Category: Theory

Revisiting the Local Government Platform

Lately there has been a batch of talk about “(local) Government as a Platform” including blogs from Dave Briggs, Gavin Beckett, Mark Thompson, and others, with video clips from John Jackson and a slide deck from Methods Digital. This all links to recent blogging about single platforms for local government websites and digital in local government generally.

All of this made me reflect on two things – my original blog posts on the topic in 2012 (and whether what I’ve done since is consistent with that vision), and whether this is all really doing what it needs to in 2015, is it solving the problem that we need to solve today.

And, to be quite blunt, I think the answer to these questions are “meh” and “no”, respectively.

From 2012:

“Local Government (in this model) is a hub. It’s purpose is to connect people (and places) with needs to people with funding to people who can provide services to help under the governance and ownership of people with the political mandate to do just that – with the aim of improving the lot of the people and places under its jurisdiction.”

I would just like it to be noted that I was, and am still, being descriptive of the purpose of local government. That is, I was thinking local government IS a platform, not local government AS a platform. I was using this as a lens to try and make sense of the industry I work in, not as an explicit design of a possible future state, although it does imply some changes to the way we do things*.

Obviously things change and move on and I am not an exception to that, so I’m here and now asking myself how the above description stacks up with my current understanding and thinking it’s ok, if a bit granular. Clearly government of all kinds has the aim of connecting people and improving stuff (although those things aren’t usually so causally linked), that’s kind of obvious but it doesn’t quite get the point. What is the unique thing that government does that no other kind of business can do?

The short answer to this might be “user research”. Every council employs – by statute – at least a dozen people that do user research, they get performance managed every four years and regularly get fired if they are a bit crap. Our councillors don’t always use the same methods as professional user research teams but they are seriously committed and highly visible and work to the same ends.

Of course, plenty of commercial operations do user research as well, but the difference is that when councils (or indeed governments generally) do it then it is a public conversation. People canvas the views of local people about what their priorities should be, then formulate these views into policy documents (“manifestos”) and everyone gets to vote on which person and policy document is the best: the winner then gets to try and make these priorities a reality, with the conversations around this being made public immediately, and their policy work is scrutinised and held up to public account. If people don’t like the results then 4 years later they’ll be fired and another mixture of policy priorities will be voted in.

The GDS mantra since day one: “What is the user need?” – I would say that government exists to uncover and highlight the (sometimes rapidly) changing needs of its citizens and the places they live in via an ongoing public conversation. Local Government is a platform when – and only when – it enables those conversations and allows a variety of organisations to design services to satisfy those needs, but the choice and delivery of those services – including design decisions around digital services – is a tactical one. It’s the conversation that uncovers the needs that is core to Government, not the services.

So perhaps we don’t need to spend lots of money on new technology, we just need to listen to what people are already telling us and find better ways of reflecting it. Better conversations lead to better targeting of services (not just ours either) and, ultimately, better results.

For these reasons I think that the conversation about “local government as a platform” shouldn’t be a conversation about technology or even about business models, when it should be about democracy and finding ways to support the work of active citizens – our councillors, voluntary sector organisations, businesses, families and agencies – specifically linking them to data insights, and giving them direct control over more levers of power to make them more relevant and give them more power to uncover user needs.

In the process we need to become more platform-like – but by changing our working practices and culture, not just by installing software. We in local government need to be the platform, not just build it.

I want to blog a bit more about this in the coming weeks, but obviously would welcome the chance to broaden this conversation out. I’m an IT bod, not a political theorist.


* Specifically, articulating this description led me to do a number of things:

  • look at the use of data and intelligence in this context, specifically to support councillors (with Lucy Knight, who is taking this forward)
  • establish a local ODI Node to help the whole community benefit from public data resources
  • look at prototyping different public business models
  • support the implementation of integration technologies to help knit web services together
  • specify open data and APIs in standard procurement specifications
  • get involved in a small way in a number of specific procurements with the aim of improving the openness of the chosen solutions.

