Architecture Made Easy, Part 7

Whether the traveling party is a large corporate conglomerate or a small line of business, any journey along the data road map entails the same basic preparation, steps and activities. But, what is the first step to prepare for a typical journey, especially to help you get the most out of the experience?

As with any extended journey, the first thing to do is to research the various things of interest that are available to experience on such a journey, and to find out what the myriad of possible activities may be, the types of things that you may be able to learn, and the types of things that you might even be able to bring back with you.

A well-researched journey provides one with a wealth of possibilities to add to one’s travel plans, and the advanced preparation also allows the travel party to get the most out of each and every experience. In fact, to get the most out of any journey, the travel party should establish a framework in advance to help identify what they will do, how they will approach it, and how to record the experience.

Therefore, in preparation for our data road map journey, our initial research should identify what we should include in a framework in order to make the journey more useful and help us maximize the benefit of the experience.

What is a Framework?The first step is to think about all the things that we may want to get out of a framework. We can do some research to learn some of the benefits that others have gotten from their data road map journeys, we can analyze what some of the needs are of the various members and stakeholders in our traveling party, and we can just brainstorm and list some ideas that may be valuable to additionally consider.

As such, we should compile a master list of all the things that we would like to consider for inclusion into our journey.

We can then collaborate on the list and identify the benefits of achieving each item on the list, what the time needed might be as well as range of cost for performing each item. We can then determine whether that time and money cost is really worth it, which we refer to as the anticipated return on investment (ROI) of each activity.

Once identified, the list can be culled for overlaps, negative ROI and soft ROI, which is hypothetical savings that cannot be reasonably proven or tracked specifically either to an income or expense balance sheet entry of the enterprise.

What Are the Benefits of a Framework?A framework accelerates one’s ability to understand and organize the steps of preparing for the journey. Preparation for a journey encompasses a variety of things such as, but not limited to determining what supplies, templates for collecting information, skills, calendar time, manpower and budget will be necessary.

The primary benefit of having a framework is that a journey along a data road map represents an expense of time and money that, while not enormous, is also not trivial. Whether the ROI is large or modest, we always have a responsibility to the stakeholders of the company to consume its resources wisely. As such, a framework helps to retain the value proposition of the journey.

What are the Building Blocks?Now that we have done our research and have carefully prioritized what we would like to accomplish, the next step of the framework consists of identifying the things we need to take with us on the journey to accomplish the things we set as priorities.

Let’s assume that we did some pretty good research and that it reveals that the next step of our journey is to gather, acquire and/or develop the principles, standards, guidelines, policies, reference architectures, blueprints, methodologies and governance to help us achieve our top priorities.

Principles – In the context of a data road map, principles are the statements about data that the stakeholders of data across the enterprise wish to adopt. Principles represent the highest framework above which further analysis and organization are simply not possible. When faced with something, like a principle, that cannot be further analyzed, the only option is to either to adhere to it or not.

An example of one such principle would be that “data must be understandable.” As such, if data were not understandable, its resulting usefulness and value to the business would be non-existent.

Standards – In the context of a data road map, standards are an established norm or requirement for performing a task or set of tasks. A standard is usually a formal document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes and practices. Standards may apply to either a set of processes or a set of deliverables, but the one characteristic that standards share among one another is the ability to validate processes or deliverables for compliance with the standard. As such, for our data road map, they illustrate a consistent representation and degree of detail for the deliverables that will result from our journey.

Guidelines – A guideline is any document that aims to streamline a process by providing a set routine for decision making. By definition, “guidelines” are never mandatory, but are still an important component of the larger realm of governance.

An example of a guideline is a reporting database guideline for determining what type of database to employ depending upon the characteristics of its intended use and its desired set of capabilities, such as when it is appropriate to use a multidimensional database versus a statistical model.

Policies – A policy is a deliberate plan of action to determine decision, usually with regard to the areas of managerial process, finance or administration. Policies are often instantiated in order to avoid a negative effect, or to seek a positive one. The challenge that policies tend to generate is that when followed blindly they can have unintended consequences. Also, policies that are too numerous tend to decrease the efficiency of a process due to the level of effort that it takes to determine whether there is compliance with each policy that may be applicable. As such, data road map policies should be kept to a minimum.

An example of a good policy would be to employ a framework for a data road map.

Reference Architectures – Whether the reference architectures are logical or physical, they provide a proven template solution for a particular architectural discipline in a related business domain. While generally these templates are not directly usable because they are applicable to another enterprise, they can at least provide a good check list of the types of information that may be useful to collect and illustrate. This can be helpful to determine whether there were areas of design that were inadvertently omitted, and they offer ideas as to how a possible set of components can be architected together in a manner that theoretically operates successfully.

Blueprints – A blueprint is an illustration of the ideal target architecture. Often a blueprint encompasses the entire scope of the domain area, depicting the various interrelationships that exist among all of the components; and, as such, it is highly uncommon that an entire blueprint is implemented all at once. The most common usages are for developing one or few portions of the blueprint at a time with the solace of knowing that ultimately the pieces will integrate together in an orderly fashion.

