It is Time to Get Serious about Architecting ICT

Just finished another ICT-related technical assistance visit with a developing country government. Even in mid-2014, I spend a large amount of time teaching basic principles of enterprise architecture, and the need for adding form and structure to ICT strategies.

Service-oriented architectures (SOA) have been around for quite a long time, with some references going back to the 1980s. ITIL, COBIT, TOGAF, and other ICT standards or recommendations have been around for quite a long time as well, with training and certifications part of nearly every professional development program.

So why is the idea of architecting ICT infrastructure still an abstract to so many in government and even private industry? It cannot be the lack of training opportunities, or publicly available reference materials. It cannot be the lack of technology, or the lack of consultants readily willing to assist in deploying EA, SOA, or interoperability within any organization or industry cluster.

During the past two years we have run several Interoperability Readiness Assessments within governments. The assessment initially takes the form of a survey, and is distributed to a sample of 100 or more participants, with positions ranging from administrative task-based workers, to Cxx or senior leaders within ministries and government agencies.

Questions range from basic ICT knowledge to data sharing, security, and decision support systems.

While the idea of information silos is well-documented and understood, it is still quite surprising to see “siloed” attitudes are still prevalent in modern organizations.  Take the following question:

Question on Information Sharing

This question did not refer to sharing data outside of the government, but rather within the government.  It indicates a high lack of trust when interacting with other government agencies, which will of course prevent any chance of developing a SOA or facilitating information sharing among other agencies.  The end result is a lower level of both integrity and value in national decision support capability.

The Impact of Technology and Standardization

Most governments are considering or implementing data center consolidation initiatives.  There are several good reasons for this, including:

  • Cost of real estate, power, staffing, maintenance, and support systems
  • Transition from CAPEX-based ICT infrastructure to OPEX-based
  • Potential for virtualization of server and storage resources
  • Standardized cloud computing resources

While all those justifications for data center consolidation are valid, the value potentially pales in comparison of the potential of more intelligent use of data across organizations, and even externally to outside agencies.  To get to this point, one senior government official stated:

“Government staff are not necessarily the most technically proficient.  This results in reliance on vendors for support, thought leadership, and in some cases contractual commitments.  Formal project management training and certification are typically not part of the capacity building of government employees.

Scientific approaches to project management, especially ones that lend themselves to institutionalization and adoption across different agencies will ensure a more time-bound and intelligent implementation of projects. Subsequently, overall knowledge and technical capabilities are low in government departments and agencies, and when employees do gain technical proficiency they will leave to join private industry.”

There is also an issue with a variety of international organizations going into developing countries or developing economies, and offering no or low cost single-use ICT infrastructure, such as for health-related agencies, which are not compatible with any other government owned or operated applications or data sets.

And of course the more this occurs, the more difficult it is for government organizations to enable interoperability or data sharing, and thus the idea of an architecture or data sharing become either impossible or extremely difficult to implement or accomplish.

The Road to EA, SOAs, and Decision Support

There are several actions to take on the road to meeting our ICT objectives.

  1. Include EA, service delivery (ITIL), governance (COBIT), and SOA training in all university and professional ICT education programs.  It is not all about writing code or configuring switches, we need to ensure a holistic understanding of ICT value in all ICT education, producing a higher level of qualified graduates entering the work force.
  2. Ensure government and private organizations develop or adopt standards or regulations which drive enterprise architecture, information exchange models, and SOAs as a basic requirement of ICT planning and operations.
  3. Ensure executive awareness and support, preferably through a formal position such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO).  Principles developed and published via the CIO must be adopted and governed by all organizations,
    Nobody expects large organizations, in particular government organizations, to change their cultures of information independence overnight.  This is a long term evolution as the world continues to better understand the value and extent of value within existing data sets, and begin creating new categories of data.  Big data, data analytics, and exploitation of both structured and unstructured data will empower those who are prepared, and leave those who are not prepared far behind.
    For a government, not having the ability to access, identify, share, analyze, and address data created across agencies will inhibit effective decision support, with potential impact on disaster response, security, economic growth, and overall national quality of life.
    If there is a call to action in this message, it is for governments to take a close look at how their national ICT policies, strategies, human capacity, and operations are meeting national objectives.  Prioritizing use of EA and supporting frameworks or standards will provide better guidance across government, and all steps taken within the framework will add value to the overall ICT capability.

