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What is the benefit of IT architecture?

May 26, 2017 – By Frank Boshoff

What is the main benefit of IT architecture to the University?  It is challenging to put it in a sentence, but here’s my attempt:  contain operational costs, increase productivity, improve delivery …in short, to improve the throughput of processes. Note that the benefits are not IT related. IT is merely an enabler.

IT solutions are becoming increasingly complex, mostly out of necessity because the expectations of IT are simply higher than what they were and security is more of a challenge.  IT complexity is a natural occurrence brought upon by new requirements, new non-functional requirements, and aspirations.  Architecture can help order the complexity so that solutions become more easily understood and can be replicated.  Without architecture, there is a risk of decline into disorder.  Architecture is key to achieving the level of consistency required.

Establishing any architecture or design, takes time, effort and skill, and the value it generates can be significant.  IT architecture requires management, planning, time and money.  The latter two are often in short supply…but that could be attributed, to some extent, to misaligned management and planning priorities – if the value of IT architecture is not clearly apparent, why would it be a management priority?

What happens if you don’t bother with architecture? Why not simply let the IT experts do their job, as they always have, as evidenced by the many IT systems functioning at UofT…but could we do better?

The images below demonstrate different levels of architecture (putting aside socio-economic conditions for the moment). One is a collection of small projects individually executed with little or no collaboration, governance or architecture, and built within small budgets. The aspirational high-rise clearly required far more planning, architecture and budget.  The high-rise  is more space efficient and conforms to health and safety regulations. It is literally riddled with standards, which benefit occupants (e.g. when a standard North American stove is purchased, it will fit the 30″ gap in the kitchen counter).

South Africa Slums Architecture   Toronto City Architecture

Without standards and the will to practice architecture – to build something better, there is little hope of achieving consistency and improving throughout.