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Gregor Hohpe on Architects in Enterprises

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Architecture is about structure and relations, looking at things in a bigger context, thinking ahead and making decisions, Gregor Hohpe explained in a presentation at the GOTO Berlin Conference, sharing his experiences working with IT from the three major angles, consulting, software development and currently with large corporate IT.

Defining architecture, Gregor, co-author of the seminal book Enterprise Integration Patterns, is not interested in finding an all comprising precise definition, instead finding the characteristics of defining qualities. For him a key point is making decisions, especially those that can’t be changed from one day to the next, e.g. why was a particular architecture chosen? In his work, Gregor do see a fair number of architectures equivalent to a generic technical model with user interface, business logic and database which he doesn’t see as architecture. What’s missing is a story, a context and a conscious decision driven by the context.

Working as an architect trying to know everything that is going on and controlling everything is a futile endeavour. Gregor sees his role more as a gardener, the garden grows by its own, he is only doing some trimming and shaping, looking at the overall picture to prevent the wilderness and chaos. He also uses the analogy of a tour guide that has a lot of expertise, pointing out interesting points, telling stories about other parts, a gentle way of guiding and passing experiences over to others.

For Gregor working in a large enterprise, architecture is about where to go, about what is important, and with this he means picking a strategy, defining strategy as the things you are not doing. For e.g. an IT strategy you can’t do everything at the same time, you have to leave some out, focusing on the most important parts.

In large organisations where communication is a big part of getting things moving, you will never get rid of the structures very quickly and this is where Gregor believe architects can play a really significant role by cutting through some of the layers establishing direct contacts with people at different levels. Gregor calls this the architect elevator, where being able to ride up to the board room at the top floor as well as down to the IT departments at the bottom floors requires not only technical skills but also very much communication skills. The most important for architects is not at what floor they are, the most value lies in how many levels he or she can travel. A risk with the elevator is that many people only ride the elevator in one direction, upwards. The whole point of the elevator is going up and down.

Gregor believes that architects working at different levels in these large organisations are equally important. Working as an enterprise architect at a relatively high level, the number of pieces you have to deal with, like different countries, regulations, technologies and legacies is as difficult and demanding as working with more technical parts.

After working many years for Thoughtworks and Google, Gregor is now Chief IT Architect at Allianz SE.

The GOTO Berlin Conference 2014 is the second GOTO conference in Berlin, with around 550 attendees and 80 speakers.


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