Designing on Utopias: Taking a Lesson from Architecture

Often, when we talk about the implementation of IT tools and applications for finance, we use terms borrowed from the lexicon of architecture. For instance, phrases such as “infrastructure design,” “interface design,” “user experience,” or “database architecture” all have roots in architectural design.

Designing a building and designing an IT system have far more in common than might appear at first glance. Both activities carry great responsibility and imply the creation of an object (tangible in the one case, intangible in the other) that will be used by hundreds of people in order to meet their own needs. Additionally, both activities should be carried out flawlessly, by leveraging all available knowledge and technology and involving specialized professionals who can best understand the needs of their respective audiences.

Designing on Utopias

I suggest IT architecture design should borrow one more characteristic from architecture – that of using utopias to create additional value. Let me explain.

Utopian architectures (often called “fantastic” or “visionary” and produced without the constraints of budgets, materials, or building materials) first appeared back in the eighteenth century. The primary function of utopian designs, which are rarely intended for actual construction, is to spark imagination and transcend common limitations. Utopian architecture has been linked many design innovations, including the invention of the modern factory and the redefinition of the relationship between man and machine.

Today, business users need solid and functioning processes and systems, based on the most widely used techniques and solutions (what we call today “best practices”), as well as the agility to alter or evolve products and services as needed by changing market trends. Considering a utopic vision of the business could guide the development of new and daring projects.

In long-term projects such as the development of a corporate performance management system, it is necessary to consider both the existing problems and potential future requirements – just as in architectural design.

In this case, the technological and market trends represent the utopia to follow when designing a system. Certainly, factors such as cloud computing, collaborative disclosure, harnessing big data, and unified and automated management of information are all on the horizon. While focusing on past approaches to system and data design may have short term benefits, such as lower development costs, faster implementation, and less organizational push back), the resulting system will likely be a long-term obstacle to gaining and maintaining competitive advantage.

Designing on utopias does not imply a lack of pragmatism. Rather, it means applying a clear and understandable strategy to each component of a project. The history of a business, no matter how brilliant, is written in its financial statements. Now more than ever, business success does not allow for an unambiguous interpretation of the future. By taking an idealistic, but pragmatic approach when tackling system design, you place your company in the best of both worlds – with one foot in the present and one in the future.

Designing on Utopias

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