Better dead than red

I keep seeing this now, and so I’m just going to put it down here and walk away.

What I keep seeing is the “better dead than red” thing, but about all kinds of business model patterns.

Public sector. Private sector. Civil/third sector. Social Enterprise. B2B. B2C. Subscription models. Having a job. Being a freelancer. Having a temporary contract. Running your own business. Being grant funded. Being an outsourcer. Commissioning. Providing….

These are all business model patterns. Some people think that in certain cases some of these shouldn’t be applied because of a variety of reasons, usually because they are less efficient. Often a moral tone is adopted in these discussions, as if one choice of business model pattern is morally superior to another.

This culminates in the “better dead than red” perspective where two tribes pushed the world to the brink of utter destruction over their preferences for different business model patterns.

It’s just a pattern. It doesn’t matter more than a few percentage points of efficiency. Harder, and more important, is the value that’s actually being provided.

Taking the C out of RACI

RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) is a pretty standard way of dividing up people’s roles in any sort of task set.

The “Consulted” role is defined as “Those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication” on the wiki page.

A modest proposal: remove the “C” from your RACI matrices. If someone is consulted, they assume responsibility (defined as “those who do the work to achieve the task”).

Giving your opinion and then sitting back is rarely helpful. That’s my opinion, anyway.


How will digital teams and initiatives in Local Government support growth and wellbeing whilst the levels of funding are dropping off so steeply?

I’ve been having quite a few conversations recently about what Local digital strategies (ie the digital strategy for a place) would look like and some of these conversations resulted in a recent post by Carl Haggerty on a Framework for Digital Local Public Services which is a good thing to read if you haven’t already. This is because we are both involved with the #localgovdigital group that the LGA is sponsoring.

For my money the biggest departure that this work has with anything that has gone before it in digital local government is that we are focusing outside of the organisational perimeter and looking at joining up everything around a place for maximum benefit to the people that use it – even if that doesn’t involve us directly. In this post I want to talk a bit about what we might mean by “value” as applied to places and then this can be a building block for guiding the sorts of digital interventions we might make to those places.

So the headline: places have intrinsic value and we need to understand what that value is before we go about enhancing that value with digital transformations. I think it’s really important that we understand the value of what we have before we change it, or otherwise how will we know it’s been an improvement? A good starting point is that a place might be giving us value in one of two categories: well-being or growth.

By this I mean that people will access different kinds of benefit from a place and we might be able to map out those benefits in order to target our digital strategies better. For example, I’m lucky enough to live near Dartmoor: it is absolutely beautiful and people will go there  to recuperate, disconnect and go hiking or gaze at the scenery, buy cream teas etc. Dartmoor therefore has a value in terms of bringing wellbeing to people and this would not be enhanced by stonking great communications towers littering the landscape and it also has an economic value in terms of the money it brings in by virtue of being unspoilt. This also wouldn’t be improved by having stonking great communications towers. However, people do sometimes get lost when wandering over the North moor and being able to get a mobile phone signal (or similar) could be a life-saver.

Contrast this with the centre of the city where I live, where faster comms mean business growth, social value, and better public services and straight away, we can start to see that different places need different kinds of digital intervention to maximise their values to different groups of people.

Modelling this formally should enable us to design and plan digital interventions that maximise the value returned by places.  One way to do this is by using a business value framework such as the Value Proposition Canvas. It is a tool that was developed to help with understanding the benefits of products or services.

Working this through we could tackle it one of two ways: we could start on the left hand side with a place and consider what sort of “assets” it has, then deduce what kinds of gains (or pain relievers) the place has, or we could start on the right with the sort of problems, jobs to be done or opportunities that  people might have that a place would address.

