Roadmaps and Guardrails

It’s time to revive the conversation about IT governance.

By Bob Rhubart

January/February 2013

IT governance is a touchy subject. Few architects would argue the importance of at least some form of governance, so why did five minutes of research on Google Trends confirm that interest in IT governance has steadily declined since 2004?

After all, enterprise IT certainly hasn’t gotten any less complex in the last eight or nine years, especially given the growing influence of cloud computing, mobile devices, social media, big data, and all those game-changing technologies. Managing that complexity is essential and requires a carefully planned architecture—a roadmap to guide the evolution of an organization’s IT resources in the transition from today to tomorrow and beyond.

Governance is the process that ensures an IT transition follows the company’s architectural roadmap. It is “a set of guiding processes and directives for the operation of an IT function within a business,” explains Oracle Enterprise Architect Eric Stephens. That seems rather important. So why isn’t there more conversation about IT governance?

“Any time in an industry when you experience an explosion of something new, people tend to lose their memories and forget all of the principles and practices that came before—that made them successful,” says Tim Hall, senior director of product management for Oracle Enterprise Repository, Oracle Service Registry, and Oracle Application Integration Architecture.

And that’s understandable. Be honest: when choosing conversation topics, are you more likely to go with innovation or principles and practices? The latter may not be all that exciting, but those principles and practices are what keep innovation from running off the rails.

“Excitement about new technologies can cause people to take their eyes off the ball, in terms of staying disciplined with their IT behaviors,” says Stephens. Those cracks in discipline can grow to seriously undermine governance, which can undermine architecture—which in turn can cause a massive increase in the amount of aspirin consumed by stakeholders. Reviving the conversation about IT governance in your organization can reduce cranial pressure and help you to dust off the principles and practices on which your IT foundation is based.

Holding fast to those established principles and practices will keep you grounded when trends try to throw you off balance. “Big data, cloud, and mobile trends are causing people to ask, ‘Now what do I do?’” says Hall. “What they need to do is what they’ve always done.”

And that’s because the process for creating successful architectures, whether for new trends or not, is never completely new. “People just need to hit the pause button for a second and very carefully think about what they’re trying to achieve,” says Hall. “What they’ll find is that we’ve been exploring all these topics since the dawn of distributed systems. All the same problems are still in play here, and it’s not like we have to invent a ton of new things to overcome these challenges.“

That doesn’t mean you can step into new technologies without making some adjustments, and in some cases you may be entering uncharted territory. The outcome of that journey depends entirely on enforcing your architectural roadmap through effective governance.

“Unless you have some regulation or guardrails around what’s going to happen, crazy things will occur,” says Stephens. And crazy is rarely mentioned as a desirable ingredient in a successful IT strategy.

Next Steps

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 Leveraging Governance to Sustain Enterprise Architecture Efforts
 TOGAF framework and guidelines for architecture governance
 Is SOA Governance the Problem?
 SOA Governance Is a Matter of Balance
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