Bob Ivkovic, Principal of IT Architects
August 15, 2018
Everything is a service these days, even architecture. If you’re planning to offer any kind of product or service today, chances are you won’t be the first. I can’t help but think about Kicking Horse Coffee and the fact that they went from a family-owned small town coffee roasting business to being on every supermarket shelf in the country, and maybe across the border. So why were they so successful? Mainly because they were the first to serve organic coffee to a crazed organic clientele, which also tasted amazing. New competitors tried to penetrate the organic coffee market but found that Kicking Horse had the market cornered with their organic coffee service – Coffee-as-a-Service so to speak. You could buy it in a supermarket or buy a brewed organic coffee at the local coffeehouse. It really does pay off to be the first. I can’t say that Architecture-as-a-Service is organic but its time has definitely come.
When the IT consulting firm that I work for came up with its own brand of Architecture-as-a-Service, I thought we would be the first out of the gate to offer IT Architecture services across the board. Several companies claim to be doing it, but upon closer inspection, I’d say these services are incomplete and borderline frameworks. Frameworks usually mean “we’ll let the client figure it out while we guide them”, and the guiding part is usually a template with some instructions. I’m still to find a rich and complete set of services worthy of being offered as an Architecture-as-a-Service. All I can say is, “Buyer beware”, especially if you’re still trying to figure out what Architecture-as-a-Service is supposed to provide you while you’re being over-charged for it. Although there are consultancies that claim to be experienced purveyors of Architecture-as-a-Service, it’s important to do your due diligence before you engage their services. What looks good in a Powerpoint presentation is not always the real deal. I always say, “Show me what you’ve done and what the client has achieved”. What you will find with many claiming to provide Architecture-as-a-Service is that their architecture services are more a package of frameworks than services, and their architecture consultants lack the technical capabilities and experience to pull it off. Don’t underestimate the importance of a seasoned architect, and the fact that it takes a great architect to provide value-add architecture services.
What is Architecture-as-a-Service?
I think the best way to describe Architecture-as-a-Service is in reference to building a house. If you’ve never built a house, you’d be overwhelmed by the number of services required, as well as the coordination of these services to meet deadlines. We need excavators to dig the basement, cement companies to pour the foundation, framers to raise the structure, etc. I can go on about hiring plumbers, electricians, drywallers, painters, and so on. These are all distinct services that must be managed in a sequential and coordinated matter. Actually, some services can go in at the same time, so “coordinated” is the operative word. I’m sure most of you are thinking, “Why hasn’t this house enthusiast mentioned architects?” I was actually waiting for you to bring it up, since I didn’t want to flatter myself nor prejudice this article.
The architect is the professional who provides all the plans. It’s a fact that all good management relies on plans. All these plans – site plan, floor plan, elevation plan, cross-section plan, isometric & axonometric projections, construction drawings, engineering plans, electrical and plumbing blueprints, etc. – comprise the architecture package required to build a house that we have engaged the architect to design for us. These plans also prescribe the services we’ll have to enlist, which dictate the functional and aesthetic requirements of our new house. Thus, the architect is a key player in the house-building business and his plans are instrumental in soliciting the appropriate services for a successful outcome, or should I say the construction of an aesthetically attractive and functional house – as we envisioned it.
While new homeowners engage house architects to design the house of their dreams, while progressive organizations hire IT architects to optimize their system landscape. As an enterprise architect, I always ask two questions: 1) Is there a process? And 2) Are there checks and balances? Architecture-as-a-Service provides the checks and balances, and ensures your business processes are optimized and fully automated. Thus, good architecture means automating business processes and delivering optimized systems to support the extensive needs of its users. And good IT architects are responsible for providing those architecture services. The only difference is that the house architect has been around since city inspections became mandatory, and has been able to commercially package all the architecture services required to build a house. The fact that the IT architect came much later onto the scene probably explains why his architecture services haven’t been promoted until now. And if you haven’t already guessed, this coordinated and full set of services have come to be known as “Architecture-as-a-Service” or “AaaS” for short. AaaS is basically a new service delivery model for IT architecture. The objective is to accelerate architecture planning and deployment within an organization using AaaS. Thus, AaaS covers a wide spectrum of services applicable to architecture from defining business processes to implementing artificial intelligence-based medical diagnostic systems to sending man to the moon.