Often a blueprint is used for maintenance efforts to help ensure that changes move in the general direction of the blueprint, as opposed to the typical result of system components constantly moving further apart (similar to the way galaxies keep moving apart from one another) as opposed to coming together as integrated pieces of a puzzle.

Methodology – A methodology refers to the manner in which a set of activities are planned, organized and approached.

For example, TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) is a popular architectural methodology that prescribes the major steps that should be performed when developing or maintaining a system change involving IT components. TOGAF couples business, data, application and technology into a cohesive set of steps, allowing the user to determine how best to conduct each of the steps for their enterprise or line of business.

Governance – The role of governance is to ensure the desired degree of compliance with the process itself and any principles, standards, guidelines, policies, reference architectures, blueprints and methodologies. Distinct from the role of an internal or external auditor, the personnel involved in governance typically participate in the process in some combination of a regulatory, advisory, or mentoring role, understanding and protecting the interests of various stakeholders across the enterprise.

In the context of a data road map, one role of governance would be to ensure that data is well-defined from a business perspective.

How Do We Gear Up for the Journey? Now that we have secured the building block materials for our journey, we are ready to gear up to embark. The importance of gearing up is to know what skills and tools we will need to have with us.

Skills – The skills required for the journey will depend upon the tasks that need to be performed and tools that will be used.

Staff – The staff required to do the job will depend upon the inventory of individuals that possess the required skills and their availability for the portions of the journey when their skills will be called upon. Staff members with ability and adaptiveness can be readily trained or mentored.

Training – The training required will depend upon the gaps among staff member skills, but should also include training of the travel group as a whole to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them, and that they are prepared to operate without hesitation using the tools and framework artifacts that they are expected to use.

Departure Check – This is the final check to confirm that all of the individuals with the right skills and training have the availability to participate on the journey, that the tools are installed and available for use, and that the managerial and administrative components are in place, including plans, budgets, communication mechanisms and reporting structures.

Discovering the Current StateNow that we have researched, planned and geared up for the journey, it is time to begin the expedition into the landscape of the data road map. (Insert four seconds of “Indiana Jones” music here.) We will encounter technologies, applications and databases – and some things we never anticipated.

Technologies – The technologies that are encountered will have various capabilities and will fall into various categories. Some technologies will assist the development process, while others will assist in production support, or in business intelligence.

Business Applications – The distinction between business applications, applications and technologies can easily become confused if clear and concise criteria are not prepared in advance for classifying the two different groups of things, including the various components of business applications.

Lineage – Lineage refers to the various “data assets” from origination to elimination. The same data often originates in multiple places across the enterprise or line of business.

Stewardship – The activity of stewardship is paramount to all others on the journey. The reason for this is that the “steward” possesses an in-depth working knowledge of the business and can act in a mentoring capacity to all the other travelers. The steward pays special attention to the accessibility and quality of data across the natural boundaries that exist within the enterprise, and as such represents the cross area data needs of the enterprise and acts as a coordination point for data issues that span more than one area.

In this capacity, the steward collects the bulk of metadata pertaining to the potential usefulness of data and works to unleash that potential.

Redesigning the Data LandscapeNow that we have journeyed through the current landscape, using our principles and having measured against our standards, we have gained a valuable appreciation of the data wilderness. Much metadata has been identified and recorded, and we have seen where monitoring is necessary in order to remain abreast of any areas of the landscape that are prone to erosion and change.

The blueprints can now be updated to incorporate new discoveries that were learned on the journey, and the appropriate measures can be put in place to help assess future progress toward or away from principles, standards, guidelines, policies, blueprints, methodology and governance.

Metrics – Using the appropriate metrics we will be able to reliably assess the degree to which are achieving our data-related objectives.

Workflow Automation – Workflow automation is a relatively straightforward and powerful step toward collecting metrics in an objective, non-intrusive manner. This is an easy way to achieve metrics-driven management across any type of operational area, business and/or IT. Equally important, the goal of workflow automation is to establish the fundamentals that automatically evergreen the information gathered during the journey so that future expeditions will not need to replicate the effort.

Business Intelligence – The utility of “business intelligence” is to illustrate a variety of metrics and metadata in ways that enhance the ability to understand what is happening, easily and quickly. There are a variety of visualization techniques that make it possible to illustrate information in ways that make it easy to discover what is important.

Management – Informed decision making is only possible when pertinent and objective information is presented, and it is in a form that is understandable.

Summary

When in disarray, data is always complex. It takes a concerted effort by many to organize it and then present it so that the simple truths about the data road map, which is comprised of technologies, applications and data, are revealed.

Whether we are dealing with the entire enterprise or one line of business, a data road map can be a useful tool for illuminating the path that will lead to an improved level of maturity for understanding, managing and optimizing the data landscape.

The journey of the data road map is just another way to demonstrate the principles of “Architecture Made Easy.”

Please feel free to express yourself if you enjoyed this article, and don’t hesitate to indicate which articles in the “Architecture Made Easy” series are useful to your organization. In addition, corrections, enhancements and suggestions are always welcome and are requested. Please note that regarding this topic, there is much more to come.

[Data Road Map – A Journey Within Information Architecture is the 7th article in the Architecture Made Easy Series.]

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