TEAC 05 : Visa EA Case Study

Greetings and Salutations,

I recently attended The Enterprise Architecture Conference 2005 held by BTELL at Star Casino in Sydney. A lot of information was covered in a short amount of time (no surprise there!) and I decided that I would enter a retrospective set of entries for each of the sessions I attended. Where allowable by copyright, I will enter as much information as possible. Otherwise, I will just provide a brief description of my impressions of the session.

VisaNet Case Study: Enterprise Architecture for the Worlds Largest Payment Network
Presented by Michael Gonella, Team Vice President, Enterprise Architecture, Visa (USA).

Michael presented an entertaining and informative case study of the Visa Global IT organisation.

Some interesting facts about Visa before we get into the crunch of the presentation:

  • They are one of the worlds largest processors of electronic payments with processing occurring in over 120 countries
  • They service over 21,000 financial institutions, 20 million merchant locations and provide over 1.3 billion Visa Cards
  • They process over 45 billion transactions annually
  • They have a peak authorisation processing of 5500 messages/sec (during last minute xmas eve shopping) with a round-trip average response time of 1.4 seconds.
  • They process over 30,000 business driven enhancements each year.
  • They have a data warehouse that has gone past a petabyte.
  • They maintain a six-nine (99.9999%) SLA with only 8 minutes of downtime globally in the last 5 years

Now, that is impressive in anyone’s language. It is no surprise then, that with these sort of drivers, that Enterprise Architecture is so important to Visa’s IT organisation (Innovant). This is especially true when you add the factors that constantly change the lay of the financial land such as Bank “mega-mergers”, privacy protection regulations (from every country), fraud protection, and an ever constant changing and emerging technologies and products. So, onto the presentation highlights.

Michael started with some history, interesting titbits and facts about Visa and Innovant (the most interesting of which I have paraphrased and summarised above) and then got straight into the Enterprise Architecture view.

Commencing with establishing the Enterprise Architecture Agenda, he implored us to remember the obvious – that the EA agenda reflects the enterprise needs.

So, we need to remember to focus on a number of guides:

  • Triage, prioritize, and deliver immediate value
  • Establish operations rather than consulting
  • Focus on communication & organizational adoption
  • Evangelize and vitalize!
  • Do a little “enterprise archaeology”

“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out”
— Dee Hock, Founder, Visa

The Architecture Framework utilised by Visa/Innovant is a 4*3 pyramidal structure (see image) that focuses on the business, information, systems and technical architectures with the focus of navigation, collaboration and communication.

So, what do the three foci mean?

Navigate. Traverse the entire spectrum of the Enterprise across all four architecture views to generate:

  • Technology Principles
  • Architecture Blueprints
  • Technology Standards
  • Design Patterns
  • Best Practices
  • Platform Guidelines
  • Systems Portfolio

Collaborate. Bring it all in the middle and work with the team members and stakeholders to produce:

  • Strategy / Alignment
  • Architecture Work Group
  • Architecture Previews
  • Architecture Reviews
  • Project Support
  • CTO Initiatives
  • Common Architectures

Communicate. This should be across the entire breadth of the Enterprise and a reiterative process. Not only should the obvious be performed (like communicating the vision, strategy, projects, etc) but also open the forums for feedback and innovation via information sessions like:

  • Architecture Forums
  • Emerging Technology
  • Vendor Roadmaps

It is no surprise to many that the Technology standards for Visa/Innovant includes the requirements for Broadening value, creating (and maintaining) an Enterprise taxonomy, providing high-value dialogue, ensuring management controls and improving operational processes.

Michael next beseeched us to think about the Architectural principles and metrics. Firstly, we should remember the purpose of publishing them – to provide enterprise and project guidance. However, we need to remember that the principles should be an “aspirational” vision for measuring progress and finally, that EA metrics should always be simple, show the value of EA and never be “finessed”. Lots of good advice really.

The last two points resonated with my own points of view as well. The first in relation to SOA. Michael rightly stated that the hype is out of control and that it’s time for you to take a good sniff test. After all, he stated, great architecture has always been services oriented, the challenge is not how to create an SOA but how to architect with a services orientation.

Finally, Michael entreated us to forget about the whole “it’s a journey rather than a destination” philosophy of EA. Have a destination – if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know if you are there yet? How will you know if you re succeeding? His slide spelled it out:

Some will perceive the shift …
Others will be bludgeoned by it …
More will need to be shown.

If you ever get a chance to hear Michael present, or the chance to discuss the topics one to one, I highly recommend it.


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