How Architects Can Break Down Silos by ‘Thinking Digital’ [by Jason Bloomberg]

Sep 23, 2021
Written by
Jason Bloomberg | Leading IT industry analyst
Jason Bloomberg | Leading IT industry analyst

How Architects Can Break Down Silos by ‘Thinking Digital’ [by Jason Bloomberg]

In the first article in this series, I explained how architects can become ‘change experts’ in their organizations by working together to resolve technology silos. As per Conway’s Law, organizational silos will follow suit.

This cross-organizational requirement to break down silos is a fundamental mandate of digital transformation, as organizations seek to build change itself as a core competency. Furthermore, of all the individuals within an enterprise, it falls to the architects in their role as change experts to drive this competency.

Focusing on resolving technological silos, for example by championing cloud-native computing, is only part of the answer, however.

An important principle for any architect to understand – especially those serving as change experts – is that architecture isn’t really about technology at all. It’s about people.

As organizations proceed with their digital transformations, they must double down on the importance of customers and employees to their digital strategies. To succeed at driving change as a core competency, therefore, architects must place this human-centricity at the center of their efforts.

We call this focus ‘thinking digital.’

Patient-Centered Care: Example of Thinking Digital

To understand how fundamental thinking digital can be to an organization, let’s consider an example. The healthcare industry has been struggling with a remarkably parallel reinvention of their own they call patient-centered care – a transformation of physician-centered care.

The physician-centered approach divides up the healthcare world into specialties, and then emphasizes the role each doctor plays within each specialty. From the patient’s perspective, however, this physician-centered approach is severely lacking.

One day they might see their cardiologist, but the next they might see a different specialist, and so on. Communication among specialists may be sketchy at best, and a typical hospital stay might involve bouncing around from one specialty to another.

Patient-centered care, in contrast, considers the patient and their journey from illness to health. In essence, each patient is a ‘department’ in their own right, where all the specialists and other personnel belong to that department for the duration of the treatment – or perhaps the patient’s entire life, when a chronic condition is in play.

Applying the Patient-Centered Care Model to the Role of the Architect

In this analogy, architects are the physicians, and the patients are the customers and employees that the company serves.

Instead of thinking of the IT environment as being divided into apps, middleware, data, servers, or other IT-centric concepts, architects must help the entire enterprise think about customer journeys and how the various customer interactions (‘moments’ in the vernacular) string together to provide the customer experience each customer desires.

The end result, of course, is maximizing the business key performance indicators, including profitability, revenue per customer, and the lifetime value of each customer. We just arrived at these goals by a different path than we’re used to.

How, then, do we approach our architecture from this customer-centered perspective? The best way to explain an architectural concept, of course, is to draw a diagram – so let’s start with the typical ‘layer cake.’

The layers in this particular diagram are meant to be representative of many similar diagrams, rather than an exhaustive list of layers, or even the proper ordering the layers appear in.

Customer centric architecture


In the diagram above, customers are clearly important, but the layers indicate different architectural practice areas, which is the physician-centered context our thinking digital is supposed to avoid.

Instead of the layer cake, therefore, let’s draw the diagram with the customer at the center, as shown below. Note that the customer might also be an employee, as employees serve as ‘customers’ of IT and by extension, the architects.

Customer centric architecture


Unfortunately, the diagram above doesn’t represent the transformative nature of digital thinking. True, we’ve drawn the diagram with the customer at the center – but the concentric circles are still the layers we had before.

A diagram like the one above shows your architects are missing the digital boat. We’ve given our marketing folks a diagram they can use in their digital marketecture, perhaps, but we haven’t made any substantial improvements to how we approach our architecture.

Instead, let’s redraw the figure as follows:Customer Centric Architecture 1


In the diagram above, we’ve grayed out the traditional layers, and added customer (or employee) journeys. Each journey has UI, process, technology, and data elements as needed, but the journey itself provides the primary organizing principle for the entire enterprise.

This shift in perspective is what we call ‘thinking digital.’ The original layers still exist but are secondary to the focus on customer journeys. The architects in their roles as change experts are best able to connect these dots between traditional IT silos and the customer-driven needs of the business.

The Intellyx Take: Thinking Digital in Practice

Every architect, regardless of their particular specialty, can practice architecture in the context of customer and employee journeys. Each architectural specialization, after all, connects to each of the others.

Are you a data architect? Your job is to thinking about how people create, use, modify, share, store, and secure data across their journeys. Are you a cloud architect? Think about how people interact with cloud-based resources along their journeys. And so on.

While this shift toward digital thinking might seem onerous and unfamiliar, on the plus side, the best architects have actually thought this way all along. After all, every architect should connect their technical area of expertise to the needs of the business – and that means connecting to the needs of customers and employees.

What’s really different for today’s architects is the relative importance of the tasks in front of them. Working across technical silos to support customer needs is now job #1. All other activities should support that most important of digital priorities.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. BiZZdesign is an Intellyx customer. Intellyx retains final editorial control of this article.