Microsoft Partner
Microsoft Partner

Architectural ownership: a solution for a growing challenge


If you’re an organisation running multiple, disparate software projects, working with multiple external suppliers, how do you ensure that you have good governance in place ensuring best practice, consistency and interoperability across the board? It’s a challenge facing a growing number of enterprises, public sector bodies and NGOs. Here’s how we worked with Heathrow to develop the Architectural Owner (AO) role and the benefits it delivers.

Andrew Isenman

“There was an order of magnitude change in the cost of delivering cloud software at Heathrow by having the AO role, and we didn't realise until we started doing it and saw the costs significantly come down. If it's implemented properly and if it’s implemented with thought and with experience, then cost is one of the biggest benefits. A side benefit was that it really drove the partner ecosystem itself; it was the architects that fundamentally brought the ecosystem together.”

Andrew Isenman


The Problem

Heathrow faced a problem that confronts many large enterprises: with a range of tech suppliers working on distinct projects for different departments and budget holders across the organisation, how do you ensure consistent standards, efficient integration and effective governance that hold across a complex organisation? How do you maintain a holistic view of projects so that solutions developed for one department can be reused or adapted cost-effectively for different challenges, rather than repeatedly commissioning from scratch? Having made a commitment to go all-in with cloud, how do you put together agile development teams that work well together and in the interests of the wider business?
Ultimately, how do you make sure you retain the right level of control?


“We realised that we needed to work with companies that had very specific skills around development; the quality of the development that was being done was going to be key to our success…it was really about understanding how we could find the talent that was able to deliver what we needed to deliver as technology development accelerated, but also find partners that could work with us in an enterprise environment,” explains Andy Isenman, Heathrow’s Head of Cloud and Data.

The Architectural Owner role: How it works and the benefits

With a background of delivering successful projects and strategic consultancy for Heathrow since 2016, Heathrow approached Dootrix to facilitate a new role within the business: Architectural Owner. Working for Heathrow, A Dootrix Architectural Owner effectively acts as mentor, regulator and reference point for all tech projects. In the role of Architectural Owner, A Principle Technical Architect or Solution Architect will work alongside project leaders and teams, both internal and external, to question, suggest, challenge, find routes around obstacles and ensure there is rigour and consistency across all the airport’s projects.

“I think the greatest example of how Dootrix works well with other suppliers is actually through the AO role, where we’re able to take architectural owners in from Dootrix and get them working client-side for us as part of an integrated team and then build a rapport with another third-party supplier who may be working in an areas which is their specialism and how the relationship between the two architecture functions grows,” says Isenman.

“The architecture owner role is primarily about bringing governance to the project,” says former AO, Mark Vallins, “but also collaborating very closely with the supplier and the technical team to support their efforts. It's about being on hand to answer questions as much as it is to question the design.”

While the individual teams are responsible for delivering their projects, the architectural owner bears responsibility for the architecture and for the success of the project.

“Ultimately we play a significant role in the technology projects that Heathrow rolls out because the teams that build them are governed by the Architectural Owner,” says Kevin Smith, Technical Director of Dootrix.

The Architectural Owner: keeping ahead of the game

The secondment nature of the Architectural Owner role was key for Heathrow in establishing how it could benefit the organisation. “Heathrow were keen that this was not an internal appointment,” explains Smith. “They wanted what Dootrix brings: that we’re up to date with the latest cloud developments, that we bring fresh eyes, that we’re fully engaged with Microsoft.”

“The AO for us is really important because it bridges that gap between software developers and governance,” explains Isenman. “We understand that there's a lot of classic solution architecture that needs to be done, which is really important to make sure that it aligns with our overall architectural direction as an organisation and how we want to see our technology estate grow. But the gap then, of course, is how do we translate that to a developer community who might be less familiar with some of the corporate activities that need to take place.

“So the AO sits right in the middle of the two teams, and what we expect from the AO’s is the ability to assimilate the knowledge that’s needed to work in an enterprise environment, someone who understand the importance of solution architecture designs, cyber assurance, protection assessments – all of those things that are needed to operate in a large organisation. But someone, also, who has a real appreciation of the development activities: what’s important to a developer, why we might have blockers, what pieces of information are missing? So they very much act as the glue.”


The evolution of the architectural role – and why Dootrix

Of course, the Architectural Owner role – and Dootrix’s appointment – didn’t come out of thin air.

The AO role developed from earlier strategic consultancy that Dootrix had undertaken for Heathrow, which established them as a trusted technology partner.

Heathrow employed Dootrix as the key expert advisor on its application development platform strategy. Dootrix worked closely with the leading innovators within Heathrow’s teams and the resulting report set out how the airport operator could reorganise its development model, making recommendations about processes, team structures and the skills needed to support and accelerate cloud development.

As a result of the report, Heathrow made a commitment to cloud, and to Azure as a platform, codifying many of the recommendations of the report by implementing a Cloud Development Model across its organisation and suppliers and initiating a significant supplier education programme.

But the commitment to cloud raised further questions, including how to ensure the organisation fostered a culture of agility, formed agile development teams, and put cloud governance and standards in place that would hold across a complex organisation that worked with multiple suppliers. With Heathrow’s Chief Architect, David Draffin, facing the perennial problem of limited bandwidth, Heathrow concluded that there was a need for an architectural owner role, and asked if Dootrix could resource it.

“Because we were involved from the early days, Dootrix ended up influencing the way Heathrow operates from a software development point of view,” says Smith. “They trusted us. We were engineers, experts and, compared to some larger consultancies, a lot more agile.”

“We were looking for really personable people in the development community who could build really quick, strong relationships within the team that we have. Dootrix provided our first architectural owner roles and we found that what Dootrix has in abundance is the ability to provide us with people who have not only deep technical knowledge and really strong cloud knowledge but all of the right skills to be really quickly integrated into a team. Furthermore, they also had the aptitude to be able to really quickly pick up the rhythms and routines of an enterprise organisation,” expands Isenman.


Egos left at the door to develop a mature supplier eco-system that delivers cost savings

“The absolute resounding experience is one where egos were left at the door. We feel that we can form a really, really strong partnership. Dootrix really appreciate our expertise within the aviation sector, and that allows us to really appreciate your expertise within software development. So that ability to work together, a common cause, that’s the key ingredient to the success of the relationship between the two companies,” summarises Iseman.

“It's definitely been a collaborative process to get these projects through the design phase and into implementation,” says Wayne McManus, a former AO with Heathrow. “The suppliers have input from Heathrow from the start, rather than somebody coming in at the end and saying, ‘You've done all that wrong’. At the most fundamental level, we’re working with Heathrow to help their suppliers win.”

The AO role has certainly proved its worth, with Heathrow realising significant cost savings. The sheer complexity of the various projects going on for the airport operator meant that coordination was essential to ensure that Heathrow’s goals and the various suppliers’ needs were all prioritised.

“In one instance there were five different third-party vendors and perhaps eight or nine separate contracts just for one product,” says McManus. “And while we were all moving towards the same goal and going through all the same gates mandated by the process, if there hadn’t been somebody there to organise that, it had the potential to have been a bit of a Wild West.”

Andrew Isenman

“What Dootrix has in abundance is the ability to provide us with people who have not only deep technical knowledge and really strong cloud knowledge but all of the right skills to be really quickly integrated into a team. Furthermore, they also had the aptitude to be able to really quickly pick up the rhythms and routines of an enterprise organisation. We found that the Dootrix developers that were being turned into AOs, as we went through this joint exercise together, were just here to be better and to deliver better for clients and Dootrix alike,”

Andrew Isenman


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