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Phil Tetlow, CTO at Three Steps Left, discusses EA trends and digital transformation

29 Aug 2018

by Ardoq


An expert analysis of how EA has developed over the years, and what the future looks like for successful organizations.

For the past 17 years, Phil Tetlow has worked at IBM as as a Client Analytics Architect where he helps top 100 companies build really big data and analytics IT systems. We caught up with Phil to ask him what has changed during his career, what he sees as the future of EA, and how EA can remain as important and relevant as it is today.


I started out by gaining a degree in Data Processing, back in the 1980s. Following this I spent thirteen years working in industry, eventually working my way up to a senior position in automotive, supporting a just-in-time manufacturing company. I then became Technical Consultant at PwC in 2000, and again worked my way up the career ladder.

In 2002, IBM bought PwC Consulting and that’s where I still find myself today.

In 2014 I joined IBM’s Software Group, and have lead a team of pre-sales architects there ever since.


What an interesting question!

When I started out, I just knew that I liked working with tech and had a gut feel that it was somehow important. I guess I always knew that, if it was applied properly, it could greatly improve the human condition, but it took me many years to work out what “improve” really meant. In truth, I suppose my entire career has been about trying to answer that one question and understand how I can personally make a difference because of it.

When asked about how technology has changed in recent times, I hear lots of folks wax lyrical about it becoming pervasive and how it now empowers the masses. No – that’s wrong!

Technology has always been pervasive in modern times. Think back to the time of the previous generation, or the one before that. They too had technologies that surrounded them and improved their lives. Think reading glasses, newspapers or steam trains. All are just one form of technology that embraced, empowered and transformed. What has happened in our lifetime is that the reach and scale of technology has increased dramatically, and in profound ways.

This is best seen in technologies that allow us to communicate. Take TV, radio and, most certainly the best example in the World Wide Web. All of these have allowed us to communicate more widely and at much greater speeds, so much so that we can now communicate in real time and at the societal level. In essence we have learnt how to put the global network to work.

We are living in the era of the network, or graph. We have learnt to apply networks in the same way that nature does, both explicitly and implicitly, and often at the same grandiose scales.

Furthermore, there’s now much hype about artificial intelligence, but wise observers can see through that. What’s more fascinating and important is the idea of augmented intelligence. That’s the idea of leveraging applied technology through the social graph to boost the natural capabilities of humankind. Think about that for a moment. That’s application of real intelligence (through participating agents like you and I), collectively putting technology to work at social levels. This is the idea currently known as social machines and graph-like technologies are essential to its success.

And how do you understand something as complex as a sociotechnical ecosystem or social machine? The answer is simple, in that you need tools based on networks to understand these complex networks. It’s kind of obvious, and that’s why I’m so passionate about the work that Ardoq is doing. They’re one of the only organizations that understand this new brave world and how to address its real-world challenges.


If we take speed of business first, that simply means IT functions must keep up, which is why we’re seeing the rise of new delivery techniques, like Agile.

Reach is much more interesting, as it firstly means that all organizations can, if they so choose, compete on the world stage from the get go. That then implies immediate global markets and associated competition. Given pressures like pay structures and disparities in standards of living around the world, that then further implies cost differentials. In other words, it may well be cheaper to shop elsewhere for IT services. That’s aggressively driving the cost of IT down and is forcing out new paradigms like cloud and containerization.


I’m rather pragmatic and old fashioned when it comes to ROI.

The first thing I ask is if the outcomes can be measured. If they can, then all is good and I simply look for a greater number coming out of the equation from when we started. If we’re in the black then that’s ROI. Nothing more, nothing less. Beyond that, discussions on ROI soon spiral out of control in my experience. Best to keep it simple.


I could give a million different answers here, but I think the easiest and best is probably that the type of evolution I mentioned earlier is allowing IT practitioners to be more creative when defining “success” and how they deliver against it. We now have a broader and deeper pallet of tools, technology, and experience at our disposal, especially in terms of scale and abstraction.


The right answer is actually in your question. We must pick bets that embrace rapid change, rather than work against it.

I always like to remind people that technology is merely a change catalyst, and not a means to an end. I try to encourage senior architects to think about “why” things are changing, not “how”. Generally, if you get the “why” right, then the “how”, “where”, “when” and “what”, tend to fall into place.

The shocking reality is that most practitioners seem to be impervious to the “why” question. Get it all down and the why is simply about networks. It’s a graph thing under the covers.


Once a system is live, then by definition it’s legacy. The industry needs to get over it and move on.

What we need to do is make sure that our live systems are scalable and extensible, and in open ways, so that we can avoided the classic traps that have plagued the industry for so long. The way to do that is simply to embrace tooling that meets your future needs and is aligned with accepted architectural standards. Again, focus on why the technology brings value, then worry about the how.


You must think strategically, tactically, and operationally at the same time. Do any one in isolation and you are heading for trouble.

I often advise that modern IT architecture is like being in a street fight. If you don’t know where your next punch is coming from, you’re going to get hit.


Old school stuff really. Firstly, remember that it’s not a “them and us” thing. IT is no longer a supporting function, it’s as much a part of the business as any other functional unit.

Secondly, learn how to communicate properly. Most folks don’t understand, or want to understand, architectural schematics, test data or program code. Just state your case clearly, with passion and empathy and watch the difference that makes.

It’s often easier for IT to speak business than for business to learn IT. It’s also more fruitful this way around.


Become a Rock Star. It’s way more fun and you’ll get paid better!

No, seriously, remember that CTO is a leadership role. People will turn to you for answers and direction. Pick your style and stick to it. It’s better to be you than a pale impression of someone else.

And remember that you’ll be wrong some of the time, but best not dwell on that. It’s often easier to change the world than to change one’s self.


Sadly I’d have to score no higher than 2/10. This is simply because most organizations don’t understand the “why”. Seriously, I see lots of organizations just throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks these days. We can do better than that.

The number one piece of advice I would give is to embrace the complex web of connectivity that spreads across the modern organization and far beyond. We have moved through the era of IT systems, on through enterprise architectures and are now at the doorstep of ecosystems. Those organizations who fail to accept that the outer walls of their organization have already fallen will not succeed – period. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one that is essential to survival.

It’s all about networks today. I’ll say that again – it’s all about networks. Complex, fast moving networks that will evolve independently if you don’t try to influence. This covers every aspect of business. That’s what ecology tells us. It’s about survival of the fittest and competition for the benefit of all participants. It’s the world in which we live and sometimes reality stings.

And to take part in this game you not only have to embrace your role in the networks around you, but you need to understand the subtleties of this brave new connected world as well. It’s about graph on graph magic. It’s a world where Ardoq is an early leader.

Read more about Phil Tetlow and Ardoq Mornings Sweden

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