The classic VPC approach would indicate that we need to start with our citizens and ask what sort of value places might enable for them. However, places don’t just exist because people do – they would be perfectly happy without anyone. So we can’t start on the right of the canvas, then, asking what functional, social, or emotional jobs might people be trying to achieve: we need to be place-centric and look at what products or services a place offers as a starting point and then map that to demand. A trunk road, for example, offers transport infrastructure comprising road surfaces, traffic regulation services (speed limits, traffic lights, surveillance cameras), and traffic information services (street furniture, variable message signs, etc); whereas an area of outstanding natural beauty might offer scenery, refreshments, gifts, or other recreation.

We also need to consider which other products or services might be needed for people to consume the products or services a place offers (for example, people might need transport to get to some AONB’s and will require vehicles to use a road). Digital transformations might act on the place itself or on ancillary products.

Next we look at the gain creators. Does the place do something that saves people time, effort, or money? Does it meet or exceed people’s expectations?

Finally we need to look at the “pain relievers”. Is there something about this place that solves a problem for people or produce a saving? Does this place make people feel better?

Of course, these are just categories and a bit of framework. We will need to actually get out there and listen to people if we are to deduce what value a place really has for the people that use it. This post has gone on too long already so I’ll save that for the next one. Without wanting to create a hostage to fortune, we also need to look at both the way that places will respond to environmental factors and a taxonomy of digital interventions that we might make so all being well I’ll tackle those topics shortly too.

CitizenState: heuristic democracy


Since I work in the public sector I have a strange relationship with politics. Of course, I have political views on specific issues and I do my civic duty by voting every once in a while but at the same time I’m involved in a small way with implementing policy, most of which I didn’t vote for or agree with. I have to detach from my political opinion and do a professional job, and in the process of doing that I find that my original views get challenged, sometimes strongly, and so my opinions change over time.

I consider myself fortunate that I get to experience the effects of policy from this sort of vantage point. The people on the sharp end often don’t get the opportunity to go on such a “journey”. People in receipt of public services are often (but not always) the most vulnerable and the least able to advocate for themselves.

But nevertheless it’s important to realise that our ideologies are often disconnected from reality. Policies that are demonised by some occasionally turn out ok: stuff that seemed like a great idea to everyone often goes completely wrong. This is because “policy” in a political sense is heuristic: it’s a mental shortcut to help build consensus around the effect of a principle. This is “fast” thinking and is optimised for communication, pithy soundbites, 140-character tweets and for broad brush statements on complex topics.

I’m no expert on political theory and I don’t have much time for party politics, so let’s cut to the chase. The link above suggests we do one or more of three things:

  1. Share a link to a good project that delivers a public service outside the State.
  2. Share a thought about how we could deliver a public service outside the State (maybe write a blog post about it).
  3. Share a thought about how democracy could be redesigned.

The first should be easy: any social enterprise should be able to demonstrate social impact and simultaneously have a sustainable business model. A great example is Pluss (, a social enterprise that helps people find work. I’ve chosen them because they used to be run by the local council and now they are owned by a consortium but independent. In the digital arena, microfinance organisations such as Kiva ( or Grameen ( probably do more for local economic growth than the governments in the areas they operate (and driving growth and wellbeing are the two main pillars of government policy).

As for services that could be run from outside the state apparatus, I think that we need to distinguish between things that might just be privatised (and for example we have private health care) and things that can be genuinely run by citizens for citizens. Social care is an example of services for the most vulnerable that could be run at least partly outside the state system if we could find the reserves of skill, time and compassion that are needed and I think it would be cynical to think that those reserves aren’t actually there.

Finally, I think democracy could use a refresh for the networked age. We could easily participate in decision-making for our street or local community on a much more regular basis than we currently do and this would drive engagement at a larger level – for towns, cities, counties, or regions. Making this happen could be as straightforward as writing an app and creating ways that the digitally excluded could participate.

Overview of the #localgov platform

In a previous post I covered some aspects of why local government could be considered a platform business, or at least could move in that direction. I’m enormously grateful to Stuart Boardman, Carl Haggerty and Tom Graves for supplying me with some challenges and suggestions in terms of developing these ideas. I’ve taken these suggestions on board and I think I’m in a position to outline the “top-level” of what the overall model looks like.  I’ve even got some ideas about the next level of iteration down but I might park that for later so I can get the big picture out.

