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February 20, 2009

Architecture's Business Stakeholder

Whenever an IT architecture discussion begins, all the participants line up on different sides.

There are, of course, those who just look around puzzled, wondering "What architecture?" -- or, more frequently, "Why architecture?"

But the those who call themselves "architects" quickly take a side:

  • Architecture is how all the machines are deployed, and what kind of network links the machines together
  • Architecture is separating machines by function: database server, web server, security server, application server, middle tier distributor
  • Architecture is how the vendor's product is distributed, scaled, and sped up

I go, first, to the more fundamental question -- the "technology-free" question -- of "What are we trying to accomplish, and why?"

It's the "Why?" that creates the greatest silence in a roomful of techies.

  • Why do we have a web site?
  • Why are we building a data warehouse?
  • Why are we creating a real-time EAI system?
  • Why is the data secured? Why isn't it?

Unless the answer to "Why?" is "because we're a technology research firm and this is what we study", then I would expect the people who write the check -- the Business people -- to offer up the only relevant answers. And they are rarely technical.

What would the business stakeholder say about the choice between EAI and real-time data warehouse?

How does the business stakeholder feel about Open Source?

As it turns out, even these geek debates have a business implication. It's a business problem specifically because, at some point, one solution will cost more than the other. That's dollars. And dollars are a business problem.

  • What is the cost of Open Source? How does that compare against a proprietary software suite, like Oracle, Microsoft or IBM?
  • What is the cost of a vendor-specific software solution? What is the "lost opportunity" cost of being unable to change from one vendor to another without a multi-million dollar rewrite of a working system?

There is -- almost -- always a business interest. All technical questions reduce, ultimately, to a business question, because they always come down to costs -- and costs are measured in business dollars.


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