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The Architect and Digital

I was very fortunate to participate in Capgemini’s recent Business Priority Week (BPW), alongside over 300 attendees from 22 countries, at the beautiful Les Fontaines retreat. The focus of the week was a new global service line called Digital Customer Experience (DCX), and we (from various business units, disciplines and competencies) were set a challenge to explore and articulate how we’ll work together to deliver this promise for clients.

Digital Customer Experience

The Digital Customer Experience

Being the clever people that architects are sometimes rumoured to be, the immediate response is directly related their role in a rapidly accelerating digital world. However, as an architect, I fear our time may be coming to an end unless we embrace the need to evolve the practice of architecture into something that clearly defines, assures and guides the digital customer experience for our organisation and our clients (incl. their customers / end-users). In order to do this properly, we must undertake an architectural journey to understand the context and key issues before deciding on the most appropriate response. Key questions to ask and answer include:

1. What is Digital and why is it such a game changer for our clients and our business?
A great story about rice, chess and an emperor was used to illustrate the impact of Moore’s Law to startling effect by revealing that we are only at the beginning of the digital journey, or as the authors of Race Against the Machine would say, “we ain’t seen nothing yet”.

2. Are established architecture approaches still relevant for digital?
The experience gained from several decades of putting together complex computer based systems was not lightly earned, and it would be spectacularly foolish to suggest that this is no longer required in the age of digital. If ever there was a time for true architecture it is right now, at the start of such an epic journey, however this implies a shift in the way architects engage clients and practice architecture.

3. So what is different about architecture for Digital and why is this important?
In a short answer – it needs a renewed focus on the business model. The role of architecture in digital is about getting closer to the business and helping achieve desired outcomes, (so far so normal), but this must be done at the exponential pace of digital, whilst maintaining ROI from existing technology investments. It is akin to walking atop the wall of a castle whilst juggling live cats and canaries, during an earthquake, and ducking missiles from inside and outside the castle. I’m sure you get the picture.

The above points indicate a necessary shift in mindset to handle the relative extremes in velocities at the interface of Digital vs. traditional IT systems. Among other things, the digital architect should:

  • Provide enterprise technology governance framework as a key point of reference for the various agile projects and initiatives commonly found in the would-be digital enterprise.
  • Utilise business modelling techniques (e.g. the business model canvas) along with time and velocity sensitive architecture principles to provide critical governance and to guide solutions from design right through to implementation, and beyond.
  • Be mindful of legal and ethical issues that can arise in the digital space (e.g. contractual obligations for digital services, and / or the privacy concerns of end-users).
  • Anticipate the needs of clients and their business in a fast changing environment, even when some stakeholders might challenge the need for architecture in any form.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that architecture has never been more critical than at this particular point in time. This therefore is a call to action for every organisation to challenge their architects to provide the governance and assurance needed to achieve the outstanding outcomes promised by Digital Customer Experience, whilst also protecting existing investment and core assets.

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