How EA is Evolving to Support a Dynamically Changing Digital Enterprise

Robert Damashek, Principal Consultant, Binary Group
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Robert Damashek, Principal Consultant, Binary Group

Enterprise Architecture (EA) emerged in the 1990's as a tool for better understanding and assessing a portfolio of fragmented IT investments. It guided these investments both towards more effective business support and implementation of common platforms, technologies and standards. Enterprise Architects first developed standardized terms and language to support an objective assessment, and then conducted deep, complex analyses to understand and document the “As-Is” and “To-Be”. Only then would they develop an enterprise-wide transition plan defining actual steps for realizing positive enterprise changes.

“CIOs can engage Enterprise Architects to help bring objectivity to an agile digital change lifecycle”

Consequently, EA efforts in large enterprises could take several years and cost upwards of $100Mn, just for analysis and planning. Though CIOs clearly need analysis to support their strategic decision making, few have either the patience to wait this long for advice on what to do, nor the infinitely deep pockets to support this kind of deep enterprise self-analysis without beneficial results in sight.  

EA and the CIO's role as a dynamic leader of digital change may have once been like oil and water, but two emerging trends are now helping to reshape EA into a relevant enabler of rapid, customer-driven digital change:  

1.  CIOs are embracing an IT lifecycle that is customer-driven, component and platform-based, and much more agile. 

2.  CIOs now need much greater visibility into the full IT lifecycle due to the pace of change, security issues, and growing financial pressures.  

EA and Agile

CIOs are increasingly grappling with the industry trend towards adopting agile methodologies and tool sets both for software development and across the full lifecycle—to include DevOps elements impacting testing, deployment and continuous operations monitoring. Applying an agile philosophy goes hand and hand with adopting a user-centered design.  

According to MIT and Deloitte, most maturing digital organizations have a Digital Strategy in place that defines the ends or outcomes, not the technical means. The latter is left to the creative energies of an agile team composed of those most impacted, supported by skilled developers. Such a team designs a little, tries a little, and hones in on the most impactful changes. Understanding that some failures are inevitable, the team keeps investments and risks small until a way forward is clear. This philosophy is rooted in “Design Thinking”, starting with empathy—a desire to really understand what will make things easier and better for those living the mission.   

CIOs can leverage the discipline and skills of skilled Enterprise Architects to get an agile team off the ground and headed in a beneficial direction. At its heart, EA is grounded in understanding where an enterprise wants to go and where it is currently, laying out a path to realizing its objectives. Furthermore, Enterprise Architects are by nature consultative, good listeners, and able to articulate the bigger picture in a way that helps guide problem solving towards solutions that benefit a broader enterprise.  

When introduced in a non-technical and non-threatening manner, EA principles can help foster thinking about the bigger picture and related areas of need, engaging the right set of stakeholders that provide funding and the top cover needed to nurture a digital change initiative. Acting as facilitator, an Enterprise Architect can help the emerging team grapple with outcomes, needed capabilities and constraints in a truly objective and unbiased manner. Given a clear sense of the target, an Enterprise Architect can help the team focus on analyzing and assessing only the related gaps in current organizations, skill sets, policies, processes, systems and technologies.  

Within a few weeks, the team can begin to agree upon and scope a change initiative, and plan a series of change increments as software epics to implement the transformation. The Enterprise Architect can then be an advisor to help guide the direction of solutions so they further enterprise goals and target architectures, such as maximizing the value of cloud, mobility or shared services. When a solution direction becomes clear, an Enterprise Architect can ensure the initiative’s planned contributions get incorporated into the CIO’s strategic plan, enterprise target architecture, and technology roadmap so that they become a shared enterprise asset.  

Assessing Meaningful Results through Enhanced Portfolio Visibility

Led by concerns about spiraling IT costs, Federal regulators passed the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, explicitly empowering Federal agency CIOs to team with CXO partners in finance, acquisition/purchasing and human capital management to enhance the visibility of IT spending across the agency. This partnering demands that Federal CIOs take a broad view of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for IT that encompasses processes, people, and services as well as underlying technologies. This same TCO scope applies equally in the private sector.  

Any comprehensive approach to EA’s role, such as the Federal Collaborative Planning Methodology illustrated in the cycle graphic below, includes tracking the progress of IT initiatives towards enterprise outcomes, intervening when necessary to help with course corrections. Enhancing portfolio and outcome visibility and performance thus presents another key opportunity to leverage EA.   

 CIOs can engage Enterprise Architects to help bring objectivity to an agile digital change lifecycle by:  

• tracking and assessing the progress of initiatives and their emerging solutions

• organizing these within a consistent, cross-cutting enterprise framework

• conducting a fair and independent analysis of any meaningful results attained, and

• promoting a culture that is both agile and outcome driven, and relies on objective performance data to guide decision making.

A Real World Example

In a recent engagement at a Federal agency, the agency CIO leveraged many of the aspects of EA described above to support an agency-wide digital transformation:

• The CIO crafted a broad-sweeping Digital Strategy for regulatory burden reduction, engaging a wide range of agency stakeholders including state and local government.

• EA was applied across regulatory and program boundaries to seek out common outcomes, focus requirements and scope a set of feasible pilots to help enhance electronic information sharing.

• Agile software development was then applied to build out these pilots, while EA guided decisions to leverage open source technologies and platforms, as well as shared data, application and security services.

• A pilot to leverage EA to enhance portfolio visibility was also defined and will shortly get underway.  

CIOs, and their CXO counterparts, now have a potent opportunity they can seize to accelerate achieving their digital transformation outcomes by leveraging both EA principles and skilled Enterprise Architects.

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