So, to recap: Local Government (in this model) is a hub. It’s purpose is to connect people (and places) with needs to people with funding to people who can provide services to help under the governance and ownership of people with the political mandate to do just that – with the aim of improving the lot of the people and places under its jurisdiction.

Top level diagram

Top level of the local goverment platform model

In the traditional view local government has done all of this except for the bottom-left square. And I need to stress again that there’s no reason why it couldn’t continue to do so under this model – but in my opinion that might take away some of the value of the model.

Increasingly, in fact, the four corners of this model are being done by other people anyway. Local Government spends more time chasing grant funding; National, hyperlocal, regional and EU-wide policy reduces the room local politicians have to manoeuvre; service provision is increasingly diverse; and under the localism ethos individuals and community groups might start to commission services for themselves.

With the picture fragmenting, therefore, it is important to ask (as Tom Graves did) about governance and where it fits into the new landscape. Clearly governance is required: is public money being spent wisely? Are political decisions being taken for the right reasons? are services being provided fairly and efficiently? Are people’s (and places’) needs being adequately addressed?

Two things are therefore required to be added to the diagram. The first is data. Transparency of who is doing what, both with our money and with individual cases (subject to privacy and security rules); transparency of decision-making by politicians and officials; transparency of how services are being delivered by service providers. There is a requirement therefore for some quite meaty data warehousing and business intelligence in the centre – but this isn’t the whole story because effective governance needs the power to make changes. So the second thing we need to add are channels of control. I would suggest that these could all pass through the central hub – not sure if that’s a problem or not. We can park that issue for later. Either way, there is a requirement for a set of channels so that the various aspects of the model can govern each other (and I believe it does flow both ways in all cases).

Now lets make the thing functional. In the previous post I suggested the core functions that would need to be supported as

  • understand the needs of people and places under its care
  • search for funding opportunities that might help with those needs
  • curate a set of service providers and help to ensure the markets for each are broadly functional
  • provide a set of levers for those with a political mandate to push in order to deliver on political priorities
  • provide intelligence to all so that commissioning decisions can be undertaken intelligently.

So let’s add that to the governance idea and break this down a bit.

Political levers

Politicians need 3 kinds of lever: Strategic (how do we balance our spending portfolio for maximum return), Managerial (how can we influence the direction and performance of service delivery), and Individual (how can we advocate for particular cases in the system). (Arguably, politicians can’t and maybe shouldn’t do the last thing, but they do. That’s what surgeries are for.)

The strategic levers are satisfied by the commissioning centre: business intelligence to inform decision-making and capabilities to  actually commission the work required. At a managerial level, though, once we’ve split the provision from the commissioner then it is logically difficult to provide this lever of control aside from normal service level or performance management. A sticking-plaster solution might be to appoint politicians to NED level (or stronger) on the boards of the service provider organisations, but the actual solution will need to vary according to the kind of organisation we are talking about. On an individual level, it might be even more controversial (or even illegal) to allow a politician access to a service providers’ systems in order to influence the provision of an individual case, but either directly or via a proxy this level of access and influence will be required.

So although we can bake the first lever into this model, the other two both require standard contract terms to be instituted that allow for the necessary political “interference”. This might appear to be far from ideal, but if your company is delivering public services with public money then you might as well get used to it, in my opinion!

Citizen’s levers

In the final analysis, it is governance of the system by citizens that is most fundamental. Any individual citizen, however, is not all-powerful: democracy requires that we govern as an aggregate of people rather than getting our own way all the time. Nevertheless, we want to hold our politicians to account and the key demand here is transparency: let citizens have access to the same quality of intelligence that politicians use when making commissioning decisions so they can make up their own minds. In fact, lets just reuse the same set of systems to let them do it.

Secondly is the monitoring of service providers and their performance. In some cases citizens are co-opted onto management boards of public enterprises and if we want to do that then fine – but for the purposes of this system I think this is about giving citizens the same performance management data as politicians get. Again, lets just give them the same data and the same systems.