Pacific-Tier Communications LLC provides consulting to governments and commercial organizations on topics related to data center consolidation, enterprise architecture, risk management, and cloud computing.

Why IT Guys Need to Learn TOGAF

ByeBye-Telephones You are No Longer RequiredJust finished another frustrating day of consulting with an organization that is convinced technology is going to solve their problems.  Have an opportunity?  Throw money and computers at the opportunity.  Have a technology answer to your process problems?  Really?.

The business world is changing.  With cloud computing potentially eliminating the need for some current IT roles, such as physical server huggers…, information technology professionals, or more appropriately information and communications technology (ICT) professionals, need to rethink their roles within organizations.

Is it acceptable to simply be a technology specialist, or do ICT professionals also need to be an inherent part of the business process?  Yes, a rhetorical question, and any negative answer is wrong.  ICT professionals are rapidly being relieved of the burden of data centers, servers (physical servers), and a need to focus on ensuring local copies of MS Office are correctly installed, configured, and have the latest service packs or security patches installed.

You can fight the idea, argue the concept, but in reality cloud computing is here to stay, and will only become more important in both the business and financial planning of future organizations.

Now those copies of MS Office are hosted on MS 365 or Google Docs, and your business users are telling you either quickly meet their needs or they will simply bypass the IT organization and use an external or hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) application – in spite of your existing mature organization and policies.

So what is this TOGAF stuff?  Why do we care?

Well…

As it should be, ICT is firmly being set in the organization as a tool to meet business objectives.  We no longer have to consider the limitations or “needs” of IT when developing business strategies and opportunities.  SaaS and Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools are becoming mature, plentiful, and powerful.

Argue the point, fight the concept, but if an organization isn’t at least considering a requirement for data and systems interoperability, the use of large data sets, and implementation of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) they will not be competitive or effective in the next generation of business.

TOGAF, which is “The Open Group Architecture Framework,” brings structure to development of ICT as a tool for meeting business requirements.   TOGAF is a tool which will force each stakeholder, including senior management and business unit management, to work with ICT professionals to apply technology in a structured framework that follows the basic:

  • Develop a business vision
  • Determine your “AS-IS” environment
  • Determine your target environment
  • Perform a gap analysis
  • Develop solutions to meet the business requirements and vision, and fill the “gaps” between “AS-IS” and “Target”
  • Implement
  • Measure
  • Improve
  • Re-iterate
    Of course TOGAF is a complex architecture framework, with a lot more stuff involved than the above bullets.  However, the point is ICT must now participate in the business planning process – and really become part of the business, rather than a vendor to the business.
    As a life-long ICT professional, it is easy for me to fall into indulging in tech things.  I enjoy networking, enjoy new gadgets, and enjoy anything related to new technology.  But it was not until about 10 years ago when I started taking a formal, structured approach to understanding enterprise architecture and fully appreciating the value of service-oriented architectures that I felt as if my efforts were really contributing to the success of an organization.
    TOGAF was one course of study that really benefitted my understanding of the value and role IT plays in companies and government organizations.  TOGAF provide both a process, and structure to business planning.
    You may have a few committed DevOps evangelists who disagree with the structure of TOGAF, but in reality once the “guardrails” are in place even DevOps can be fit into the process.  TOGAF, and other frameworks are not intended to stifle innovation – just encourage that innovation to meet the goals of an organization, not the goals of the innovators.
    While just one of several candidate enterprise architecture frameworks (including the US Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework/FEAF, Dept. of Defense Architecture Framework /DoDAF), TOGAF is now universally accepted, and accompanying certifications are well understood within government and enterprise.

What’s an IT Guy to Do?

