Full Scale Data Architecture College Tour

Yesterday I attended the Full Scale Data Architecture College Tour. A unique opportunity to step into the boardroom and find out what an executive thinks about IT, architects, architecture and data in particular. The host of the event; Ronald Damhof and Sylvia Butzke (COO at PGGM Investments) did a great job of keeping the conversation going. Sylvia was willing to answer questions from both Ronald as well as from the audience.

I will not give a complete transcription of the 1,5 hour event. Following are a few of my highlights of the evening.

Sylvia seems to be a leader who overlooks the situation / organisation and tries to understand thoroughly what is happening and why it is happening. Are these things necessary or is there a possible alternative.

“Doing the right things instead of doing things right”

You have to understand why things are the way they are and then; “So what?”. Why is it relevant.

For Sylvia the role of an Architect is to ask the right questions about the existence of an organisation. This should be done from a business perspective. It doesn’t make sense to start with the technique, although that seems to be the easiest way. Often because the Architecture capability is considered an IT role. The Architect supports in asking the relevant business questions and helps the business answer these question.

The outcome of an Architecture exercise must give an organization something to hold on to. This is not without obligation. An Architecture should have authority within the organisation. There is no general Architecture. Each Architecture is specific and in context of that organisation.

Together with the board, an Architect (it can be discussed which specific role, I guess it will be the Enterprise Architect) should act as a trusted advisor. Someone partly responsible for the course of the organisation. Both roles should reinforce each other. They must have the same goal. If they collide, the do not have the same goals. It’s a skill where they must experience each others added value.

Sylvia warns not to rush to technology to quickly. That looks very tempting because of the digitalisation and all the technological opportunities. If you do not see the bigger picture, you might only build a point solution for a current challenge.

Keep on thinking. Are we asking the right / relevant questions? Are we using the right datasets to answer certain questions?

So what’s the role of data in the boardroom? The boardroom is responsible for the strategy of an organisation. What are we going to do? How are we going to direct the organisation. The way this is organised, determines the maturity of an organisation. Technology is supportive. Data can be collectedby effective use of IT (digitalisation). The boardroom needs to be able to understand how digitalisation works

Normally organisations are managed in different layers. To get an better understanding, it makes sense to manage the organisation structured as a T. The Top layer is still responsible, but the expertise is top-down in the organisation. Making decisions together in the deepest fibers of the organisation. The board needs to gather the right expertise and understand what is happening. This means that the board needs to determine how much they are willing to understand. The experts need to determine how much information and expertise they need to aggregate to make it able to consume by the board. The challenge for the top management is to find balance between innovation & experimenting versus discipline & data quality. It’s not a matter of choosing but trying to do both.

The form in which an Architecture is communicated (e.g. Archimate) is not necessarily important. What is relevant is to understand its relevance and its dependency within the total Architecture. Certain dimensions of the Architecture are important. The Architect is the conversation partner.

Data is a means and not an end in itself. One can look at data as a mean to reach a certain goal. Data can (and should) be used to answer questions. Business must learn how to ask questions. If done right, data can be seen as an asset. The value of data can be compared with the value of people, material and money within an organisation. To manage people correctly within an organisation, organisations have an HR-policy in place. A Data-policy should be in place as well. A policy specific to the organisation.

According to Sylvia being Agile means being able to learn and to adapt to change. These days things are changing very fast so you cannot direct a company on what. You need to focus on the why and according to which principles.

The actual challenge within organisations is that we want to do ‘something’ with data. The important question to answer is; Why? What are we doing? Which processes are important? Which data is involved? What is the dependency of the different processes and the related data? Determine the Business Context first before you start to do ‘something’ with data.

“Stay curious and immerse yourself in the why”

Final takeaway; “Stay curious and immerse yourself in the why”; So what?

Next meetup on 22nd of March will be the Full Scale Data BOK Kickoff session

If you are interested in the Full Data Architect movement, check out these online profiles on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

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