Third is the ability to submit cases (complaints, requests for services, feedback etc). These might end up anywhere and I think the job of the central “hub” is perhaps not to manage the cases individually but simply to route them to wherever they are best resolved in a fast and transparent fashion. I mentioned in a previous post that I don’t think we need CRM in local government: what I mean by that is that if everything else in this model works smoothly it won’t be needed.

The final lever for citizens is to allow them to commission services themselves. If an individual wants to make a difference in their community then they should be able to get help to improve their idea, apply for funding, and commission a service provider to do it. We are already seeing this sort of thing happening with personal budgets for social care.

Funders levers

Traditionally local government has raised its money through a central government grant, the Council Tax and business rates. However, other sources of funding exist and have been used for quite some time – EU grants, central government grants, the lottery, PFI initiatives, even private funding all play a part. So what do funding bodies need for their money?

Usually this is about two things: delivery and outcomes. If a funder funds a project it wants to see it completed and it wants to see the benefits of that project realised. Our hub must be able to track what money went where, how the project it supports is progressing, and what benefits are realised – otherwise we probably won’t be getting the same money the next time round. However, these processes are almost exclusively between commissioners and funders and the relationship between these two sets of people rather than some monolithic project management structure: commissioners (and there are going to be many of them, see above) have the responsibility to track their own projects. Since the Council itself is going to be doing a lot of that, it will need a system: it might even make that available to other commissioners, but the particular bit of the system that tracks individual projects and benefits is itself a service that can be commissioned. The “hub” merely needs to facilitate relationships.

Service provider levers

Of course, outsourcers have feelings too. It’s perhaps not as easy as it looks to have central or local government as your primary customer, even if it can (allegedly) be lucrative if you do it right. Service providers need the freedom to innovate their service delivery – wthin reason – but they also need support and standards and they need their feedback to be influential and to commission supporting services. So the first lever is that service providers are commissioners too and so they need the same access to intelligence, joined-up service delivery and channels that citizens, politicians, funders and council commissioners get.

Service providers that aren’t economically viable might be allowed to go to the wall in some cases, but in others they need to be constructively helped. This might mean the formation of local or national groupings of providers to lobby or to create shared platforms that provide core and common services to them. The commissioning hub must allow a seamless flow of clients, funding, and information to, from and between service providers and this must be based around recognised standards in order to work.

What’s in the box then?

These ideas lead to the central hub containing the following components:

  • expertise in the funding landscape, performance management, public engagement, (big P) Politics and data
  • a business intelligence toolset and competencies to crunch all the available data
  • a web channel that ties services together (in a service-oriented architecture style of thing)
  • document/records management that provides an archive of policy, actions and decisions
  • Master data management (ensures we don’t double-count people or places in our calculations, and ensures joined up case management)
  • Data warehousing (performance management, demographic, needs data on the full range of services)
  • middleware to join processes up.

Those components are lifted from the previous post, but this post is probably long enough already so I’ll stop there for now. The internal architecture of the hub is probably next, but this is an evolving picture in my brain so please let me know what you think in the comments below.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking recently about what the “real” purpose of my employer is. In common with many other public sector bodies, we’ve outsourced bits of our support and front line services (and others were already in private hands by default). When we do this, however, we both lose and gain something: it’s not always a good idea (it seems, or maybe we just don’t do it very well each time) as we seem to be sort of “hollowed out” and we lose influence. If people have a problem with the way the roads are surfaced, do they talk to the council responsible or do they talk directly to the company that resurfaces the roads?

In this sort of climate it is tempting (and I have succumbed) to envisaging this kind of process taken to its logical conclusion. If a council commissions all of its services, what is it for? This thought experiment has led me to start considering local (and maybe central) government as a platform business that exists to

  • understand the needs of people and places under its care
  • search for funding opportunities that might help with those needs
  • curate a set of service providers and help to ensure the markets for each are broadly functional
  • provide a set of levers for those with a political mandate to push in order to deliver on political priorities
  • provide intelligence to all so that commissioning decisions can be undertaken intelligently.

