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Innovation and Design Thinking in Enterprise Architecture

By Steven Schilders, AVP Senior Principle, Enterprise Applications,

and Vishwanath Taware, AVP Senior Principle, Enterprise Applications

Every successful organization must innovate continuously or it will cease to exist.  Modern organizations cannot just rely exclusively of incremental innovation to survive in the ever growing competitive market-place.  That is, they must also start to think about the areas in which they can radical innovate to disrupt their respective industry and help them to remain competitive and more importantly at the forefront of their customer expectations.

One key role that an Enterprise Architect (EA) plays in a modern organization, is providing the thought leadership needed to interpret and translate innovative ideas and requirements (sometimes ambiguous) into implementable solutions.  These solutions usually need to be highly creating, as they typically involve the enhancement of the organization's core (market differentiating) capabilities that are usually embedded in legacy platforms, with capabilities that can have a much shorted shelf life (<12 months due to the speed of disruption some industries).

Design thinking can provide the framework and tools necessary for an EA to create a working balance, with organization stakeholders, between the innovative ideas and the architecture.  That is, the design thinking approach allows an organization to concentrate on the right ideas for growth and market disruptive change.  For example, design thinking can be used to help identify core system capability which could be easily extended to help differentiate the organization within a crowded market place.

In one of our engagements we helped our partner develop the right customer loyalty management product for their targeted markets (especially the emerging ones) and at the same time, refine their existing products and ideas. We utilized the Design Thinking principles (above) to bring convergent thinking across an internal cross functional team and delivered the collaborative results in three days.  The approach helped our partner evaluate the core needs of their market and their consumers, and helped then evaluate a number of creative solutions rather than being constrained by perceived limitations.  The customer team was able to think differently and pursue unexplored avenues of thought due to the inherent strengths of Design Thinking.  That being, customer centricity, simplicity and co-creation via an inclusive approach.

EAs can utilize the joint session design thinking approach to effectively help organization find the correct balance between incremental and radical innovation to meet their business vision and strategy.  These sessions focus on the development of user journeys, and they how they can be used for driving the desired business outcomes that are focused on supporting direct customer needs.

Solution Approach

Design thinking provides the mechanism to introspect what we have by recognizing "I Like" and rally towards "I Wish".  The Stanford d.school/D-School Design Thinking Process breaks the design thinking process into 6 iterative steps.

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  • The first 2 steps of Understand and Observe helps to firm up the requirements where the business problem itself is inadequately defined or the path forward is ambiguous.  In this phase the EA brings to bare their detailed understanding or the current-state landscape and business/IT challenges, strategy and roadmap.  In addition, EA is responsible for bringing to attention the market challenges and emerging trends as they relate to the defined industry and the organizations business vision and strategy.
  • The next 2 steps of Point of View and Ideate is where the EA plays a critical role is coalescing all information empathizing the problem statement and aligning it to a journey map to come up with solution options which can be further brainstormed in a working collaboration with business and IT teams.  The output of which is ranking of priorities and a clear strategy and path forward.
  • The final 2 steps of Prototype and Test phase is where the EA helps the organization realize the solution by using rapid or low fidelity prototyping.  The key role here is to ensure the prototype reflect the proposed solution strategy and to ensure alignment and sign-off by relevant business and IT stakeholders.

As noted above the EA has a major role in all 6 steps of solution identification.  The first 4 steps in the design thinking methodology is achieved through highly interactive workshops and ideating sessions with all stakeholders.  Design Thinking emphasizes on an iterative approach for identifying the right solution and the EA plays the critical role of linking the disparate ideas and business and IT information in formulating the solution discovery journey.  Iterations are needed as the process breaks down previously held challenges and misconceptions, leading to different and expanded points of view that may require additional understanding and observations.

The key building blocks and constructs associated to good architecture (e.g. current-state understanding, business vision and strategy, business and IT inhibitors, etc.) are not removed with design thinking, if anything they are required to ensure the appropriate foundation for discussion.

The important step in identifying the right enterprise architecture tenets in "understanding phase" is to use the "Blue Sky" methodology to discover the all critical requirements. In this phase the EA needs to look at "Why" first and the firm the "What".  For example, whether the solution requires on demand scalability for a particular business capability.

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The "observe phase" should involve interviewing the system users and end customers to get their point of view and use the "Bodystorming" technique to emulate the behavioral needs required by the architecture.  For example, whether end user would like to browse the entire set of service catalog or targeted services.

The EA should identify all possible "Persona", to come up with use cases in the "point of view phase". For example the personas of Baby Boomers vs Millennial when interacting with the solution.  

The "ideate phase" requires Collaborations with all the relevant stakeholders in the organization and to rank and then prioritize the firmed up requirements. In this phase the EA plays important role of identifying capabilities of existing platforms and what new technologies or platforms will be required and the feasibility of those in the current context.  For example, prioritized use cases need independent scaling of business capabilities and solution identified is microservices. In this case to resolve the requirement the EA needs to look at the integration constraints associated to the system of records.

In the "prototype phase" the EA needs to look at all dimension of the solution:

  • technology aspects for system of engagement, system of integration and system of records
  • legal and compliance requirements for the data in rest vs data in motion
  • infrastructure - on premise vs on cloud

As stated earlier, design thinking focuses on an iterative process with fast prototyping.  The agile and DevOps strategies are the right candidates for software engineering models within this context.

TOGAF's existing EA process recommends the approach of inside-out-view of enterprise architecture where the requirement and objectives are clearly defined and the focus is on technology vision to address the requirements. The existing EA process of defining the Architecture Vision and Business Architecture can be intersected with Design Thinking to bring the customer journey alignment to technology vision.  The following table depicts the intersection of TOGAF EA process to Design Thinking Process.

 Existing TOGAF based EA processDesign Thinking Process
How do we approach it?Architecture VisionUnderstand
How do we interpret it?Business ArchitectureObserve
What do we create?Information Systems Architecture
Technology Architecture
Point of View
How do we approach it?Opportunity and Solution
Migration Planning
Collaborate
How do we build it?Implementation and GovernanceRapid Prototyping
How do we evolve it?Architecture Change ManagementTesting with Users

 

In a typical Design Thinking lead transformation project, the user stories are written based on the customer journey and customer interactions with the system. For example, in the telecom space, customer self-service websites are typically content rich due to user operations such as invoicing, usage details, bill payment, order status, etc. As a result, the EA's focus should be on developing solutions to uses stories that ensure that the user experience is optimized for simplicity and performance.

Benefits & Conclusion

Using the Design Thinking framework in conjunction with user journeys allows the EA to develop solutions that are both realistic and pragmatic. The outlined approach creates confidence in the architecture (while operating in an ambiguous environment), since it supports an end-to-end innovation lifecycle that assists all stakeholders in defining and developing creative solutions, that are based on real users and their interactions. This is achieved by:

  • Utilizing an I "wish" method to identify all architectural requirements keeping business context first
  • Ranking/prioritizing of solution options, working in collaboration with all stakeholders
  • Creating low fidelity prototypes, and validating the solution in each stage of implementation

Additionally, this approach builds lasting and expansive stakeholder relationships since it focuses all available effort on collaborative innovation and as a result reduces the unit cost of delivering client value.


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