Thursday, September 4, 2014

Principles of Integrated Design

When people think about design they often visualize the Apple product line or user interface experts coming up with cool graphics to deploy in websites. Design in IT is much more than that though; while they are many individual piece parts of an overall lifecycle that are concerned with specific design tasks, say like the User Interface, the entire lifecycle itself is also driven by the need to create functional systems. This holds true for both hardware and software, as well for complex enterprise initiatives like ERP or even Cyber Security.  If we consider "Design" as a verb - the activity which produces something - then "Architecture" is the noun which design creates. "Integrated Design" represents the ability to conduct design activities within a uniform enterprise context.  Integrated Design is highly analogous to IT Architecture as a practice field; however there are some aspects of design which seem to go beyond the bounds of what most folks considered Architecture.

To get a better sense as to how Integrated Design, is applied let's look at some typical enterprise IT projects.  In projects such as a legacy migration or an ERP transformation you're likely to find the following types of design activities:

  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Data Modeling
  • Data Architecture Design
  • Business Process Modeling
  • User Interface Design 
  • User Experience Design (and yes this is somewhat different as User Experience crosses platforms and technologies these days)
  • Application & Service Design
  • Infrastructure and / or Network Design

These tasks are generally vital to the success of an overall project, yet many if not most of them happen in design "stovepipes."  The concept of Integrated Design is similar to how some people view Enterprise Architecture except that Integrated Design is less focused on formal frameworks or specific EA tools - in other words it is more likely to provide an all-encompassing umbrella for all types of design activity.  For example, some people might not consider a detailed Network Design or Data Center Design to be part of an Enterprise Architecture although others might - there is no standard definition or boundary. Integrated Design however, is a more flexible, perhaps even Agile way to tackle what is in fact one of the biggest challenges most enterprise face today - complexity.

Design and Architecture often merge in user interfaces or "Digital Experience" solution
The complexity we're referring to is the ability to reconcile and align all of the various designs (and design activities) associated with a complex enterprise or specific enterprise initiative into a single solution utilizing a unified lifecycle management framework.

There are three simple principles behind Integrated Design:

  1. All design activities must share the same lifecycle methodology and automation framework. Integrating models or architectures can sometimes be referred to as meta-integration and as the name implies it represents an added layer of complexity to an already complex project. A shared automation framework does not have to be an EA tool.
  2. All designs must be targeted to the shared capabilities.  There are finite set of capabilities associated with any given solution. By pegging or mapping each design to its relevant solution capabilities we achieve and maintain automatically a certain level of integration. 
  3. All design (on the project or within the solution) is related. While some designs may only be complementary rather than dependent, all designs and thus all later functionality have relationships to one another. Understanding those relationships up front is perhaps the greatest risk reduction technique available in IT today.  These relationships are both broad and narrow in nature (and can extend down to the data element level).

Design is and always will be a creative endeavor; however, if we keep in mind the principles of Integrated Design we can see how that creativity can be merged along with systems engineering to produce innovative and successful solutions.

Copyright 2014,  Stephen Lahanas



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