Video TLDR: What is solution architecture for digital transformation?

What is solution architecture?

At Adage, we think of solution architecture as riding the line between technology, business, and user experience. Solution architecture combines strategy with technical design and technology planning. While solution architecture planning is an old concept digital transformation provides a point of view on approach.

In other words, digital transformation is not only about technology. As one CIO client partner often says “there’s no such thing as a ‘tech problem’. There’s a business problem with a technology aspect”. Above all, digital transformation is about digital enabling the people and the business to deliver great user experiences.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘tech only problem’. There’s a business problem with a technology aspect.”

CIO at a large association

The digital transformation vision for solution architecture.

Digital transformation means establishing technology and digital capabilities that will empower the business to create new digital business models. These digital capabilities are the foundation of solution architecture.

Complete solution architecture includes:

  • Data flow is omni-directional across digital platform ecosystem
  • Data is governed and data used in decision making
  • Socially, and analytics informed audience understanding
  • Business and IT are integrated
  • Digital services are shared across the enterprise
  • Technology is empowering staff to work from anywhere, and share knowledge

Achieving this vision requires re-thinking how technology decisions are made.

The Agile Evolution of Solutions Architecture

Digital transformation proposes updating how solution architecture planning has always been done. First, agile. The implications of an agile approach are wide-reaching. A few quick points.

What is different about an agile approach.

  • User and people-focused
  • Increases speed to delivery
  • Incremental releases are valued and seen to create more value than “big bang” releases
  • Feedback loops are an essential component to successful products
  • Proposes cross-functional team approach
  • Moves the organization to consider “specifications” and “requirements” a living document rather than set in stone
  • Allows organizations to re-prioritize roadmaps more frequently
  • Backlogs and portfolios

User Experience is front and center with the business.

First on the list is the shift to user-focus, people-focus, audience-focus. For many organizations, this is a change in mindset. Consider how IT projects are initiated in your organization. Do work requests come with a specific user need described? Many organizations are trained to manage IT work as a collection of “requirements” and “specifications”. In general, this prioritizes “the business” while end-users are secondary or not consulted. In our experience “requirements-first” approaches miss a key opportunity to gain insight into end-user needs. The result is falling back on a “how we’ve always done it” approach instead of asking, first, what does our audience expects and wants. Subsequently, specifications first approach treat “the spec” or requirements as the end-all, be-all. This dark pattern frequently closes the door on reprioritization or pivoting.

Moving away from the mentality of the BA gathering “what the business” needs while making secondary what the audience (members) needs with two questions:

  • Are the user experience (UX) needs coming first or is the technology decision first: Did we select the feature then ask what users really need?
  • Is the UX the best it can be or are we still prioritizing “the business”: Did we question why we do it this way?

Incremental releases and continuous feedback loops.

For many associations, the larger adjustments contained in this agile mindest are the “lean” or “just in time” aspects of agile. For example, incremental release or continuous integration (CI), and continuous deployment(CD) may be a larger change for organizations that are accustomed to monolithic releases. Agile proposes minimum viable product (MVP) releases to get working software out there sooner. Smaller releases are less risky and allow for more feedback loops from actual end-users. For organizations programmed to expect “big bang” releases an agile way of working will be harder. A key focus of digital transformation is to start to see technology and digital as a journey and not a project. From the business point of view, this is a shift from CapEx to OpEx.

For digital transformation expect a journey, not a project.

  • Never done
  • Always willing to take feedback
  • Always considering future iterations 
  • If not improving move toward entropy

Cross-functional means technology moving out of silos.

So much of solution architecture as with much of digital transformation comes down to culture. The way we do things. The way we think about digital and technology. Many organizations think about technology as a department or functional area. To be successful in digital transformation technology and the business must shift to a cross-functional silo-busting mindset. Working in partnership across the organization to validate IT requests against what users really need and want. This may require teams to include representatives from memberships, marketing, sales, customer service, education, finance, and subject matter experts. Bringing in Customer Service or Customer Experience representatives who are the front line of great UX will help in sharing the vision, and sharing the responsibility of creating great user experiences.

A digital transformation solution architecture planning is cross-functional.

  • Cross department stakeholders and real audience inputs and feedback
  • Data-driven decision making for features and functionality and not just an opinion, or the loudest voice
  • Technology and digital is governed in partnership with the business
  • Technology decisions are not siloed
  • Technology partners are seen as partners and not just “implementors” or “order takers”

Solution architecture for digital transformation is more about people and process than about technology. Achieving digital transformation requires re-thinking how technology decisions are made. In conclusion, putting users first, technology second is a key to successful transformation.