The value of an Enterprise Architecture Consultant
Michel, Enterprise Integration Architect at Archers, had the opportunity to bring his expertise to the architecture team at RSVZ-INASTI. Through his external view, Michel was able to deliver a pragmatic approach to service architecture and key support tools that enable the success of their large transformation program.
Until recently, RSVZ-INASTI was a very siloed environment where every department had its processes, working methods and IT solutions, which often resulted in multiple IT development tracks that largely overlapped each other. Outsourcing all IT development to two external parties has only worsened this silo thinking.
RSVZ-INASTI often has to deal with many external challenges too, such as tight deadlines for implementing legislative changes and limited resources due to government budget constraints. As a man in the middle, RSVZ-INASTI serves as an intermediary between its secondary network (e.g. social insurance funds) and other (federal) government entities. These parties want to offer good public services with qualitative and reliable results. This requires RSVZ-INASTI to build up and combine relevant data (mostly from authentic government sources), and to ensure that they can offer relevant services and APIs.
As part of the Belgian government and social security institutions, RSVZ-INASTI is influenced by the policies and strategic directions set at these higher levels. Different authorities impose expectations and obligations, especially on technological evolutions such as the use of public or government cloud services (e.g. Belgian G-Cloud). However, it’s often difficult to see the overarching vision or shorter-term objectives and translate them into concrete solutions.
With the arrival of new top management at RSVZ-INASTI, a new IT masterplan has been set up with a clear focus on the internalization of IT capabilities, the so-called head-tail model (referred to as the head and tail of a fish). This operating model drives the creation of an entire IT department with defined processes and responsibilities. In particular the insourcing of key IT capabilities such as IT management, architecture, analysis, etc. (forming the head) and the infrastructure, networking, support, etc. (forming the tail).
The next step in this new masterplan was the renewal of key legacy systems and the development of new IT solutions in a transversal platform ‘Sequoia’, using Microsoft .NET technology. Architecture played a crucial role in setting up this platform but was initially staffed by one person who combined a quality assurance (QA) and an architecture role.
Over the past few years, the architecture team and processes have evolved significantly, although external support is still needed to improve the value being delivered and to look at things from an external perspective.
Details and strategy
More initiatives have been launched within the IT department, including a shift towards agile development teams and a reorganization of responsibilities between development and support teams. Over the past months the focus of the architecture team has been on connecting these teams and helping them work together, based on a logical separation of business domains and domain responsibilities within the teams. Together with the business, we have aligned these domains with the business capabilities and processes as described in the Official Management Agreement (‘Bestuursovereenkomst’).
We intend to create more value through a pragmatic approach towards the teams, providing guidance, support and strategic directions, combining a service-oriented architecture and domain-driven design aspects. However, it’s not always necessary to draw or model every aspect of the system but to create visible and reusable artefacts that help teams.
When proposing new initiatives, the impact on the organization and existing applications is examined by an architecture review board (ARB). This process should ensure that changes within the application landscape are aligned with our future strategic directions and are prioritized accordingly. The architecture provides advice on feasibility, risks and desirability of new technologies, and informs on potential renewal or phasing out of (older) legacy components. As such, it’s the role of the architecture to have a broad overview of the technology and application landscape and to ensure a continuous evolution based on the rapid technology and business changes.
“People like to work in their team corner and it is often more complicated to cooperate or depend on other teams. Although people want to mind their own tasks, we want to give them the added value of a more collaborative model; you can learn from each other and share experiences which will lead to faster problem solving in the future.”
A significant step was made towards clear guidelines for API development and service design within RSVZ-INASTI. This work is still in progress, especially in evangelizing and informing (junior) developers within the various teams. Governance and documentation have been improved for services created for internal use (e.g. domain services) and services exposed to external partners. New portals have been set up to publish relevant information towards teams and partners, which should improve the quality, visibility and reuse of our services.
Details of infrastructure, servers, applications, databases, etc. are now collected and managed in a central and easily accessible Configuration Management Database (CMDB). This database has been developed in-house, according to specific needs of the support teams. With the available information, we build more visibility on the technology landscape within RSVZ-INASTI and define the roadmaps for the renewal or replacement of legacy components (e.g. unsupported, outdated).
The shift from past to present is still receiving the necessary attention, as there were no integrations or efficient solutions due to the silo phenomenon of each department. Establishing a common way of working within the business organization and within the Sequoia platform remains a major challenge.
"Within the architecture team, there is cohesion in terms of content and a good atmosphere, which makes the cooperation run smoothly. We can build on each other and know exactly what we can gain from each other. Because there are many challenges, you come together in the firing line and then the combination of trust and a good atmosphere is indispensable.”
Prospects and plans
In the future, RSVZ-INASTI wants to focus on reducing technical debts and replacing legacy systems. The goal is to achieve a situation in which the entire application landscape is up-to-date and operated in an efficient and cost-effectively way. The strategic business vision on IT helps to manage these plans for the future, to reduce complexity, select common and cost-efficient solutions, preferably in line with other social security institutions.
The organization wants to strengthen both long-term knowledge assurance and maturity within the IT department itself and be less dependent on external resources.There are components that no body dares to change but still require maintenance and adaptations, which need to evolve towards more internal control. This has already been achieved for several components, but it does not all happen by itself; they have to be brought into line with new expectations and technological evolutions. Furthermore, RSVZ-INASTI wants to respond in new and transparent ways, so that citizens and/or partners know what is being worked on and what can be expected from a qualitative government institution.
Cooperation between Michel and RSVZ-INASTI
Two years ago, Michel took over the torch from the previous architecture consultant. The architecture team within RSVZ-INASTI needed the continuation of an architecture coach with a lot of experience, expertise and an external vision of the organization. Internally, you can quickly create a limited field of vision, but Michel knew how to do it elsewhere and had a fresh perspective on things. He immediately knew what RSVZ-INASTI needed and in what direction they wanted to and needed to go. Michel worked in a transparent, open and constructive way and showed his friendly and open attitude.
“A consultant is very useful and essential for sensitive phases or unknown matters and serves as a sounding board for a problem, challenge, action or specific approach.”
As a reliable external party, a consultant can provide relevant knowledge and advice. Although new problems or challenges will undoubtedly arise in the future. Even with the acquired internal knowledge, there will most likely continue to be a need for additional support. For the time being, there is not enough expertise in the entire domain and in all the teams that are mastered from A-Z, although they continue to develop and deploy themselves.
The initiative is still running and it's something we, as Archers, will continue to work on together with RSVZ-INASTI.
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