Architecting for Digital Businesses

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace and can be confusing to a business leader who has to keep up with buzzwords and terminology like Digitization, Internet of Things, Cloud, Nexus of Forces, Digital Convergence, Smart Revolution, Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, Virtual/Augmented/Mixed Realities, Big Data, etc. In fact, these developments are even a mystery to many IT professionals who aren’t well read as well!

Large organisations may have the benefit of an internal Enterprise Architecture team or access to many professional consultancies to guide them. Smaller businesses though are lagging, and as we’ve covered in previous articles, they must jump onto the Digitisation bandwagon if they want to survive and thrive in this Digital Age against a market with fresh, agile and cool technology startups. Some small businesses have an email address, a website which may or not have an ecommerce store, Facebook and Instagram account. While getting onto Social Media and the Web is a good start, that too-narrow distribution channel focus means that those businesses are only getting a small share of the full value that digital transformation can offer across their value chain (better, cheaper, more customised products; faster turn-around times; improved customer experience).

I’ll try to outline what businesses can do to embark on a digital transformation and look at some reference Digital Architectures from the large professional consultancies, with a focus on Oracles Digital Business reference architecture (good overall coverage that is concise).

Digital Disruption created this diagram which at a high level depicts the process a business can follow on their path to digitisation:

McKinsey has published a list of opportunities that a business can consider at the start of their Digital Transformation journey:

It’s important for a business to adopt Enterprise Architecture principles to guide them on their journey. These are incredibly useful when it comes to making choices further down the line, and to remain with a standardised and agile digital solution. Some examples from Oracle:

Check out this article where I elaborate more on the Digital Strategy and Operating Model.

To help visualise various categories of technology components, you use a Reference Architecture diagram. This is Oracle’s:

The top layer of the diagram depicts various distribution channels. These channels operate in silos or could be part of an omni-channel platform where a customer can e.g. initiate a transaction on a mobile phone and conclude it at business branch or 3rd party service provider. The interaction layer connects the channels to the backend applications in the business (e.g. CRM, Sales, Service, Inventory, Analytics, ERP, etc.). Applications and even the other layers all produce data which needs to be stored somewhere: the Information Management Layer. Data can be stored in real-time operational data stores, near-real time and batch archive storage solutions. The Infrastructure Layer refers to the actual physical hardware and networks that the technology solutions sit upon. Between the components of each layer integration is required. There are various ways in which applications and devices can communicate to each other, e.g. point-to-point (directly) or via middleware. The Development Layer can house components like the businesses data models, process composition and application development tools. Every layer of the stack needs to be secured (e.g. authentication, authorisation, encryption) and it needs to be managed and monitored (e.g. device management, application and network congestion monitoring, database size monitoring, network attack monitoring, etc.).

In this Digital Age, businesses now have the option to house components of each-layer on premise (in their own computer/data centre), in the cloud, or a little of both (hybrid model), as depicted in this example:

Capgemini has a different Reference Architecture model for Digital Businesses that you can refer to.

Each industry will have a different type of Reference Architecture, but there are a lot of similarities. A business should adopt one that makes sense for themselves.

Once the Reference Architecture has been defined, Business and IT capabilities understood; Opportunities & Gaps identified against the capabilities and landscape; initiatives/projects identified, prioritised, budgeted for and sequenced correctly on a roadmap; each project can be executed upon. Some projects will require further architecture detail where conceptual, solution, logical and physical architectures need to be defined before a single line of code can be deployed. Before executing a large and costly project, the business may wish to create a prototype or Minimum Viable Product to test the idea in the market, and refine it iteratively based on customer feedback.  System Implementation Methodologies are a topic of its own.

A key advantage of digitising a business with a full enterprise architecture is so that the company can offer its customers one seamless channel experience, limited duplication of capabilities needs to take place across the landscape, the landscape is easier to manage and changes can be implemented quicker to respond to dynamic and rapidly changing business environment.

References:

Implementing Digital Architecture: A CIO and CDO Roadmap

Finding your digital sweet spot By ’Tunde Olanrewaju and Paul Willmott

Enterprise Architecture for Digital Business – Oracle

Article written by Zaid Mahomedy.

Zaid Mahomedy is certified Enterprise Architect and Mixed Reality Entrepreneur with over a decade of experience as an IT consultant, Enterprise & Solution Architect; Digital Content Creator and Influencer. Zaid is available to consult to companies on how they can adopt disruptive technologies to transform themselves so that they can thrive in the Digital Age. For more info, check out www.immersiveauthority.com

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