    Now we can send the “iterative” process back to the ICT guy’s viewpoint.  Much like telecom engineers who operated DMS 250s, 300s, and 500s, the existing IT and ICT professional corps will need to accept the reality they will either need to accept the concept of cloud computing, or hope they are close to retirement.  Who needs a DMS250 engineer in a world of soft switches?  Who needs a server manager in a world of Infrastructure as a Service?  Unless of course you work as an infrastructure technician at a cloud service provider…
    Ditto for those who specialize in maintaining copies of MS Office and a local MS Exchange server.  Sadly, your time is limited, and quickly running out.  Either become a cloud computing expert, in some field within cloud computing’s broad umbrella of components, or plan to be part of the business process.  To be effective as a member of the organization’s business team, you will need skills beyond IT – you will need to understand how ICT is used to meet business needs, and the impact of a rapidly evolving toolkit offered by all strata of the cloud stack.

Even better, become a leader in the business process.  If you can navigate your way through a TOGAF course and certification, you will acquire a much deeper appreciation for how ICT tools and resources could, and likely should, be planned and employed within an organization to contribute to the success of any individual project, or the re-engineering of ICTs within the entire organization.


John Savageau is TOGAF 9.1 Certified

The Value of Cloud Computing Certifications

A good indication any new technology or business model is starting to mature is the number of certifications popping up related to that product, framework, or service.   Cloud computing is certainly no exception, with vendors such as Microsoft, Google, VMWare, and IBM offering Cloud Computing Certificationscertification training for their own products, as well as organizations such CompTIA and Architura competing for industry neutral certifications.

Is this all hype, or is it an essential part of the emerging cloud computing ecosystem?  Can we remember the days when entry level Cisco, Microsoft, or other vendor certifications were almost mocked by industry elitists?

Much like the early Internet days of eEverything, cloud computing is at the point where most have heard the term, few understand the concepts, and marketing folk are exploiting every possible combination of the words to place their products in a favorable, forward leaning light.

So, what if executive management takes a basic course in cloud computing principles, or sales and customer service people take a Cloud 101 course?  Is that bad?

Of course not.  Cloud computing has the potential of being transformational to business, governments, organization, and even individuals.  Business leaders need to understand the potential and impact of what a service-oriented cloud computing infrastructure might mean to their organization, the game-changing potential of integration and interoperability, the freedom of mobility, and the practical execution of basic cloud computing characteristics within their ICT environment.

A certification is not all about getting the test, and certificate.  As an instructor for the CompTIA course, I manage classes of 20 or more students ranging from engineers, to network operations center staff, to customer service and sales, to mid-level executives.  We’ve yet to encounter an individual who claims they have learned nothing from attending the course, and most leave the course with a very different viewpoint of cloud computing than held prior to the class.

As with most technology driven topics, cloud computing does break into different branches – including technical, operations, and business utility.

The underlying technologies of cloud computing are probably the easiest part of the challenge, as ultimately skills will develop based on time, experience, and operation of cloud-related technologies.

The more difficult challenge is understanding the impact of cloud computing may mean to an organization, both internally as well as on a global scale.  No business-related discussion of cloud computing is complete without consideration of service-oriented architectures, enterprise architectures, interoperability, big data, disaster management, and continuity of operations.

Business decisions on data center consolidation, ICT outsourcing, and other aspects of the current technology refresh or financial consideration will be more effective and structured when accompanied by a basic business and high level understanding of cloud computing underlying technologies.  As an approach to business transformation, additional complimentary capabilities in enterprise architecture, service-oriented architectures, and IT service management will certainly help senior decision makers best understand the relationship between cloud computing and their organizational planning.

While reading the news, clipping stories, and self-study may help decision makers understand the basic components of cloud computing and other supporting technologies. Taking an introduction cloud computing course, regardless if vendor training or neutral, will give enough background knowledge to at least engage in the conversation. Given the hype surrounding cloud computing, and the potential long term consequences of making an uniformed decision, the investment in cloud computing training must be considered valuable at all levels of the organization, from technical to senior management.

ICT Modernization Planning

ICT ModernizationThe current technology refresh cycle presents many opportunities, and challenges to both organizations and governments.  The potential of service-oriented architectures, interoperability, collaboration, and continuity of operations is an attractive outcome of technologies and business models available today.  The challenges are more related to business processes and human factors, both of which require organizational transformations to take best advantage of the collaborative environments enabled through use of cloud computing and access to broadband communications.

