The IT industry has gone through a fruitful period of innovation over the past several years. Those innovations continue with the growing adoption of emerging technologies such as cloud computing, mobile computing, smart computing, appliances, and cyber security.
Now enterprise strategists and architects need to step back and help their organizations absorb these individual innovations and make them a part of their unique enterprise fabric, integrate them with their existing IT investments and processes, and perfect their implementation to address real business needs.
To do this, a new model for a master plan for IT — the enterprise-wide architectural blueprint — has started to emerge from the convergence of consumer-driven technology trends and maturing post-Internet enterprise technology.
This new IT architecture is not only reshaping the future of the enterprise IT but, more importantly, is enabling and supporting powerful new business models. While building their strategic future vision, organizations should carefully consider this new architectural model as it introduces new channels, delivery models, service and process layers, and deployment choices.
The emerging modern IT architecture builds on a number of design imperatives:
1) End-user experience is key to maximizing business value. Over the past few years the primary focus of IT has shifted to the end user, including employees, customers, and consumer communities. This is quite different from the process and data-centric focus of the past decades.
The quality attributes of the user experience — such as usability, flexibility, and adaptability — directly affect the real and perceived value of IT systems. Organizations should start their design process from this end point in the value chain and move backwards, giving strong consideration to how their users interact with the functions and features they provide.
Creating an effective end-user experience has become a key success factor and an important end-user value proposition in business applications. This requires leveraging new technologies to develop intuitive and natural user interfaces and delivering services to mobile devices for anywhere and anytime computing. It also requires harnessing the power of collective intelligence of users, not only for marketing and post-sale support but also for product development and product enhancement through social networking.
The classic concept of one screen per function and one user interface per application is long gone as the enterprise user interface layer gets decoupled from the back-end application services to provide an adaptive experience to the end user optimized for any device.
2) Utility computing leads to a new deployment model. The enterprise data center is going through a significant transformation. Core computing resources, which include processing power, data storage, and networking capabilities, continue to move to the shared utility model to be on-demand, elastic, and agile.
As computing resources become commoditized and virtualized, private, public, and hybrid clouds; hosted platforms; appliances; and SaaS models provide reliable, easy to use, and cost-effective infrastructure services. The new generation enterprise applications need to be architected to include support for virtualization, load-distribution, remote management, and multi-tenancy.
3) Design solutions with connected devices in mind. In today’s multi-channel delivery environment, information needs to be device agnostic. In the post-PC world, end-user devices continue to proliferate and an increasing number of these devices are connecting enterprise systems and clouds to access business transactions and information.
Supporting these access-rich, device-agnostic environments requires a strong focus on reusability and componentization of application functions. Core application services need to be service-enabled to be decoupled from connected client devices and user interfaces, so that they can effectively provide common business functions with enhanced security.
4) Build on shared application services platforms. Siloed application stacks continue to evolve into componentized service-oriented solutions while delegating shared functions to standardized enterprise platforms for Business Process management (BPM), Business Rule Management (BRM), Business Intelligence (BI), and Enterprise Content Management (ECM).
These common platforms have already established their place in modern enterprise architecture. These platforms take the load of building common functions away from application developers, enabling agile development environments. Vertical, all-inclusive application silos are giving way to standardized horizontal stacks with custom distributed business services built on top of these standardized platforms.
5) Micro-apps are the future of business software. A large number of very small applications purpose-built to serve a focused task will replace large, monolithic applications. These apps will be connected to back-end transaction engines, databases, and content stores, and will be mashed up as needed on Web platforms, portals, and orchestration platforms. The modular and lightweight nature of these apps will make them crucial components of Web-based solutions and also mobile devices.
6) Web is the new de facto application development platform. The Web is already an established enterprise-class technology platform but it will continue to evolve and mature to be the de facto and unified platform for software acquisition, development, and delivery. This will affect all application design decisions which will be challenged as the underlying platform continues to evolve rapidly to address inherent architectural issues around security, privacy, scalability, and availability.
7) All solutions will need real-time performance management. Over the past few years, the responsibility for technology decision making has shifted from IT to business owners and stakeholders. This shift of power will have profound effects on the IT ecosystem not only in terms of requirements, prioritization, and scheduling but also in terms of design decisions.
Quantifiable performance metrics are now more important than ever for investments decisions and to continuously measure and monitor the heartbeat of the business. As software shifts to the service model with SOA, cloud, and SaaS, built-in performance management functions and upstream solutions like business intelligence and dashboards become crucial.
8) Enterprise collaboration platforms will integrate with processes and transactions. The integration of data, process, and human collaboration across the enterprise is a key requirement to achieve productivity and efficiency in this complex business world. With the boost from social computing, enterprise collaboration platforms are integrating human workflow and system processes. Modern business applications will integrate with the social networks of the enterprise to drive newfound productivity gains.
9) Security, privacy, and governance are key challenges. All these new technologies introduce unprecedented architectural challenges around security, privacy, integration, and governance. The adoption of this architectural model will be challenging, but given the business opportunities, it will be imperative.
It’s time to converge these design imperatives into a unified enterprise architecture blueprint that offers a way to achieve maximum leverage, genuine adoption, and meaningful integration with business processes and get ready for the transformation ahead.