Architecture and Portfolio

Area Description

Regardless of starting off as a digital startup, or as an older organization now digitally transforming, the digital world is complex, and getting more so.

The prior decisions that might have been made quickly and casually by a product or project team become harder. The increasing challenges are due to both internal and external factors. Decisions made years ago come back to haunt current strategies with a vengeance. With scale, management needs some way of making sense across digital operations of mind-numbing complexity. Should a firm invest in 15 new internally developed microservices, or sunset 12 existing ones and implement a commercial package developed by a trusted partner? When there are 1,500 applications or services in the digital portfolio, how do we know that the proposed number, 1501, is not redundant or outright conflicting with existing services?

Architecture provides tools to manage such problems, but doing so is difficult and controversial. Is the architecture merely the drawings of HiPPOs? How can the organization maintain an experimental and hypothesis-driven approach in the midst of all the complexity? How do we know that their understanding of the digital operation is current and up-to-date? How much should an organization spend on keeping it so? What happens when management decides to set direction using these same abstractions, and architects find themselves now enforcing what had originally started as mere explanation and sense-making?

Vendor relationships become a two-edged sword, providing increased value with access to higher levels of vendor resources, but at the cost of greater lock-in. Pure open-source strategies inevitably give way to monetized relationships, as the risk of not having support becomes unacceptable.

Portfolio management in terms of IT means looking at long-lived IT investments regarding their overall benefit, cost, and risk to the organization. This can and should be done regardless of whether the IT investment is external or internal-facing. Products, services, and applications are the most useful portfolio constructs, although assets, technology products, and even projects also figure into longer-horizon value management. Enterprise Architecture benefits from a tight alignment with IT portfolio management, as well; it is not clear that a firm boundary between them could be drawn.

This Competency Area is, in a way, summative: it reflects all of the concerns discussed in the previous Competency Areas. Every Competency Area represents topics of interest to the architect. Now, we discuss a language and way of thinking to merge these concerns.

As with other Competency Areas in the later part of this document, we are going to introduce this topic “on its own terms”. We will then add additional context and critique in subsequent sections.