Sociotechnical Architecture Unites People, Businesses, Tech

Sociotechnical architecture recognizes business, tech, and people as inseparable pillars of modern organizations. The approach promises tremendous benefits.

Jacek Chmiel, Director of Avenga Labs

September 21, 2023

4 Min Read
Branching out concept as a diverse rope splintering into other connected networks as a symbol for business or corporate expansion as ropes
Brain light via Alamy Stock

People interact with technology, and technology interacts with people and with other technologies. However, we still tend to look at these things separately. The sooner we recognize how deeply interconnected and interdependent everything is, the better results we're going to get for our organizations and for ourselves in terms of growth and motivation.

Sociotechnical architecture doesn’t solely focus on technology alone but recognizes the three pillars of modern enterprise architecture: business, technology, and people. The three are inseparable, key elements, equally important.

Old Times Are Not Good Times

In modern enterprises, the old question of asking what technology can do for the business is replaced with a much more modern approach. It’s not “How does IT respond to a business demand?” anymore, but “How can we achieve more using our people and technologies in cross-functional teams working towards the same goal?”

The old ways meant siloed organizations with each of those focused on local goals and optimizing for local efficiency. This approach of optimizing for the local goals of individual silos automatically leads to suboptimal performance of the entire company due to the internal tensions that silos always create.

For instance, IT departments tend to be focused on (their) people, putting the business goals of their organizations in the back seat. They are overly worried about the stability of their IT teams or adopting the latest technologies without taking into account the business value they can bring or fail to do by thinking local.

Related:4 Ways to Create a Workplace that Fosters Diverse Leaders

On the other hand, business is often focused on overhyped technologies making the headlines without accepting their practical limitations and immaturity. As a consequence, they often blame IT for their focus on the long-term safety of solutions and technologies. They refuse to accept that the reality of many conferences and startups is very different from what will deliver real business value in practice.

This leads to the blame game, pressure, and frustration, affecting both business outcomes and people. Too often, business is looking for workarounds, buying random SaaS solutions behind the CIO's backs, resulting in solutions that can create serious problems. In the end, nothing will bring back the time and money wasted, no matter who was “right” or “wrong.”

The Promise of Sociotechnical Architecture

What sociotechnical architecture delivers includes much better business efficiency, technology prowess (i.e., reduced technical debt), and a safe working environment with a learning culture instead of a blame culture, resulting in higher motivation and higher employee retention.

Needless to say, the implementation of a sociotechnical architecture is not easy because it requires major changes to the attitude and way of thinking of all participants. It means change for everyone, and as we all know, everyone likes changes and improvements unless they affect them and the change requires unlearning old habits and established patterns.

Architecture no longer means technical architecture alone, a set of components and infrastructure connected with arrows on a diagram. Not only does it include business goals and context but also social and team topologies. Architects can no longer live in their “ivory towers” surrounded by fancy and sophisticated graphs of components and dependencies that nobody else reads and understands.

Dropping the attitude “business never knows what they want” and opening real conversation requires a lot of patience. The walls between departments have been built over many years, and building trust is going to take a lot of work. But it's worth the effort.

For instance, tech people should be more aware of business goals and social aspects, and HR people should be focused on tech limitations and business goals, not just the happiness of the employees. Business people should understand technology opportunities, constraints, and social aspects to avoid overloading teams with unrealistic expectations.

A focus on outcomes needs to replace the focus on outputs (products of individual processes). All the activities and tasks performed by team members must have common business and social goals and objectives. This makes the impact of all the individual contributions visible, resulting in higher motivation and, as a result, higher efficiency levels.

Of course, as with anything requiring mind-shift and unlearning old habits, embracing the new sociotechnical philosophy is the key. Suddenly and, as if by miracle, all the existing techniques and methodologies start to make sense (i.e., event storming, Wardley mapping, cognitive load management, technical debt management, and many others).

Why Don't We? The Time Is Now!

The positive side of sociotechnical architecture adoption is that it can be introduced gradually, step by step, transforming modern organizations into effective sociotechnical systems of people and technologies, achieving business goals, and reaching new objectives.

From my experience, companies already possess the right practices and even the tools, but they are used in isolation, in disconnected, siloed ways. Often, leaders are not even aware of the option to adopt a sociotechnical approach, even though the key concepts have been around for decades.

It’s time to change this and, even more so, embrace this change. The benefits will be tremendous.

About the Author(s)

Jacek Chmiel

Director of Avenga Labs, Avenga

Jacek Chmiel is the Director of Avenga Labs, a division of Avenga focused on technology research and trend analysis as well as innovative, technology-oriented proof-of-concept projects with business partners. He is a technology evangelist and a well-known keynote speaker and presenter at some of the most prominent tech conferences all over Europe. Over the course of his +25 years of work experience, Jacek has been an insider into strategy and business development, working both on the business side and with technology partners. He has played every role in the production process, has overseen complex projects, and has successfully created concepts for highly sophisticated software and consulting services.

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