By Jamie West, Head of Architecture & Design, healthAlliance
Looking back on my career within business technology, I’ve had the honour of being at the frontline of large digital transformations for companies looking to reinvent the way they run and operate their businesses. All for a variety of different reasons: increase revenues from existing products, protecting existing revenues, find new revenues, being more efficient, stay relevant, becoming digital, and more. In my experience, I’ve never seen one of these happen seamlessly, that is a roll out without some blood and tears shed along the way. With every good news story, there is an opposing not-so-good news story, and yes, I have also been there at the frontline when things didn’t turn out so well. These times are dark, and although personally, not many to talk of, the scars are there to remind you of what can happen if you get it wrong.
When analyzing the good from the bad, I have wanted to hone in and sharesome lessons that I have come across. These are things I would gladly share from future me to past me, in the hope that future me can minimize his errors and a better architect. Here we go.
Lesson 1: Your energy is finite, so use it where it matters. Even as I write this I have a backlog and roadmap of activity that will last over ten years. To do all of this will never be possible and things will change more radically that anyone can anticipate. It’s important to know that your time needs to be focused the right things. When do you hold your ground and when do you need find common ground? With large complex organizations, politics, personal agendas, capability gaps, and so on, you can all get in the way of progress—humans are unique like this. This is more an art than anything but knowing that you can’t do everything is the first step in figuring out what really needs to have your attention and effort. If you burnt out, then there are no winners. So, use your time where it matters.
Lesson 2: Technology is your business that means all companies are technologies companies now. “This should be business led” is the famous words I hear on pretty much everything and anything I touch.
I think these words were 100 percent accurate 20 years ago. With the never-ending surge of technology, the blurring of business and technology makes it increasingly harder to unpick traditional business from digital business models apart. My council on this topic is that all business whether they like it or not are technology businesses now. The digitization of products and channels achieves this by default. Some sectors are late to game like Healthcare, but the movements are in play. So, it’s just a game of catch-up really. On engagements, it’s important that digital strategy includes “architecture” at the table, with key business folk.
With The Never-Ending Surge of Technology, the Blurring Of Business and Technology Makes It Increasingly Harder To Unpick Traditional Business from Digital Business Models Apart
Lesson 3: There’s no such thing as a business architect, so stop looking. For the business architects out there, I do apologize, it is slightly controversial, to be successful as a business architect in their industry, they must have hailed from this industry, worked, and operated in the “business of” this industry and be across all parts of the business. Traditional architects looking to become business architect’s generalists are not really a model that I have seen work well at all. I also think it’s far easier to train and skilled business folk in the techniques of business architecture, than vice versa. I’ve been most successful with this model, recruiting from within the business, upskilling architecture method and flexing out in areas where you just need scale, i.e., business process reengineering. Putting yourself in an executive’s shoes would you take advice on a new business operating model from an enterprise architect with no hands-on experience in your industry or sector. No you wouldn’t.
Lesson 4: It’s your job (architects) to get your message across, so stop blaming your stakeholders for not understanding your crazy architecture viewpoints. I have this conversation a lot with my team members, when they are struggling with buy-in or getting stakeholders to understand complex concepts. The key point here is as architects, it’s your job to make sure everyone understands that concept you are trying to get across. People digest and take on information in different ways, and their understanding/education on certain subject’s areas differs from person to person. If your stakeholders are not picking up what you’re putting down, it’s up to you to find another way to get you them on board. That is a key part of your role as an architect. Find a way to make them understand.
Lesson 5: You won’t get along with everyone, so mix it up. Regardless of how good your EQ and IQ is, you are not going to get along with everyone. It’s important that you recognize this early and adjust your approach. The architects who excel at this are who those with exceptional communication skills, and then do architecture second. I will often change a stakeholder relationship, based on how I or my team are coping with the situation. That means I would swap myself or members of my team around, based purely on personalities. A key part of an architect’s role to provide awareness and influence the balances of outcomes. That’s impossible to achieve if people are banging heads.
This is what I’d say to myself, if I could go back in time. I know it would have save me some time, pain, and energy.