So what we might refer to as “the council” becomes quite small really and is a hub – centred around a platform containing

  • expertise in the funding landscape, performance management, public engagement, (big P) Politics and data
  • a business intelligence toolset and competencies to crunch all the available data
  • a web channel that ties services together (in a service-oriented architecture style of thing)
  • document/records management that provides an archive of policy, actions and decisions
  • Master data management (ensures we don’t double-count people or places in our calculations, and ensures joined up case management)
  • Data warehousing (performance management, demographic, needs data on the full range of services)
  • middleware to join processes up.

There’s perhaps some political (big P again, sorry) dynamite here in that it might be seen to imply privatisation or outsourcing on a massive scale (on the scale recently attempted – and abandoned – by some other councils such as Suffolk) but I need to stress that it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It does, however, necessitate a *logical* split between those bodies/teams/people/partners that commission services and those that provide those services. The split occurs because the service provider has a different business model to the commissioner.

In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the vast majority of commissioning is done by actors outside of the council: we have personal budgets for healthcare, politicians have local budgets, other authorities or public/third sector bodies may fund developments, even the private sector might utilise this platform to commission work.

[Although my focus is on local government I wonder if this approach also extends to central government. Both exist to do broadly the same thing, just on a different scale, both currently depend on partners and service providers to do the majority of the work, and both are relatively poor at commissioning as opposed to service delivery. Maybe, maybe not.]

If we are a platform business, then that model dictates that we build for scale and reuse, in a service-oriented style. And why should each council build its own platform if we are all doing the same thing?


In my job I often receive project proposals. These will usually say “we want to buy/develop in-house <x software> and get the IT dept to develop/install and support it for us.” Sometimes this is ok. Sometimes my IT colleagues will even accept that this is a good idea, but they are hard pressed so I have adopted the following heuristic approach and would be interested to see what others make of it. It’s a strawman.

So with the disclaimer under my belt: I always try to consider things in the following order of (decreasing) preference:

Option 1: Re-use something we already have

This works for a few potential projects. If the required functionality is already in an existing pience of software we have, why reinvent the wheel. Cheap, quick, and painless (assuming the fit is good for business requirements).

Option 2: Use a shared service from another related organisation

Again, this can work for a few more projects as there are (in my industry anyway) lots of very similar organisations working under similar constraints and trying to solve the same problem. Slightly more expensive (fees + network bandwidth), slightly slower to implement (politics, data sharing agreements, integration), but quality can be good and best practice can be shared. Also, it looks good.

Option 3: Software as a Service (“Public Cloud”) or Off the shelf remotely hosted software

Before you start flaming me, I know these are technically two very different things. But from my point of view they are equivalent. We need to do due diligence on whoever we are buying it from, there are security and governance concerns, there are performance and integration issues. But this can be good quality, quick, and relatively cheap. The G-cloud initiative should make this kind of thing easier, quicker and cheaper in the public sector.

Option 4: Off the Shelf, locally hosted

For many requirements this is still the default option. Always worth having a go to convert it to 2) or 3). Support arrangements can be a bind but we can normally deal with it. This option will always require some kind of interface with the people managing the desktop environment. This can slow things down but they are a happy bunch. I miss them (see options 1-3). We still need to do integration but because its inside the firewall its less stressful (SOA gurus might want to look away now and instead consider this rather cute video of a dog).

Option 5: Internally developed

ok, so we got to bite the bullet and develop something in-house. That means long timescales, resource conflicts, delays, long-term maintenance overhead, even using modern techniques. Most organisations the size of mine or smaller aren’t going to want to maintain an expensive pool of internal resource. There’s a slight edge to getting the solution hosted externally as it’s (slightly) less infrastructure to worry about and there are tools to help, although I’m not an expert on them – my colleague Stian Sigvartsen is better placed to advise on that.

