Enterprise Architecture's Dexterity Challenge
Enterprise architecture (EA) is all about creating business value. To create or demonstrate business value, we have to look at all the enterprise perspectives (i.e. organization, people, processes, customers, suppliers, partners, technology) and the business outcomes related to those perspectives. A lot of professionals in the industry relate or define EA in terms of technical architecture, solution architecture, domain architect or just architecture. This is only a subset of perspectives to truly illustrate the value of Enterprise Architecture.
EA has zero value (yes zero value); if we don’t think in terms of business outcomes, value and solve business problems. Let me illustrate one example from my past experiences. A big four organization where partners/business owners contribute IT investments to the IT organization function globally depending on their share of technology usage or business revenue. For those partners, the business priorities are all about margin creation (and their own wealth–as these partners own the portion of the company). The priority of creating margin and managing a global company is conflicting. For example, wealthier countries can invest more money in technologies vs. poor countries. If the organization is truly global, the investments should be also global (and not dependent on countries to fund equal portions or weighted portions of investments). It is like running a country and deciding how much tax should tax payers pay.
Another challenge could be managing regulations and risk. Regulation and risk inhibit innovation in an organization. IT is more skeptical about trying new technologies than business. Business leaders hear about technology ideas from their customers, trade shows and vendors than their own IT function. This is something core that EA can do to demonstrate business value (through innovation, technology insights, white papers, etc.)
For an EA organization to be truly successful in delivering business outcome and value, they must begin from understanding business strategy, business perspectives and go further to define business opportunities (and problems/issues). For example, a business strategy can be to a) grow a business, b) focus on customer first (customer centricity) c) create new business services d) retention of talent, etc. This is hypothetical business strategy for most organizations. Our EA’s need to start understanding what makes a successful business strategy and its’ implications to the organization (and not just to IT). Let me rephrase– what are the implications (i.e. on organization, on customers, on people, on processes, on technology). This is important as they are all connected.
Let’s start with customers (tying it to customer centric business strategy and imperatives–what business must do to enable the strategy)–A key question to ask would be “What could ‘wow’ the customers?” Would it be high quality of service, or low cost of products, or transparency of processes, or collaboration? The list goes on and on. EA’s need to internalize this by connecting with customers (of the company). Now this is just from a customer’s perspective. A customer may simply want to understand transparency of their services where they want to be involved in all of services lifecycle (implication digitalization of business process). We can similarly look at other perspectives like an organization, people or simply technology.
“For an EA organization to be truly successful in delivering business outcome and value, they must begin from understanding business strategy, business perspectives and go further to define business opportunities”
In many organizations, IT leadership or EA’s don’t interface enough with their customers or have limited capability to discuss business strategy/ issues with their business colleagues as foundational/basic technology within an organization doesn’t work well. The foundation/basic technology will never work well completely. The change in technology is faster than adoption of these technologies. IT organization is not a product company and just focusing on foundation/basic technology limits IT’s focus on business outcomes, values and issues.
EA’s need to realize solving business problems and enabling strategies could be best use of their time and skills besides governance to make sure the foundation/basic technology is adequate. The secret is to improve foundation/ basic technology (and not perfect) while we solve business problems (i.e. a business user of excel would sum a table through a personal calculator and not in excel) and deliver business outcome (i.e. process efficiency–time saving of ‘y’ hours yearly for ‘x’ number of employees). Here the business value can be demonstrated by identify and implementing “Business Change Management and Adoption” for basic technology skills.
So this big four company, the company was never able to move forward with their IT Strategy as the leaders failed to recognize and demonstrate the value of technology (beyond basic/foundation). It ended up creating a fractured IT organization with a lot of shadow IT spend in different geography.
In another organization, the EA’s engaged in documenting business strategy, business outcomes, business value and understanding the strategy implications (from all perspective). This resulted in creation of robust IT Strategy and EA’s were able to define business value that could be measured. This organization was successful in demonstrating business value as the EA’s understood the big picture.
IT organizations must find a balance in support foundation technology and invest time and resources in driving business outcomes and value. A lot of success can come from improving EA’s skill sets, business change management and adoption, creating and executing EA operating model (starting from defining business outcomes and value to understanding implications for different perspectives). In the end, it does boil down to business outcomes and business value.