Gaining the most benefit from planning an interoperable environment for governments and organizations may be facilitated through use of business tools such as cloud computing.  Cloud computing and underlying technologies may create an operational environment supporting many strategic objectives being considered within government and private sector organizations.

Reaching target architectures and capabilities is not a single action, and will require a clear understanding of current “as-is” baseline capabilities, target requirements, the gaps or capabilities need to reach the target, and establishing a clear transitional plan to bring the organization from a starting “as-is” baseline to the target goal.

To most effectively reach that goal requires an understanding of the various contributing components within the transformational ecosystem.  In addition, planners must keep in mind the goal is not implementation of technologies, but rather consideration of technologies as needed to facilitate business and operations process visions and goals.

Interoperability and Enterprise Architecture

Information technology, particularly communications-enabled technology has enhanced business process, education, and the quality of life for millions around the world.  However, traditionally ICT has created silos of information which is rarely integrated or interoperable with other data systems or sources.

As the science of enterprise architecture development and modeling, service-oriented architectures, and interoperability frameworks continue to force the issue of data integration and reuse, ICT developers are looking to reinforce open standards allowing publication of external interfaces and application programming interfaces.

Cloud computing, a rapidly maturing framework for virtualization, standardized data, application, and interface structure technologies, offers a wealth of tools to support development of both integrated and interoperable ICT  resources within organizations, as well as among their trading, shared, or collaborative workflow community.

The Institute for Enterprise Architecture Development defines enterprise architecture (EA) as a “complete expression of the enterprise; a master plan which acts as a collaboration force between aspects of business planning such as goals, visions, strategies and governance principles; aspects of business operations such as business terms, organization structures, processes and data; aspects of automation such as information systems and databases; and the enabling technological infrastructure of the business such as computers, operating systems and networks”

ICT, including utilities such as cloud computing, should focus on supporting the holistic objectives of organizations implementing an EA.  Non-interoperable or shared data will generally have less value than reusable data, and will greatly increase systems reliability and data integrity.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR)

Recent surveys of governments around the world indicate in most cases limited or no disaster management or continuity of operations planning.  The risk of losing critical national data resources due to natural or man-made disasters is high, and the ability for most governments maintain government and citizen services during a disaster is limited based on the amount of time (recovery time objective/RTO) required to restart government services, as well as the point of data restoral (recovery point objective /RPO).

In existing ICT environments, particularly those with organizational and data resource silos,  RTOs and RPOs can be extended to near indefinite if both a data backup plan, as well as systems and service restoral resource capacity is not present.  This is particularly acute if the processing environment includes legacy mainframe computer applications which do not have a mirrored recovery capacity available upon failure or loss of service due to disaster.

Cloud computing can provide a standards-based environment that fully supports near zero RTO/RPO requirements.  With the current limitation of cloud computing being based on Intel-compatible architectures, nearly any existing application or data source can be migrated into a virtual resource pool.   Once within the cloud computing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) environment, setting up distributed processing or backup capacity is relatively uncomplicated, assuming the environment has adequate broadband access to the end user and between processing facilities.

Cloud computing-enabled BCDR also opens opportunities for developing either PPPs, or considering the potential of outsourcing into public or commercially operated cloud computing compute, storage, and communications infrastructure.  Again, the main limitation being the requirement for portability between systems.

Transformation Readiness

ICT modernization will drive change within all organizations.  Transformational readiness is not a matter of technology, but a combination of factors including rapidly changing business models, the need for many-to-many real-time communications, flattening of organizational structures, and the continued entry of technology and communications savvy employees into the workforce.

The potential of outsourcing utility compute, storage, application, and communications will eliminate the need for much physical infrastructure, such as redundant or obsolete data centers and server closets.  Roles will change based on the expected shift from physical data centers and ICT support hardware to virtual models based on subscriptions and catalogs of reusable application and process artifacts.

A business model for accomplishing ICT modernization includes cloud computing, which relies on technologies such as server and storage resource virtualization, adding operational characteristics including on-demand resource provisioning to reduce the time needed to procure ICT resources needed to respond to emerging operational  or other business opportunities.

