Richard Griffith articles on more of that].  Spend time getting to really understand the data you have (or don’t have!), align this to your strategy, goals, value generation, and outcomes, and then start to design your target business process, applications, security, etc. optimised around your data.  And, as we move further towards AI-driven businesses and increasingly serverless cloud computing, a lot of these technology choices are now handled for us behind-the-scenes, so all we’re left with is data – that’s ours – so we should not be tempted to short-change ourselves by thinking of it as an inconvenient exhaust product. It is the fuel.

In reality, and in fact in especially the digital world, we are not necessarily constrained by these conundrums, we can do both together; we can think about Business and Data architecture in parallel.  And, in fact, new technology (think smartphones, WiFi, GPS etc.), innovative applications (e.g. social media, platforms), and next-level process automation (AI) can be big levers to pull on.  But let your data do the talking, and your business outcomes will speak for themselves.”

Simon Green is an experienced Enterprise Architect working in Envitia’s Consultancy division.

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