By Lizette Robbertze, Organization Optimization Architect and Digital Strategist
“We cannot solve problems using the same thinking when creating them” – Albert Einstein
Businesses with ambitions for exponential growth and performance excellence must outperform competitors within a constantly changing external ecosystem, in which they are under pressure not just to align with the needs of the modern customer and new technology advancements; but while protecting themselves from ever-increasing cyber risks.
Desired Future Fit Characteristics for Businesses
It is imperative to realise that an environment’s Future Fit Character (or personality) depends on traits in its business, operating- and technology models. The characteristics of the future fit technology model, in turn, are dependent on those of the business and operating models, which may include:
- The Business Model Characteristics relate to the customer’s interaction experiences. For example:
- Ease of purchase- relates to finding a suitable product, having an easy-to-understand view of the product’s features, and the convenience of the purchase process.
- Ease of payment- customers like to pay using a variety of payment mechanisms, some of which are made available only with the use of new technologies.
- Order fulfillment speed- customers value the receipt of a product, aligned with expectations of quality, as soon as possible.
- Service Satisfaction- includes expectations for the service provider to be aware of the customer’s profile, their recent activities and issues, and the proactive management thereof.
- Operating Model Characteristics relate to the performance of business activities, which would include:
- Operational Efficiencies – usually found in environments with mature standard operating procedures with built-in automation capabilities, aligned with regulatory requirements, and tracked via performance metrics/SLAs.
- A High-performing culture with happy employees. With contributing factors such as role clarity, alignment between responsibility and authority, capacity, and support to do their assigned work; and, the opportunity to actualise individual goals.
- Agreements to in/outsource the use of specific, and often scarce, skill sets.
- Management using state-of-the-art consolidated business intelligence reports for decision-making purposes.
Technology areas have highly interdependent relationships with their business stakeholders and, therefore, depend on the fitness of the business and operating models. A Future Fit technology model exhibits the following characteristics:
- Technology operations are mature, with well-defined and governed handovers between strategy and architecture, build and run environments.
- Implemented solutions are scalable and resilient- based on well-defined performance predictions, maintenance and performance surveillance activities; and, mature error-handling patterns.
- The technology architecture is simple and coherent; and, can efficiently enable/support all business operations in line with defined regulatory requirements and risk appetite.
- Build teams can deliver daily business change requirements in an agile manner based on their ability to re-use, integrate and configure future fit components- according to predefined patterns – to ensure predictable successful outcomes.
- Replacement of older technologies, or even incorporating new technologies into the technology environment, can be done without suffering significant disruption.
How to establish a Future Fit Technology Environment
While it may be easy to define the WHAT – required characteristics – it is not always as intuitive to identify the factors contributing to, or detracting from, their achievement. The strength and weaknesses examples provided below are examples of such contributing factors.
Mitigate the following Weaknesses
While my initial thoughts were mainly to identify technology architecture weaknesses, I thought it prudent to mention operational flaws resulting from ineffective agile working practices.
While organisations still have strategic goals, it seems that the planning required for achieving such goals happens in ad-hoc and sometimes even unstructured manners. While this may trigger innovation and ensure benefits to the organisation never imagined, it does place a heavy operational burden on areas – such as technology – to deliver in an unstructured and ad-hoc manner.
Conflicting business priorities obfuscate delivery requirements, exhaust employees, and result in sub-quality delivery. Also, the constant pressure and variety of change requests result in ‘short-term’ design, often increasing the complexity of the technology architecture.
Little consideration is given to best practice guidelines, and no time is afforded to document any of the changes made to the environment. After a while, the organisation realises it has a technology architecture with various grey/unknown areas to support business, resulting in the unpredictable effect of any further changes.
Four major technology architecture weaknesses are worth noting.
Complexity– The major drawback of complex technology architectures is their unpredictability. Complex architectures have many, often too many functional duplicated components with multiple interconnections – some of which may no longer be in use. It is unlikely that such an architecture is adequately documented or understood; therefore, when any changes are made to specific components or connections, it is never clear what else in the architecture will be negatively impacted.
Apart from this significant caveat, complexity is almost always the root cause of other weaknesses – such as the other three mentioned below.
Legacy– while legacy components may still play an active role in an environment, they are expensive to maintain due to skill shortages, and it is challenging to integrate them into the rest of the architecture. As these components’ exact operational functionality as cornerstones of the architecture are often unclear, replacing them becomes more challenging with time.
Technical Debt– not upgrading software to the latest versions limits the ability of the organisation to utilise features, developed by Vendors, to be used as a competitive functional advantage. Also, software upgrades and operating system patches contain fixes that prevent cyber criminals from accessing and exploiting sensitive information stored in an environment.
Technical debt also refers to inadequate maintenance, especially to databases. In time system performance will be severely impacted by a database with improper indexing, or, of which old data has never been archived.
Inadequate Environment Management– different environments are used to test the effect of changes made to a particular component, on the rest of the environment. If a test environment is not an exact copy of the production environment, the benefit of the testing may be minimal, resulting in operational outages once the change is deployed in the production environment.
Build on the following Strengths
The following four strengths are the pillars of any Future Fit technology environment.
Maintained Architecture views
A Future Fit technology architecture doesn’t happen by coincidence – it must be planned based on qualitative and quantitative evaluations of the status quo. Usually, there is also more than one option to ensure an optimal alignment with the business’s strategic goals. Some options may depend on others, and each will impact the current environment differently. Therefore, it is crucial to keep the architectural views of the current environment relevant and to plan changes formally in an architectural tool created for such purposes.
As mentioned above, complexity is the major weakness in any technology architecture. Just as the human body has several organs, each with its purpose, a technology architecture needs separate ‘integrated’ layers. Layering an architecture has three significant benefits:
- The specification of layers gives a level of order to the architecture, and the integration between layers ensures alignment.
- It allows for the optimisation of each layer by being able to avoid the use of duplicated or legacy components. Also, some layers will provide standardised functionality – may be supported by best-of-breed vendor solutions. Others, such as the integration layer, provide agility by implementing highly customisable microservices.
- It allows for the controlled replacements of components within a layer.
Fit for Purpose
Fit for Purpose is measured from both a business, and a technology point of view.
Business Fit for Purpose refers to the following:
- The architecture must cater to all operational purposes – including requirements for all functional requirements; guiding workflows; providing required information for servicing customers, or making management decisions.
- It also requires a stable performance from the technology environment – across standard and peak operational periods.
- Finally, it needs to accommodate the necessary changes – to stay competitive – in an agile manner.
Technology Fit requires that the systems in the technology environment are scalable, fault-tolerant, and can be easily supported. The following are prerequisites for the technology environments:
- Only stable solutions must be promoted to the production environment – which can only be guaranteed if the development, test, pre-production, and production environments are maintained and aligned – as this will ensure effective testing before releases.
- The support team uses monitoring tools, performs regular maintenance, and has relevant skills and mature processes.
- Governance is well established in the environment to ensure that all changes deployed to production are aligned with the defined architecture principles and updated to the relevant architecture repository.
A Future Fit
Technology Environment includes modern technologies and enables businesses to compete in a fast-changing and highly competitive environment. But, as we know, even simple environments are highly integrated, and changes can have undesired/unplanned implications.
In summary, change management must therefore be done formally and holistically, with predefined rules for prioritisation.
“Focus and Simplicity are my mantras. Simple can be more challenging than complex. You must work hard to keep your thinking clean and simple. But it is worth in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs