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The Three Dimensions of Digital Diversity By @TheEbizWizard | @DevOpsSummit [#DevOps]

Enterprises no longer have the tight-fisted control over their IT environments they did in the old days.

Enterprise IT shops have long struggled with the dual challenges of homogeneity and heterogeneity. Homogeneous environments clearly had appeal: single-vendor shops would gain the benefits of working with one point of contact, and perhaps the various applications and infrastructure components would work together as advertised - or perhaps not.

But no one vendor ever had the best of everything, a dismaying fact that led to best of breed strategies: select the app or tool in each category that best met your needs, even though over time, the end result was inevitably a complex hodgepodge. And if something didn't work? All you'd get from the vendors would be fingerpointing.

Back and forth the CIO would go, trying to meet the diverse needs of various lines of business while still struggling to get everything to work together. Some would place bets on single vendors, only to live to regret their decision as the inevitable weak spots in their chosen product line came to the fore.

The end result of this dance: a grudging acceptance that heterogeneity was a necessary evil. Necessary to be sure, as the business demanded it - but also unquestionably evil, as it left the IT shop as a rats' nest of technical debt and architectural regret - the proverbial money pit that has dogged CIOs for years.

The Challenge of Digital Diversity
Today, such enterprises are undergoing digital transformations, realigning their technology efforts with ever-changing customer preferences and behavior. For their part, today's customers are demanding mobile-first, omnichannel interactions with the companies they do business with - and the IT shop as well as everyone else in the organization has to step up to the plate.

And yet, in this new digital world the very notion of an application itself is undergoing a transformation. Today's applications have many different components, from mobile apps to web plugins, tags, and services, to components running in the cloud, to back end, legacy applications running on-premise. And yet, everything has to work together at speed.

In other words, today's digital application is inherently heterogeneous. There's simply no way to get all the moving parts for a modern enterprise digital app from one vendor.

However, this fact doesn't mean that we're stuck in the old days of heterogeneous IT, where we inevitably ended up with a rats' nest of complexity. We've been down that road before, after all, and we don't want hazard it again.

Fortunately, we have learned many vital lessons over the years. We now understand the importance of properly governed APIs. We've learned the best lessons of SOA and brought them to the cloud. And we've largely moved past the days of proprietary, fixed data schemas - although admittedly there's still more work to do in all these areas.

If we take all these lessons to heart, then the heterogeneity of today's digital era doesn't have to be the evil agility-killer of days of yore. Instead, it can actually be a source of strength - which is why I use the phrase digital diversity. Just as the diversity of people is a strength of our communities and companies rather than a weakness, so too the diversity of technologies that go into today's enterprise digital applications.

The Three Dimensions of Digital Diversity
Digital diversity is here today whether we like it or not. And even though we have many lessons from the last twenty years to help us deal with such diversity, the evils of heterogeneity are right under the surface. We continually face the risk of falling into old patterns, thus ending up with an intractable digital mess on our hands.

Understanding the characteristics of digital diversity, therefore, is especially important to ensuring such diversity is for the good and not evil. To this end, let's break down the digital app context into three dimensions to provide greater clarity into the challenges - and advantages - of digital diversity.

Dimension #1: Front to back. The front office is where the customer lives. It's the focus of the marketing department and the user experience folks. The back office is where the DevOps effort and enterprise systems of record belong. In the middle is the cloud, middleware, and everything else necessary to connect the dots between front and back.

I discussed the different contexts between front and back in a recent Cortex newsletter, where I contrasted the digital revolution (front to back) to the DevOps revolution (back to front). In this dimension, the greatest challenge is building a seamless, high performance, end-to-end digital experience.

Dimension #2: Breadth of interaction. This dimension reflects the diversity of customer touchpoints and form factors - smartphone, tablet, laptop, digital television, etc., only now with the addition of a wide range of Internet of Things (IoT) touchpoints. The breadth of interaction dimension is also where omnichannel strategies live, as they seek to combine multiple marketing channels into a unified, customer-driven experience.

From the technology perspective, breadth of interaction includes decisions about iOS/Android/mobile web, as well as Linux vs. Windows or even AWS vs. Azure vs. other cloud choices. You might even consider the NoSQL vs. relational decision to fall under the breadth of interaction dimension, especially if it impacts the customer experience. In other words, breadth of interaction means selecting the right tool for the job.

Dimension #3: Depth of community. The digital story is never a one-company or one-vendor story. There are always multiple participants. Any modern enterprise web page contains numerous third-party plugins and services. Any app with social functionality brings together communities of people using different technologies. And the ecosystem of mobile apps themselves leverages an extensive network of social applications and protocols.

Partner networks of all shapes and sizes fall under the depth of community dimension, from tightly knit supply chains to vendor OEM relationships to today's cloud-infused managed service provider (MSP) business models. Any open source community drives this dimension forward as well.

The bottom line with the depth of community dimension is varying levels of control. From your relationship with your cloud provider to participation in open source communities, enterprises no longer have the tight-fisted control over their IT environments they did in the old days. But remember, with such control came the evils of heterogeneity. I'll take digital diversity over the old rats' nests any time.

The Intellyx Take: The Center of Digital Excellence in Action
In a recent article for Wired I wrote about the Center of Digital Excellence (CODE) as a way for enterprise architects to reinvent themselves for the digital area. The three dimensions of digital diversity is a good place to start. After all, taking a complex problem and breaking it up into simpler elements is the EAs stock in trade.

You might even think of the three dimensions as a partial replacement for the now obsolete Zachman Framework. Instead of trying to shoehorn our enterprise into arbitrary who/what/when/where/why questions, we now have three dimensions that represent the current challenges that any digital effort faces.

There is more to your architecture than the three dimensions, of course, as my writing on Agile Architecture will attest to. But for organizations that are struggling with the diversity of their digital efforts, the three dimensions should provide an organizing principle that will help them move beyond the homogeneous/heterogeneous dichotomy that has burdened enterprise IT for generations. It's about time.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.

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