In our last post about the “Twelve Shifts of Digital” we spoke about the shift from ‘Digitised and Transactional’ to ‘Digital and Human’ channels. This week’s focus is on Architecture; we explore not only how the underlying technical platforms and solutions lay the foundation for achieving your Digital ambitions, but also consider the shift in the role of Architecture in streamlining of governance and providing the technical ‘enablers’ to ensure robust, but Agile solution delivery.
With each shift, many Architectural questions emerge on how to help enable an organisation’s Digital ambitions:
- New Business Models – near ubiquitous connectivity means that almost every interaction generates data points that can be commercialised and reveal insights.
How do we capture and liberate this data to unlock the intrinsic value?
- API Economy and Ecosystems – have fragmented traditional value chains, driving new opportunities for competition and innovative approaches to co-operation and consumption of third-party apps, services and data.
How do we achieve secure access and interoperability between internal & external systems and platforms?
- Customer-centricity – consumers expect increasingly personalised access to the products and services they need, leading the shift from commoditised products to hyper-personalised propositions.
How do we minimise time to market and test new products and propositions to meet customer demands?
- Omni-channel – the boundaries between access channels are increasingly blurred, with the expectation of a near consistent end-to-end experience across channels – whether via an app, web browser or a Smart TV or wearables.
How do we build once but make all services available across customer touchpoints?
These shifts all culminate in a need for an Architecture that maximises the ability to respond to evolving and emergent demands in the marketplace. This goes beyond simply deploying the best of breed technology by focusing on Platforms, People and Process.
An optimised Digital Architecture requires a set of technology enablers that remove traditional bottlenecks (such as infrastructure deployment and environment provisioning) to form the basis of the platform for Digital Services and Agile delivery.
- On-Demand Infrastructure and Environments – the ability to rapidly mobilise resilient and scalable environments with Cloud-native solutions in response to emerging demand (whether this be simply virtual infrastructure such as Azure or AWS or from a customer engagement platform, such as Salesforce).
- Data Liberation – breaking down the barriers imposed by disparate legacy systems with technologies that simplify access to business data, such as Data Streams and Message Brokers, exposing this to other systems and services via APIs to make this available to customers in near real-time.
The underlying principle at Amazon is a perfect example – all of their platforms (from AWS to Amazon for Business) must be “externalisable” and loosely coupled so that data is re-usable and searchable without dependency on any one team.
- Microservices and Containers – distilling applications and offerings into small, loosely coupled but well integrated services with specific functionality; facilitating rapid deployment of incremental change, allowing new features to be rolled out to customers with increasing regularity. For example, Netflix has over 600 services in production, deploying features a hundred times per day.
- Integration and Security – enabling broader integration and access to systems and services with the use of API Gateways and third party access mechanisms to establish the ‘Digital Identity’ for customers (e.g. OAuth2 and Social login/Delegated Authentication) expands the footprint and accessibility of services. It does however increase the attack surface and threat vectors requiring ‘security by design’ to ensure that both the ability to and impact of compromise is minimised.
- App Exchanges – designing your architecture in an open way, allowing your strategy to consume applications and tools from external providers helps address how you drive innovation into your core architecture as well as extending your customer propositions.
Responding to ever-changing demands at the rate expected by customers necessitates increasing use of Agile delivery methodologies. This necessitates a ‘new breed’ of Architects who maintain their specialist technical skills but can also apply broad general knowledge across domains and business areas. With a focus on achieving delivery outcomes, Architects must now tip the balance from Architectural Purism to Pragmatism to make the design decisions that ensure the technology is compatible with achieving rapid and continuous delivery throughput.
Traditionally, Architecture practices have been subject to cumbersome approval processes and ‘decision by committee’ Design Boards that are more aligned to Waterfall delivery methods. Achieving the delivery throughput demanded by Digital organisations requires a conscious shift to ‘right-size’ the level of governance and rate of change aligned to the technology landscape.
- Pace Layering – while Agile delivery methodologies accelerate frequency of deployments, in reality, many organisations cannot indiscriminately apply Agile across their portfolio as critical legacy systems are not well suited to them. Pace Layering enables application of different rates of change and governance across the estate based on the system characteristics.
- Architecture@Pace – Streamline governance by empowering Architects to make local decisions through a framework of Technical Guiding Principles and Guardrails, thus removing the need for numerous levels of approval bodies. Shift from individual projects and programmes of change to a ‘Feature Release pipeline’ continuously releasing features that can be mapped directly to business value.
- Journey Management – a key element that we have touched on in our previous blogs is the orchestration of customer journeys. Customer engagement platforms together with a Microservice strategy allows you to manage your customer journeys across channels and devices as well as using insights and AI to nudge customers as and when required.
In a fast-paced Digital era, to remain at the forefront of customer experience and rapidly respond to market shifts, the foundations of an established digital delivery runway are critical. While it is easy to focus on ‘the Tech’ – the key to achieving true differentiation and responsiveness is an Architecture function that accelerates throughput by removing delivery ‘blockers’ based on an end-to-end Platforms, People and Process framework.
Reach out to Nick Drew, Ben Morgan or George Kallarackal if you would like to explore any of these suggestions further or would like to discuss how to make them work in your organisation.