IT architecture is getting a lot more attention these days. The reasons: new tools and new strategies.
When Toby Redshaw, a VP with Motorola Inc., looks at many IT infrastructures--his own company's includes enterprise resource planning applications from Oracle and SAP, engineering apps from Cadence Design Systems and Mentor Graphics, supply-chain capabilities from i2 Technologies, data marts built with Informatica's tools, internally crafted code, development tools, and webMethods' middleware--the image that comes to mind is a bowl of spaghetti. Not exactly a blueprint for business agility.
Motorola is working on a new architectural design that uses Web services to make the pieces fit more neatly. If the company is successful, functionality will be introduced not only more quickly and cheaply, but with increased potential for reuse in novel ways, including by Motorola's customers and business partners. Apps also will be more closely tuned to the business processes they support.
"It changes the whole IT conversation with the business," says Redshaw, Motorola's VP of IT strategy, architecture, and E-business. "It's no longer, 'Tell me your requirements, and I'll turn that into technical specifications and do some prototyping.' It changes that whole discussion to one around business-process flows."
Motorola has embarked on what VP Redshaw calls a service-based architecture using Web-services standards.
It's a compelling case for rethinking the way computers, software, and networks are assembled--and IT professionals around the country are going through a similar exercise. Say what you will about the slowdown in IT buying, computing infrastructures are anything but static as business-technology managers look for greater efficiency, flexibility, and performance from their multimillion-dollar investments. And businesses aren't the only ones re-evaluating end-to-end, top-to-bottom design; government agencies are tackling it, too. "The prominence and importance of architecture are really coming to the forefront," Redshaw says. "You better get the architecture right. It might kill you if you don't."
The emergence of Web services as a fundamentally different way of connecting the pieces has a lot to do with it. But there are other drivers. Real-time computing, collaborative business, and security are business imperatives at many companies, and all require changes to underlying IT infrastructure. New technologies such as IT appliances, server blades, and grid computing have an impact, too, as does the spread of open-source software and alternatives to conventional storage media.
Steve Brown, senior VP and CIO of Carlson Cos., the restaurant, travel, and marketing services company, says an enterprise architecture helps him frame conversations when talking with business-unit managers about their projects and with vendors on how they should approach Carlson. ("Addressing the specific needs of our company," he says, "not telling us their strategy.") Brown even uses Carlson's architecture as a sales tool. "Our architecture and framework allow us to have an in-depth conversation with customers," Brown says. The architecture lets Carlson show its business customers how the company preserves the integrity of their data, which is especially important to those in the financial industry. "Had we not had the enterprise architecture in place, we would never have won these clients," he says.
Next up: Brown is attempting to map business processes on top of his design. That will "fundamentally change the company," he says.
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