Agile Digital Transformation

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How a Metadata-Driven Architecture Creates Organizational Agility

There is an application gold rush taking place within enterprise organizations. Business leaders in every industry recognize that automation is the key to both survival and competitive advantage. And they don’t want to get left behind.

The unsurprising result is pent-up demand for both new applications and functionality updates to the existing application stack. And also unsurprisingly, IT is having trouble keeping up.

Enterprises have responded in a number of ways including increasing development resources, engaging outsourcers, and adopting both low-code and no-code development platforms to speed IT development and enable so-called citizen developers, respectively.

While this gold rush of development has helped organizations meet their short-term automation needs, it is also perpetuating an age-old problem when it comes to the proliferation of applications in the enterprise: each new application actually limits an organization’s ability to be agile, increases its security risk profile, and decreases IT’s ability to support more automation in the future.

The Problem with the Application Stack

There has been a mostly unstated, but very real inverse relationship between the size of an organization’s application stack and its ability to introduce further automation and innovation over time.  This conflict is because each new application that it adds to the environment brings management overhead with it in the form of on-going maintenance and security needs.

With each new application added to the stack, the IT organization must spend more and more of its time and resources merely maintaining the underlying architecture and identifying and closing security vulnerabilities — leaving less time to respond to new application needs or add new functionality to the existing application stack.

The latest generation of low-code and no-code application development platforms are part of the solution – but also part of the problem. They have helped organizations respond to the need for more automation and faster development, yet they continue to add to the enterprise application stack and have done little to solve this more foundational problem.

Metadata for an Agile World

Some technology companies, however, are re-exploring an approach that has been developing in the industry for some time: metadata-driven application development architectures.

This type of development architecture abstracts an entire application into a single metadata file that defines all attributes of the application and executes on a purpose-built delivery platform. While not new, these types of metadata-driven application architectures — mostly in the form of no-code development platforms — have primarily been limited to creating stand-alone applications, as they lacked the sophistication necessary to develop enterprise-scale applications.

A new generation of such platforms, however, is extending the approach and promises to help enterprise organizations take advantage of this architecture and apply it at enterprise scale.

Metadata-driven architectures, from companies like ClaySys, enable organizations to separate application functionality from the underlying application architecture — where most of the maintenance and security challenges exist. This abstraction allows organizations to simplify and centralize their management efforts and also enables intrinsic version control, automated rollback and extensible and reusable integrations at the platform-level — all essential elements that drive organizational agility from within the application stack.

The Significance of Abstraction

It is easy to miss the significance and lasting impact of this abstraction process — particularly its impact on the IT operational model. According to numerous studies, enterprises spend the vast majority of their resources on maintaining the organization’s technology stack.

A large percentage of that commitment is in the form of identifying and patching security vulnerabilities and maintaining the application infrastructure —critical tasks, but which add no incremental value to the organization.

The use of a metadata-driven application architecture helps organizations overcome this operational paralysis through abstraction. When the security team identifies a new security vulnerability, they patch the delivery platform once in a central location, and all deployed applications automatically benefit from it.  Likewise, when the organization requires an update to the underlying application architecture, they update it once centrally and without any additional application maintenance — as the abstraction enables full and on-going backward compatibility.

The result is an end to the continuous stream of resource-intensive IT projects that do nothing but maintain already-deployed systems, add no incremental business value, and do nothing to help the organization respond to changes in the market or seize new business opportunities.

The Intellyx Take

Low-code and no-code platforms hold much promise for enterprise organizations. On the surface, they help them address the need to increase automation and empower business users to create applications for themselves.

But creating more automation only solves part of the problem. Enterprises must also address the need to reduce their maintenance and security overhead if they hope to increase their organizational agility and seize emerging opportunities.

A new generation of development platforms built on metadata-driven architectures, such as Claysys, help organizations solve this hard problem.

Using this type of architecture, organizations can create complex, enterprise-class applications in an entirely no-code environment. Moreover, this architectural model enables organizations to both update core functionality and patch security vulnerabilities within the delivery platform itself, rather than within individual applications — eliminating two of the most significant challenges they face as they exponentially increase automation.

Enterprise organizations are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They must relentlessly increase the use of automation in every aspect of the business, yet somehow try to manage the increased risk profile and maintenance headache that comes with the increased complexity of the resulting application stack. Metadata-driven application development architectures hold the promise to help organizations finally find a way out of this conundrum.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. ClaySys is an Intellyx client. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.

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More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

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).