IT management and service operations move from a workstation environment to a user interface driven by SaaS.  The skills needed to drive ICT within the organization will need to change, becoming closer to the business, while reducing the need to manage complex individual workstations.

IT organizations will need to change, as organizations may elect to outsource most or all of their underlying physical data center resources to a cloud service provider, either in a public or private environment.  This could eliminate the need for some positions, while driving new staffing requirements in skills related to cloud resource provisioning, management, and development.

Business unit managers may be able to take advantage of other aspects of cloud computing, including access to on-demand compute, storage, and applications development resources.  This may increase their ability to quickly respond to rapidly changing market conditions and other emerging opportunities.   Business unit managers, product developers, and sales teams will need to become familiar with their new ICT support tools.  All positions from project managers to sales support will need to quickly acquire skills necessary to take advantage of these new tools.

The Role of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a business representation of a large number of underlying technologies.  Including virtualization, development environment, and hosted applications, cloud computing provides a framework for developing standardized service models, deployment models, and service delivery characteristics.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a definition of cloud computing accepted throughout the ICT industry.

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.“

While organizations face decisions related to implementing challenges related to developing enterprise architectures and interoperability, cloud computing continues to rapidly develop as an environment with a rich set of compute, communication, development, standardization, and collaboration tools needed to meet organizational objectives.

Data security, including privacy, is different within a cloud computing environment, as the potential for data sharing is expanded among both internal and potentially external agencies.  Security concerns are expanded when questions of infrastructure multi-tenancy, network access to hosted applications (Software as a Service / SaaS), and governance of authentication and authorization raise questions on end user trust of the cloud provider.

A move to cloud computing is often associated with data center consolidation initiatives within both governments and large organizations.  Cloud delivery models, including Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) support the development of virtual data centers.

While it is clear long term target architectures for most organizations will be an environment with a single data system, in the short term it may be more important to decommission high risk server closets and unmanaged servers into a centralized, well-managed data center environment offering on-demand access to compute, storage, and network resources – as well as BCDR options.

Even at the most basic level of considering IaaS and PaaS as a replacement environment to physical infrastructure, the benefits to the organization may become quickly apparent.  If the organization establishes a “cloud first” policy to force consolidation of inefficient or high risk ICT resources, and that environment further aligns the organization through the use of standardized IT components, the ultimate goal of reaching interoperability or some level of data integration will become much easier, and in fact a natural evolution.

Nearly all major ICT-related hardware and software companies are re-engineering their product development to either drive cloud computing, or be cloud-aware.  Microsoft has released their Office 365 suite of online and hosted environments, as has Google with both PaaS and SaaS tools such as the Google Apps Engine and Google Docs.

The benefits of organizations considering a move to hosted environments, such as MS 365, are based on access to a rich set of applications and resources available on-demand, using a subscription model – rather than licensing model, offering a high level of standardization to developers and applications.

Users comfortable with standard office automation and productivity tools will find the same features in a SaaS environment, while still being relieved of individual software license costs, application maintenance, or potential loss of resources due to equipment failure or theft.  Hosted applications also allow a persistent state, collaborative real-time environment for multi-users requiring access to documents or projects.  Document management and single source data available for reuse by applications and other users, reporting, and performance management becomes routine, reducing the potential and threat of data corruption.

The shortfalls, particularly for governments, is that using a large commercial cloud infrastructure and service provider such as Microsoft  may require physically storing data in location outside of their home country, as well as forcing data into a multi-tenant environment which may not meet security requirements for organizations.

Cloud computing offers an additional major feature at the SaaS level that will benefit nearly all organizations transitioning to a mobile workforce.  SaaS by definition is platform independent.  Users access SaaS applications and underlying data via any device offering a network connection, and allowing access to an Internet-connected address through a browser.    The actual intelligence in an application is at the server or virtual server, and the user device is simply a dumb terminal displaying a portal, access point, or the results of a query or application executed through a command at the user screen.