And that’s all. I’m interested in refining, or even throwing out, this model out in favour of something better, if such a thing exists. For now this is just a common sense way of evaluating projects.

The longer-term question of what our target architecture should look like will have to wait for another day.

If you’d read my previous post (from a long time ago – sorry this follow-up is so late) on Enterprise Architecture in Political organisations you might be forgiven for thinking I disliked office politics. And I suppose I do. I guess this is because I’ve generally had an analytical mindset that wanted to optimise the obvious things. Want me to build a web server? I’ll try and make it return pages as fast as I can. Ask me to design a solution? It’ll be as cheap and effective at its stated aim as my skill can make it.

To be honest my approach is more than a little lacking in imagination. Of course the people I work with want these things, but after a certain point, no-one notices. Initially I was horrified that someone might give me a task either to keep me distracted or to act as a lever in some other process, and then my horror gradually mellowed into cynicism and, finally, acceptance.

And therein lies the story of my long slide into middle-aged mediocrity. Except that there’s another side to this. In the comments on my last post Mike Lamoureux commented that politics can act to show “who is passionate, and about what, you just have to read between the lines”. There are some other reasons why politics might also be good:

  • it can ensure that a one-dimensional view of the enterprise doesn’t get railroaded through
  • it can be a way for the brightest in the organisation to rise to the top
  • it might be needed to provide for change that is blocked by formal systems of governance

(list adapted from Mintzberg 1998: 243-244)

As we previously noted, politics is everywhere. So if all Enterprise Architects have to deal with politics, and it isn’t all bad, what do we do with it?

I think this lies at the heart of many of the problems with modern EA practices. Those with more political savvy can bypass, leverage, ignore, or exploit an analytical architecture group in more ways than the group itself probably understands. It may seem unethical to someone with a purely analytical education – it certainly did to me – but that’s the way humans are.

It’s time to man up. As my colleague Carl Haggerty might say, lets do Black Ops.

I think that one of the things an EA team needs to decide at the outset of its practice is what its political goals are. Political EA means having a future state vision, not just of the shape and plumbing of an organisation but of how power flows through it and the desired position of EA in that power flow (if you don’t include yourself in the design, don’t complain that you’ve been sidelined – that’s what you wanted, yes?). In other words, we need to architect the power architecture as well as the delivery architecture.*

EA teams also need to manage stakeholders differently. Now the idea that communication is essential is not new for an EA team. But I think we haven’t gone far enough: we need to explicitly play some games to make our future state a reality. If our future state doesn’t make it, someone else’s will: and then we have stopped being the architects of the enterprise and we might as well go home or go back to coding or whatever it was we were doing before. So lets pick some winners early on and put our weight behind them. A covert prediction market might be a good way to identify those people who are rising in the organisation and those who are on the way out. Quietly aligning some EA artifacts with the ambitions of those rising stars is one way to accelerate our own influence.

Finally, we need some political strategies of our own if we are to get our (analytical) architectural projects through. I’ve noted some basic ideas in a previous post but these can be expanded and seem to fall into five categories (thanks again to the awesome Mr Mintzberg 1998: 244-246):

  1. Accept and manage political realities. If one thing has no chance of getting through, request something else. Lets not bash our heads against the wall fighting battles we’ll never win.
  2. Target middle management. Most resistance to any kinds of change will lie with middle management (and lower). These are the people you need to be actively managing to find out their sweet spots and pitching ideas at to ease their pain. (ISO27000 standards, for example, systematically do this by devolving risk ownership to middle management, thereby making these people change the behaviour of their staff)
  3. Use classical political tools. Politics is the art of the possible. Focus on ends, not means: “good enough” results are sometimes good enough: increase management options by focusing on broad issues rather than sensitive narrow ones: anticipate problems and show how they might be dealt with (you may get your way even if you don’t get the credit!): anticipate what coalitions might form against your ideas, who might be in them and why.
  4. Manage coalition behaviour. For example, change the order in which issues are addressed to make different coalitions form: increase the visibility of some issues to influence coalitions: unbundle some of the issues into smaller issues. We can adapt strategies to satisfy some coalitions but its easier not to (unintended consequences and all that).
  5. Take direct action against a coalition. Pre-emptive coalitions, counter-coalitions, re-shuffling (or removing) coalition members in an organisation, co-opting coalition members, or increasing communication efforts all fall into this rather high-risk category.

