Digital Directions: Tiers Without Fears
Standards-based technologies. All three layers should adhere to industry standards, rather than a proprietary approach. For example, it is far preferable to manage fielded data in an SQL-based database as opposed to a proprietary format.
Why It's Important
How useful is this to anyone outside of a technical development team? Plenty:
Understanding current state. Many publishing organizations already have a plethora of digital assets, applications and services that they have picked up over the course of the last decade or two. The three-tier model is a significantly useful tool in mapping and understanding current systems and assets.
Defining the publishing platform's evolutionary path. Digital platforms should follow an evolutionary path, in which modules are implemented and replaced over time. This is far preferable to the "big bang" model of system deployment in which a big, expensive, monolithic system is rolled out overnight. The three-tier model provides a structure for planning such an evolutionary path.
Vendor evaluation. Many organizations have recognized that a digital publishing platform will involve several technologies and services providers. The three-tier model is useful in evaluating vendors, by mapping their offerings against the layers of the cake. Note that a vendor may well provide multiple layers of the cake. However, if the vendor does not adhere to the practice of modularity of layers—if you can't replace one layer at a time—then your ability to evolve your platform is significantly compromised: You are going to be stuck with that one vendor.
The three-tier architecture not only is useful for systems architects; it also is useful for business planners. Its use as a business-planning tool has an additional benefit: It allows the technical and nontechnical teams to speak the same language. Digital transformation of publishing organizations is greatly facilitated by the use of common terms and concepts across departmental boundaries.