What AaaS is NOT
A Service Catalog
I always thought of a service catalog as a catalog of products and services provided by vendors. Even restaurants have menus to help you satisfy your palate. If I were to put a service catalog together for a restaurant, I would also include all the recipes and instructions so that we can make the menu items ourselves in our own kitchen. I especially like the menu at Denny’s because it has pictures of what they’re going to deliver to your table. I know it’s Denny’s, but where else are you going to get a sit-down restaurant and good service after midnight. It seems that catalogs are being used everywhere these days to sell products and services, and they’re especially important on the internet in order to do our online shopping. I know what you’re thinking: “AaaS sounds a lot like a service catalog”. I thought the same thing after developing a service catalog of IT services for a large corporation. But there’s more to AaaS then housing a collection of IT services in a catalog with their definition, purpose, inputs/outputs, timing, templates, etc. Thus, it is very easy to confuse a service catalog for AaaS. A service catalog is defined as “an organized and curated collection of business and IT-related services that can be performed by, for, or within an enterprise”. The problem is that these services can be a disjointed set of services that stand alone, and are not necessarily related or linked together to achieve an integrated architecture foundation. I’ve been on projects where poor architecture services resulted in interfaces shutting down because they couldn’t process the payload due to a missing data attributes, or the new operational data store couldn’t handle the throughput during prime time and had a performance meltdown, or the procurement workflow stopped because work activities weren’t escalated after a specified period, and the list goes on. This demonstrates that bad architecture is bad for business, and a service catalog isn’t going to do the trick as far as providing architecture services.
As IT professionals, we’re all familiar with the IT service catalog known as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which is an exhaustive list of IT-only services that an organization provides or offers to its employees or customers. The catalog is a means of centralizing a list of services, such as problem/issue resolution, and the procedures to respond to various problems/issues in this case. Service catalogs act as knowledge management repositories and tools allowing clients to route their requests for services to the subject matter experts who own, are accountable for, and provide them. Each service within a service catalog is usually repeatable and has controlled inputs, processes, and outputs, not to mention a rule-based engine to deal with different situations…..but someone has to be there to execute them (and in the right order or together with other required services). It is up to the subject matter experts to provide a coordinated set of services to resolve a problem, just like it is up to the architects to provide IT architecture services to deliver an IT solution (by coordinating data, process, application, technology, and organization entities at various levels of abstraction [i.e. 3-tier model – strategic, tactical, operational]). And as we all know, architecture services are not as much a science as an art, where architecture options are weighed and modified according to the business and architectural requirements at hand. There’s also politics involved and getting the best bang for your buck.
How many times have I been asked to complete an Enterprise Architecture Risk Assessment (also dubbed as an EARA in the Enterprise Architecture Service Catalog) without considering other architecture perspectives, like the organization’s future architecture landscape vision? If we were to provide a risk assessment at a tactical level as an architecture service, we would require a strategic understanding of the future application landscape defined in a strategic deliverable known as a System Evolution Plan which, by the way, is another architecture service and industry term for a model illustrating how the application landscape incrementally changes (e.g. 3-6 month increments) over a forecasted timeline. My point is that a Service Catalog has a purpose, but it is not AaaS.
This is probably a good point to ask, “Isn’t there an architecture methodology to leverage a service catalog in order to deliver architecture services?” Service catalogs and architecture methodologies are two different things. They don’t have an affinity to each other and combining them would provide services that would still fall short of meeting the AaaS mandate. Besides, AaaS is not about methodology, that’s why we have architecture methodologies, which by the way, has already been discussed in this blog Collaboration Between Architecture & Project Methodologies. There are many architecture methodologies out there that spin various models such as Information Engineering and UML to glue it all together. There’s even an enterprise modeling language called Archimate, which relates various artifacts from different architecture disciplines including data, process, application, technology, and even services (as they pertain to business and application services). These are not IT architecture delivery services to implement a system solution, but rather guidelines and techniques to define architecture services using models and other communication formats. Do you remember all the architecture services I referred to earlier provided by the house architect to build a house? Similarly, AaaS is comprised of IT architecture services required to build systems and the integrations between them. We may need enterprise architecture to come up with the blueprints, but we also need solution architecture to deploy a system that users are excited about to do their jobs. Architecture methodologies may guide architecture services on a project, but it is AaaS that provides the architecture services and resources to deploy them anytime and any place and at all tiers of abstraction – strategic, tactical, and operational.
In News Release #2 of this Architecture-as-a-Service topic, we will get into the guts of AaaS and investigate the 3 key characteristics of AaaS. I expect this will give you a fundamental understanding of what AaaS is and how organizations can leverage AaaS to meet their architectural needs.
Mr. Bob Ivkovic is a Principal with IT Architects in Calgary, Alberta. IT Architects (www.itarchitects.ca) is an information consulting firm specializing in business process optimization, system evolution planning, deployment of leading-edge technologies, and now Architecture-as-a-Service (AaaS). If you require further information, Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-630-1126.