Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Got Architecture?

Jokes about milkmen have been around forever, even if the practice of home delivery has been dying off.

Joanne read in Vogue magazine that a milk bath does wonders for your skin. So she wrote a note asking the milkman to leave 100 bottles of milk for her next delivery. Eddie, the milkman, saw the note, and thought there must be an error in the number of zeros. Therefore he knocked on the door and asked Joanne, to clarify the order. Joanne confirmed that she wants 100 bottles to fill her bath. The milkman then asked, 'Do you want it pasteurized' Joanne replied 'No, just up to my neck'.

I don't ever think my family used a milk delivery service, and yes, I look just like my father thank you very much. Frankly I wasn't sure they even existed anymore until I stumbled across a couple of news articles indicating that after a peak in the early 1960s, the home milk delivery business plummeted until about 2000, and then started to pick up again. Mostly, it is estimated, that the combination of convenience for two-income families and the desire for fresh local milk has spawned a re-emergence of this industry.

If you worked for such a company and were an Enterprise Architect you'd design systems to maintain the tenuous just-in-time stream of fresh milk from local suppliers, schedule drivers, configure delivery routes, drive down costs, maintain infrastructure, lease vehicles, manage inspections and repairs, and of course, conform to government regulations.

Imagine pitching a new GPS tracking system to improve on-time delivery and enable real-time tracking of milkmen. For the first time ever you would be able to monitor milkmen who stay suspiciously long at certain addresses!

There are only a few key elements to your Milk Home Delivery business. Get them right - you stay alive. Get them wrong, hello Customers of home milk delivery want convenience and reliability. Frankly, they can buy milk just as good from the local A&P/Giant Eagle/Food Lion - and for less money. Everything you do, must be focused on convenience and reliability. Period. Nothing else matters.

If you think you want the new cool GPS, you have to equate it to convenience and reliability. I don't mean you have to find a way to cleverly convince your boss that a GPS will improve reliability - you have to be able to prove it to yourself; and you should be a skeptic.

But, but, but... you say, "Our competitors have a GPS in their trucks!" So what? Can you prove that the presence of the GPS makes them more reliable? I didn't ask if you could make a case for more reliability, I asked, can you prove it?

As technologists, we can be overly enamored with the prospect of adding new solutions, tools, and capabilities to our arsenal.

Architects must understand the key drivers of our businesses and skeptically evaluate every solution in terms of it's impact on those key drivers. Are you concerned that your company doesn't have the latest technology? Prove that you need it. If you can't prove it, then spend your time and intellectual energies on improving your use of existing technologies.

Here's a test -- whatever the cost of your next project, assume it is the last 'N' dollars you have for the next two years. What project would you spend it on? Before you implement that SOA solution, the latest JDK, the newest database engine, or a cool new network appliance, prove there is no better way to invest the money.

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