What Architects Can Learn From the War on Ukraine – a Call to Action

By Paul Preiss, CEO of Iasa Global

The world has been overcome with the violence, the horror and the atrocities of a military invasion conducted for what appears to be one man’s need. At the same time it has become a catalyst for the defense of democracy, the absolute heroism of Ukrainians, and a truly inspirational leader. This war has unified millions of disparate people from around the world, though none of us can really understand the pain, the terror and the horrors of the people who one day were going about their daily lives, and the next were watching their loved ones starve and even die.

But why would I write this article, which is about architecture? I believe that a different world is coming compared to the one we have known. This war has been conducted as much online as in the streets, though obviously with less direct violence. Anonymous is at war. Thousands of hackers, employees, companies are having to wage their own war in the digital space and the mix between the two worlds is slowly coming together. But more importantly, the world of technologists is coming out of the basement and into the limelight and we, as professionals, and as people, are beginning to find our own voice in our role in society.

What does it mean to have a voice in society? Doctors have Doctors Without Borders, building architects have similar organizations, lawyers have pro-bono work… . These professions have voices, opinions, capabilities and a role in the shaping of societal policy as well as activist elements to help in times of need. They consulted, worked together and brought us a reasonably quick amount of relief from Covid, they went in droves to hurricane decimated areas to rebuild and save lives, they work with legislators, litigators and executive areas of government to bring a better world… but where are the technologists?

This has long been a dream of mine. Ever since I saw the AIA send 10,000 building architects to Louisiana to rebuild after Katrina. What should architects be doing? Not as employees of PWC, Microsoft, Accenture, or United Health, but as architects? As a profession, where is our voice, our action, and our social outreach? How do we as a profession respond to such a massive atrocity? And while the Ukraine is a horrible outrage, why is it any less than the ones that happen in Africa, South America, or in America itself? Where do we fit in the social order?

I believe the Ukraine is a call to action for technologists in general and for architects in specific. It is time that we begin developing our actions, methods and tools for how we help people, companies, governments form a better digital world. We are the experts, we have the people, the techniques and the methods to help thousands of people and companies be better, work better and drive a better future.

I am going to list some aspirational areas to guide our thinking about this topic. These areas range from the extremely complicated and strategic to the smaller, immediate and tactical. Id like you to consider how you might feel and how we might implement each of them in time.

  1. Architects helping locally. Architects could very easily be involved in local projects for the good of the city. For example, instead of just volunteering at a soup kitchen or in addition to it, could we work with the group to establish new volunteers, new sources of revenue, awareness or volunteers? Could we donate our shared time to churches, charities, and other causes that let us use our deep business and technical skills to improve the lives of others all around us? How many architects could work together to help a city office work more efficiently, build better tools for its citizens and charitable organizations be even more successful? I feel this is the most practical application of our time. It just takes one of us. But imagine if their were more?
  2. Architects and catastrophe. This has already been done. My good friend Lewis Curtis has built an amazing disaster recovery team at Microsoft to help people during major crisis. I cannot say more about the work they do, other than, how can we start learning to do the same? Start small and make a difference he told me recently in an interview. Keep focused on real results not ruminating about architecture. Here is a link to the work he has done. I hope someday Iasa can follow in his footsteps and truly help those in need as architects.
  3. Architects and policy. This is a place we could really make a difference in the world. Doctors consult on medical policy. Financial professionals on well financial policy etc. But what do architects have to say about digital policy? Where is our avenue to influence the vote? Where do we (and I am not talking about the vendors, that is a different game, I mean we as an architecture profession) influence policy around security, around government technology waste, the digital citizen? Is life becoming more fair because of technology? Another great area for us to band together and start making change. All it takes is a few leaders and some patience.
  4. Architects and education. How are we teaching technology? How are engineering and architecture programs accredited? There are 40-50 architecture degree programs in the world and all of them were invented by the school itself alongside some professionals connected to that school. Guess what? None of them teach the same thing. Iasa worked with the University in Dublin to accredit its architecture program against the BTABoK, in exactly the same way that medical schools are accredited. Let’s do it for ALL of the programs, and call out the ones who aren’t teaching what architects need to know.
  5. Architects, ethics and doing the right thing. There is not end to this discussion. The technology sector is the only sector where ethics are unheard of, unenforceable and for most purposes don’t exist. I was a big fan of the Google walk out, simply because it was a group of technologists trying to do what they believe is right? How many of you know someone who has royally screwed over a client or employer and is still employed? Its sort of like if doctors just kept changing hospitals after killing patients. Then there is AI, self-driving cars, job loss, financial mis-management, price gouging, and the list goes on. How do we start enforcing ethics at the corporate and individual level?
  6. Architects and fund-raising. Well this one is obvious and really should be quite fun. Most of us make great money. Lets hold conferences to raise money for good causes. I mean think about if all the conferences this year raised money for children. That I millions of dollars. We are working on this one already. Hope you will join us. Learn and save kids? Now that’s a cool profession.
  7. Architects and M&A. How much is an acquisition worth if you count its technology strategy? How should a ‘non-technology’ company (the quotes are of course because every company is a technology company now) be valued on the stock market. Take two insurance companies. The one with the better, more agile technology strategy and more mature execution will win at a lot of things. Why are we not valuing the companies out there on their technology excellence? Why are we not holding CEOs directly accountable for agility and technology strength in the marketplace. Think what that would do to IT budgets and the CIO, CTO, CDO seat at the table.
  8. Architects and audits. Ok Im just gonna say this. Governments spend a LOT of money on very bad implementations of things and they do so in very dumb ways. So do a lot of big companies. Why in the world do we not have board certified architects auditing these ludicrous deals? Trust me, I have seen behind the vendor and SI curtain. Can we not get an actual independent standard for what it means to call yourself an architect, and get some visibility into these multi-billion dollar money sinks?

That’s a few items on the list of things to accomplish. We could make huge strides on this together. If you believe in any of them and want to make them happen, let me know!  Ive been at this for 20 years. Maybe in the next 20 years, Iasa with your help can check off a few more of these. Small dreams…