Discover more from The DX Report
Breaking Down the DXP: The Architecture Stack
Most digital transformation efforts fail before they begin — because they lack the readiness that the architectural stack of a Digital Transformation Platform delivers.
👋 Hi and welcome to The DX Report — all about Digital Transformation, the Digital Experience, and the Digital Enterprise. I’m industry analyst, author, and speaker Charles Araujo, and I’m all about providing insights and analysis for enterprise IT leaders as you make the big bets about your organization’s future!
"And those are all cows?" I said incredulously.
I uttered these words at the moment I truly understood the impact that digital transformation was going to have on everything.
I was on a speaking tour through New Zealand about a decade ago when I joined a friend and her husband for a small dinner party at their house. One of the other guests was a dairy farmer — and I was sure we'd have nothing to discuss. Until he told me about the level of automation he used to manage his cows.
My mind was blown. I had to see it for myself.
The next day, we paid him a visit and he showed us his control room, call it a Bovine Operations Center. There, he was able to track everything that happened on his dairy farm to a shocking level of detail. It was amazing.
And it was also a harbinger of what was to come.
While the concept of digital transformation has been bandied about for a long time now, most organizations have failed to fully grasp what it means. More importantly, they've failed to understand that it really represents an organizational capability that organizations must build in order to sustainably bridge the gap between IT's two competing mandates of efficiency and innovation.
As I introduced in my recent analysis, the key is for enterprise IT leaders to build what I call a Digital Transformation Platform (DXP). This collection of technologies is the engine that allows an organization to stitch together their efficiency estate — the Line of Business and functional apps that enable business process optimization — and connect it to a set of data- and experience-driven apps and workflows that I call their innovation estate.
However, this stitching together process is a delicate dance. The complexity of the enterprise tech stack can be overwhelming, laden with an abundance of opportunities for unintended consequences. Stitching together systems, processes, and data to create dynamism and adaptability requires an intricate understanding of how all the moving parts fit together in service of the organization's goals.
In short, it requires a control room — much like the one I found all those years ago at a New Zealand dairy farm. In the DXP, that control room is the architecture stack.
The Slow, Smooth, Fast of Your DXP
There's an innovation-related catchphrase that I just hate: Move fast and break things.
I hate it for two reasons. First, it implies that speed must always come at the expense of order and control. Not only is that completely untrue, it's also just plain lazy. It simply indicates that you don't care enough to not break things.
But the second reason I hate the phrase is that for most enterprise organizations, breaking things isn't an option. There are mission critical business processes and functions that simply must run — reliably and consistently. Period.
As a result, this ethos tells most of the enterprise world that innovation is a hopeless endeavor.
The thing is, nothing is further from the truth.
There's another phrase that I think makes a ton more sense. I learned it from my father when it was the catchphrase for the SWAT team he ran during the 1984 olympics: Slow is smooth. And smooth is fast.
Whenever I think of that phrase, what comes to mind is a naval ship or an elite military unit. They aren't running around flailing like a wild bunch of cowboys breaking things. In fact, it's just the opposite. They are methodical. They are orderly. They are controlled. Everything has a place. Everyone has a role. Everyone understands the mission.
And because of that discipline, they function as a smooth operating unit. It looks slow compared to the uncontrolled, flailing breakage, but it is actually very fast.
When we think about innovation within the enterprise, this is the image that should come to mind. The goal isn't to ignore the reality of your efficiency-focused line-of-business and functional stack. They exist for a reason and they're vitally important. But in order to create the speed and agility of an elite team, what you need is smooth. And the way you get to smooth — which is what gets you to fast and adaptable — is by building an architecture stack that connects your two mandates together.
The Control Room of Your DXP
The architecture stack's job is two-fold:
Clearly articulate the organization's strategic imperatives via a business architecture that describes organizational assets, the current (and potentially future) state of the tech estate, and their interdependent relationships.
Provide a means of ingesting, triaging, assessing, and prioritizing incoming demand in the context of that architecture.
For any team that must be able to rapidly respond to unknowable future circumstances, a critical preparatory step is to ensure that everything begins with a known state. That means that everything has a place, everyone has a role, and key foundational actions are well-practiced.
It is from that state that a team can then respond to an unforeseen situation — because they do not need to waste valuable time and energy getting everyone and everything on the same page before they can act. They can simply respond, to either a threat or an opportunity, in real-time and with confidence that everyone knows the starting state.
The role of the architecture stack of the DXP is to create this state of readiness.
Comprised of business architecture, value stream management, and portfolio management tools, this part of the DXP exists to help an organization catalog its assets in the context of its mission and business goals. This business-focused, goal-alignment is all critical as the greatest challenge facing most organizations is that their technology-driven projects end up taking on a life of their own.
In the midst of all the technical complexities, the why of the effort is lost. A robust architecture stack continually links technology initiatives to the business outcomes they are meant to support.
Moreover, having this control room visibility ensures that enterprise leaders can undertake those initiatives with full visibility to both their outcome-impact and also their potential impact on other business outcomes and technology initiatives.
Finally, when used effectively, these systems enable the continual balancing between the needs of the efficiency and innovation estates. As enterprise leaders receive inbound demand, the architecture stack enables them to assess it in the context of the organization's overall mission and desired outcomes, as well as against the competing needs of efficiency and innovation.
It is only by having the full visibility and readiness that the architecture stack provides that enterprise leaders can make these decisions quickly and with confidence.
The (Often) Missing Foundation of Digital Transformation
When people talk of digital transformation efforts failing, it is most often because they failed to understand two things. First, that it shouldn't be viewed as a project or distinct effort. As we've discussed, it's a capability that you must build and nurture over time.
But secondly, they fail to recognize that the greatest cause for transformational failure is the lack of readiness before they began.
Building an architecture stack that creates visibility and aligns your organization around a common mission and set of desired business outcomes — and then provides a means of allowing that architecture to guide your ongoing efforts — is the critical foundation of any digital transformation effort.
The state of readiness it creates must exist prior to the start of any transformational effort.
It is this error of omission that dooms most digital transformation efforts to failure before they even begin.
But the converse is also true — and it's why the architecture stack is the critical starting point of a DXP: If you have built an effective business-focused architecture stack and capability, you will have laid the foundation for success and set yourself and your team up to respond to whatever may come.
So, what do you think? Agree? Think I’m completely off? Let me know!
And don’t keep this conversation to yourself. Invite your friends and associates to weigh in!