Cloud computing continues to develop as a framework and toolset for meeting business objectives.  Cloud computing is well-suited to respond to rapidly changing business and organizational needs, as the characteristics of on-demand access to infrastructure resources, rapid elasticity, or the ability to provision and de-provision resources as needed to meet processing and storage demand, and organization’s ability to measure cloud computing resource use for internal and external accounting mark a major change in how an organization budgets ICT.

As cloud computing matures, each organization entering a technology refresh cycle must ask the question “are we in the technology business, or should we concentrate our efforts and budget in efforts directly supporting realizing objectives?”  If the answer is the latter, then any organization should evaluate outsourcing their ICT infrastructure to an internal or commercial cloud service provider.

It should be noted that today most cloud computing IaaS service platforms will not support migration of mainframe applications, such as those written for a RISC processor.  Those application require redevelopment to operate within an Intel-compatible processing environment.

Broadband Factor

Cloud computing components are currently implemented over an Internet Protocol network.  Users accessing SaaS application will need to have network access to connect with applications and data.  Depending on the amount of graphics information transmitted from the host to an individual user access terminal, poor bandwidth or lack of broadband could result in an unsatisfactory experience.

In addition, BCDR requires the transfer of potentially large amounts of data between primary and backup locations. Depending on the data parsing plan, whether mirroring data, partial backups, full backups, or live load balancing, data transfer between sites could be restricted if sufficient bandwidth is not available between sites.

Cloud computing is dependent on broadband as a means of connecting users to resources, and data transfer between sites.  Any organization considering implementing cloud computing outside of an organization local area network will need to fully understand what shortfalls or limitations may result in the cloud implementation not meeting objectives.

The Service-Oriented Cloud Computing Infrastructure (SOCCI)

Governments and other organizations are entering a technology refresh cycle based on existing ICT hardware and software infrastructure hitting the end of life.  In addition, as the world aggressively continues to break down national and technical borders, the need for organizations to reconsider the creation, use, and management of data supporting both mission critical business processes, as well as decision support systems will drive change.

Given the clear direction industry is taking to embrace cloud computing services, as well as the awareness existing siloed data structures within many organizations would better serve the organization in a service-oriented  framework, it makes sense to consider an integrated approach.

A SOCCI considers both, adding reference models and frameworks which will also add enterprise architecture models such as TOGAF to ultimately provide a broad, mature framework to support business managers and IT managers in their technology and business refresh planning process.

SOCCIs promote the use of architectural building blocks, publication of external interfaces for each application or data source developed, single source data, reuse of data and standardized application building block, as well as development and use of enterprise service buses to promote further integration and interoperability of data.

A SOCCI will look at elements of cloud computing, such as virtualized and on-demand compute/storage resources, and access to broadband communications – including security, encryption, switching, routing, and access as a utility.  The utility is always available to the organization for use and exploitation.  Higher level cloud components including PaaS and SaaS add value, in addition to higher level entry points to develop the ICT tools needed to meet the overall enterprise architecture and service-orientation needed to meet organizational needs.

According to the Open Group a SOCCI framework provides the foundation for connecting a service-oriented infrastructure with the utility of cloud computing.  As enterprise architecture and interoperability frameworks continue to gain in value and importance to organizations, this framework will provide additional leverage to make best use of available ICT tools.

The Bottom Line on ICT Modernization

The Internet Has reached nearly every point in the world, providing a global community functioning within an always available, real-time communications infrastructure.  University and primary school graduates are entering the workforce with social media, SaaS, collaboration, and location transparent peer communities diffused in their tacit knowledge and experience.

This environment has greatly flattened any leverage formerly developed countries, or large monopoly companies have enjoyed during the past several technology and market cycles.

An organization based on non-interoperable or standardized data, and no BCDR protection will certainly risk losing a competitive edge in a world being created by technology and data aware challengers.

Given the urgency organizations face to address data security, continuity of operations, agility to respond to market conditions, and operational costs associated with traditional ICT infrastructure, many are looking to emerging technology frameworks such as cloud computing to provide a model for planning solutions to those challenges.

Cloud computing and enterprise architecture frameworks provide guidance and a set of tools to assist organizations in providing structure, and infrastructure needed to accomplish ICT modernization objectives.

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