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If You Are Only Talking “Architecture”, You Don’t Know Squat

By Philip Allega | August 25, 2010 | 3 Comments

Enterprise ArchitectureEnterprise Architect

Sometimes it’s a just a little mental slip, but many times is purposeful obfuscation on the part of the person speaking.  And, there’s only one reason to do such a terrible thing, that’s because the person speaking isn’t certain about what they’re talking about.  The crowd-sourced definition of “architecture” on wikipedia gives a nod towards multiple interpretations and uses within designing and erecting buildings, systems, and its applicability to the world around us before IT and its current interpretation that now encompasses IT.  I contend that such definitions are ambiguous and do everyone a disservice.

My colleague, Bruce Robertson, just wrote about “Do Building Architects Resent Enterprise Architects” in response to an excellent article in Architect Magazine entitled, “I’m an Architect“.  The article in Architect Magazine highlights the growing concerns of those pubicly licensed to use the term “Architect”, the reasons that is the case, and the uproar and concerns that those licensed persons expressed in response to strategist, planners and IT people adopting and adapting the term for their own purposes.  There’s a lot more to this use of the term for licensing purposes; but, that’s for  another blog.

Bruce made an excellent point in his blog when he noted, “At least enterprise architects have their adjective. ” That’s right!  The modifier, the qualifier, the word that makes it clear exactly what you’re talking about.

Sloppy use of “architecture” tells me that you are either:

A. Deliberately sloppy because you assume you’re speaking on friendly ground and don’t require clarity, or

B. Unclear as to which aspect of “architecture” to which you are referring

In either case, using the term “architecture” without an appropriate adjective tells me that you may not be so certain about which kind of architecture we are speaking about.  Let me share a list of adjectives that might precede a conversation of “XYZ Architecture”

  • Building
  • Software
  • Application
  • Watch (yes, the watch on my wrist has a “watch architecture”)
  • Infrastructure
  • Technology
  • Business
  • Information
  • Solution
  • Organizational
  • Enterprise

This is just a partial list of adjectives that should qualify what type of “XYZ Architecture” you are speaking about with another person.

Recently, I wrote a blog about how REAL Architects (think Building Architects, for those who have now read the article from Architect Magazine) work is instructive to those who engage in Enterprise Architecture (see https://blogs.gartner.com/philip-allega/2010/08/19/tour-by-architects-lessons-for-enterprise-architecture/).  I was pleased to see that Amanda Kolson Hurley, from Architect Magazine, also noted that it’s a sincere form of flattery for those engaged in other forms of “XYZ Architecture” to see connections to the older form of the original use of the term “Architecture”.  Indeed, it’s just this level of recognition that calls out for greater clarity.

Perhaps I’m too harsh in saying “You Don’t Know Squat” (note: English idiom indicating that you don’t know or understand the topic you are speaking about).  Perhaps anyone involved in “XYZ Architecture” should recognize that the sole use of the term “Architecture” is in support of a venerable and ancient discipline upon which the “XYZ” adjectives must show deference and veneration.  But, I haven’t seen this occur with great frequency.

Given the strong comments and concerns from the licensed profession of those engaged in “Architecture”, I advocate for a stronger use of the qualifiers for people to communicate which form of “XYZ Architecture” they are engaged in.  By doing so, I believe that we’ll all be a lot more clearer in demonstrating which aspect of “XYZ Architecture” we’re speaking about and demonstrate that we actually know squat.

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3 Comments

  • Phil, you’re completely right about the adjectives. Imagine living in IT circles and just talking about services without using adjectives to define which kind you mean. Oh wait, we’re still doing that too. Ugh.

  • David Cuyler says:

    Phil, Excellent point! However, I do think that your situation A is actually very common and can be fine. If, due to a particular communication context, all participants will interpret the unmodified term the same way, it’s fine to drop the modifier … happens all the time in all walks of life. However, as soon as you step outside of that context into another where the implied meaning isn’t clear, you must begin using the modifier. Of course, it’s always safest – though not most concise – to use the modifier in any context.

  • Philip Allega says:

    Thanks, David. I agree with you. For clarity that’s crystal, iin the early days of a conversation t’s the modifier that tells me if the person I’m speaking to knows what they’re talking about. You are correct that, over time and with familiarity, such formalities may get shortened. I have known companies who talk about “little a’s” and “big a’s” which, in their own parlance, is common shorthand about EA and the many other “XYZ A’s” that fall under its auspices.