There’s a lot more on this subject that a blog post can’t do justice to. I have yet to read any political theory, but am sure there’s a lot of stuff in there we might be able to use. But that’s for the future, I hope this post gives some practical stuff we can use now to get better outcomes for our organisations.

*One thing I’m missing is an actual reference architectural model for an architecture of politics. If anyone has any ideas how I could develop or steal one, please let me know in the comments. I promise I don’t bite!

Reference: Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, Lampel, “Strategy Safari” 1998 FT Prentice Hall

Just over 3 years ago I was appointed to a position in my organisation called Enterprise Architect.  Naturally I researched the job before I interviewed for it, read the 50-page job description (I kid you not), bought a couple of books and read a metric shedload of internet articles and (since we were a client at that time) Gartner documentation.

I got a vague impression from all this that Enterprise Architecture was something that bridged the divide between business and technical people, that it was involved heavily with strategy, that there were a number of different competing frameworks involved, and that there was a high level of debate amongst practitioners with some people claiming to be the only ones in possession of  the One True Way of doing things.

In other words, par for the course. I had graduated through relentless discussions about what was really free software and what wasn’t, and I think I could cope with a few internet trolls. And surely as the discipline moved forward we would sort some of these issues out?

Seemingly not. And three years on from those heady days, the “enterprise architecture” team that I spent so long helping to try to form and drive forward along lines roughly similar to others in the industry and – most crucially – in a way that actually added value to my employer, is being de-scoped and effectively disbanded.

Initially this news was devastating to me, as I felt we were just about starting to get somewhere. But now I’ve just about settled with it and I’m starting to learn some lessons. Well, just one lesson really: and it’s one that I’m sure every enterprise architect, enterprise IT architect, technical architect or indeed anyone with an analytical nature who wants to succeed might do well to take on board: it doesn’t matter how clever you are.

We started strongly and soon had a very elegant programme for exploiting the organisation’s resources to drive higher productivity, better outcomes and lower costs. But no-one was interested. I now believe this wasn’t because people disagreed with it, it was because people didn’t understand it. And I think that has more to do with demographics than anything: there are still a large number of people at or near the tops of big organisations that have a blind spot when it comes to anything new: they can’t cope with big paradigm shifts and clever methods changing the way business is done.

So here are my four tips to anyone who calls themselves an Enterprise Architect:

1) By all means do the clever stuff. Analyse the current and future states of your organisation in its environment as well as you can. Use an expensive modelling tool or proprietary architecture framework if you must. But under no circumstances should anyone find out about it. Keep it under your hat. This work is just to ensure you have a good understanding of what the organisation has and what it’s trying to do so you don’t suggest anything stupid.

2) Break up the programme for reaching the future state into small chunks. And then break it up again. Projects that cost less than £100K at the very biggest. Less than £10k is ideal. Mainly though, they must be simple in concept and non-threatening in appearance. You aren’t re-engineering your financial payment processes: you are simply linking the website to your payments system. Because it makes common sense.

3) Build a business case for each project separately and gain business sponsorship, then get them through.  Sugar-coat each project with all the benefits you can find. Invest time and resources, if you have them, in ensuring they deliver what they say they will. Do the small stuff. Help people on the ground to implement and don’t compromise on quality.

4) Be clear about the services you provide. This is about how you work with people and the channels you use for delivering value: consulting on projects, providing and customising models, participating in governance and assurance, educating people about new developments, and doing research.

As for me, whatever role I find myself in in future, I think I’ll always be an enterprise architect. Even if I stay in IT I’ll still use these models and think this way.

Even if no-one I work with ever gets to hear about it.