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Digital maturity


I had an “A-ha!” moment when reading a book called Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, published by Harvard Business Review in 2006, which has been recommended to me by several architects working in other universities. The book is indeed very interesting. It looks at the overall operating models of businesses and how the top-performing companies digitise their core processes.

The book’s title is slightly confusing because the authors use “Enterprise Architecture” in a rather different way from the main EA frameworks such as TOGAF.  Instead, their book focusses on strategy. If it were written today, a more relevant title might be “Digital Strategy”.

There are many useful ideas in this book but the one that most caught my attention was part of the discussion of “architecture maturity” – or what I call “digital maturity”.  The authors present four stages:
  1. Business silos
  2. Standardised technology
  3. Optimised core
  4. Business modularity
Each stage is described in some detail which I don’t have space to cover here. The key point the authors make is that none of the organisations they surveyed managed to skip any of these stages – they had to progress through each one before the next.

This resonated with me because for several years I have been trying to encourage the creation of plug-and-play business modules, implemented as reusable IT services. This is the “holy grail” of service-oriented architecture and is captured in level four of the authors’ maturity model. In those years, I got nowhere. What this model tells me is that failure had a root cause which is that the overall organisation of the University is not sophisticated enough to support this level of componentisation. I would put the University at level two of the above model.

The evidence presented in this book is that we need to move through the intermediate stage of standardising processes and data across the organisation before we can introduce reusable business processes. So I should stop reaching for the unobtainable and focus on these more modest goals. This intermediate stage will still be a significant advance for the university.

By the way, it was this book that introduced the idea of the “Core Diagram”, which the University of Wisconsin-Madison has used to such good effect.

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