Metropolis – a Metaphor for IT Maturity

I’ve just read an excellent paper by Pat Helland of Microsoft, in which he likens the development of cities and manufacturing in the 19th century to the development of systems and business models now. His conclusion – IT at the moment is about at the same stage as America in the 1880s, when they were just starting to turn the Wild West into an industrialised nation!

Three short quotes from Helland’s conclusions bear repeating directly. On heterogeneity he says:

Remember that heterogeneity happens. Unless you have a very simple application portfolio, shared services will not be achieved by trying to put all
of your applications on one version of one platform. Even if you could, the next
merger would change that! Rather, you have to design for interoperability and
integration across platforms. This is the force that is driving the industry
wide work in service-oriented architectures.

He extends the popular “city planning” metaphor to IT investment:

IT investment is a balance of funding the sacred, protecting historic monuments, and allocating spending between infrastructure and business opportunity. Striking this balance is a key facet in effective governance, and in realizing the potential of IT in your organization.

And finally, those who seek to maintain control of their enterprise
architecture through heavy governance would be well advised to note:

You have to maintain a light hand. It is counterproductive to try to dictate
what happens in every structure in town, what color shirts are made, and how much is charged for soap. You have to embrace the semi-autonomous approach to governance that is characteristic of our cities, and allow the process owners to optimize and achieve efficiencies with as few constraints as


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