The Critical Role of Enterprise Architecture in the Modern Enterprise

Anthony Hill, Executive Director-Enterprise Architecture, Chief Technology Office, Kaiser Permanente
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Anthony Hill, Executive Director-Enterprise Architecture, Chief Technology Office, Kaiser Permanente

Leading IT has never been more challenging and business-driven than it is now. In this environment of total digitization, the centrality of the customer experience, non-IT information technology budgets larger than IT's, and the proliferation of Cloud, SaaS, apps and consumer technologies; it is harder than ever to steer organizational change to get a clear outcome and to connect business strategy to execution.

It is the goal of every IT and business leader to align IT and business strategies. However, this simple premise is harder to achieve than is apparent. Both IT and the business need to be able to see and understand alignment between IT and business strategy. They need to be able to understand the elements that create alignment and understand their contribution to that alignment.

Departments in the modern enterprise can buy and implement their own technologies, but they lack the ability to steer, integrate or align the enterprise as a whole. Therefore, they cannot fully achieve the goals of the business strategy. What the modern enterprise needs most from IT is the leadership and ability to achieve the realization of business strategy from information technology, regardless of who buys the solutions.

Enterprise Architecture (EA) and Business Architecture (BA) have come into their own as disciplines and professions that have as their mission the ability to connect strategy to execution, and define and design the future capabilities of organizations. What business and IT leaders need are guiding architectures, models of the organization’s business capabilities and strategic directions that are supported by designs and blueprints that show how all the disparate technologies, processes and functions are stitched together to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Organizations that master these disciplines are positioned to develop competitive advantages in speed, the customer experience, and efficiencies when compared to those that don't.

How does an IT leader put together the management package that results in these high-performing outcomes? EA, BA, IT investment governance and project portfolio management form a continuum of practices which, when executed properly, can profoundly influence an organization’s payback from information technology investments. These disciplines are synergistic and should be coordinated together if EA and IT and business outcomes are to be maximized.

Business Architecture

Business Architecture is the specific discipline that connects organizational strategy to its execution focus. BA has evolved from its early focus on process and operations to a focus on business capabilities, specifically the business capabilities that are needed to enable an organization’s goals and strategies. Business capabilities quantify what the business does, and can be modeled to create the future-state business expression of what the organization needs to be able to do to achieve its vision. These capabilities create the tangible glue that aligns people, processes and technologies to specific business outcomes. Business capability modeling has emerged as the primary EA methodology with strategy alignment as its goal. BA should be on every IT leader’s agenda if they seek to influence the strategy of an organization.

Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Architecture designs the enablers of business capabilities, i.e., the information, application, process and technology architectures that enable an organization’s capabilities. EA has emerged as a new professional discipline, supported by certifications, graduate degrees and rapidly growing adoption. By designing an organization’s future-state, and via supporting architectural controls and standards, EA links the business mission, strategy, and processes of an organization to its IT strategy. If strategy realization is the goal, it is important for the IT leader to position EA to focus on the future, and add value through architecture designs that are effective in guiding the business and IT to create and implement the right capabilities. EA programs that focus too much on controls without adding future-state design value tend to be unsuccessful. In order to maximize the impact and success it is critical that EA be fully engaged in the critical processes of IT investment governance and project portfolio management.

IT Investment Governance and Project Portfolio Management

Enterprise Architecture is a critical input to steer decision making towards the evolution of the future state architecture. However, IT Investment Governance and Project Portfolio Management is where the rubber meets the road in determining if the targeted business capabilities and underlying IT architectures are actually realized. It is critical to align BA and EA into the IT investment decision making processes, so the right portfolio of investment projects can be created and led to achieve the desired business outcomes.

“It is critical to align Business and Enterprise Architecture into the IT investment decision making processes so the right portfolio of investment projects can be created and led to achieve the desired business outcomes”

In order to reap the benefits of investments in EA it is imperative for IT leaders to fully integrate EA, IT investment governance, and project portfolio management into their core IT leadership practice. In fact, leading this connected set of processes and disciplines can be one of IT’s unique contributions in an era where control of technologies has left the IT domain.

IT Leadership in the Modern Era

It has been said that great leaders “illuminate the road ahead.” IT leadership is faced with different and greater challenges than ever before. Yet, IT still commands the broadest view of an enterprise at the operational level, enabling valuable insights in intra and inter-enterprise processes, information requirements, operational challenges and technology requirements.

The consumerization of technology combined with Cloud and SaaS have forever changed the dynamics and control structures of acquiring and managing technology-based solutions, and for steering technology-dependent business strategies. These decade old predictions have come true, and it is imperative that IT leadership develop the new skills and perspectives needed to influence, lead and remain relevant in this new era. Enterprise and Business Architecture have at their core the methodologies and models for tangibly connecting business strategy to execution, regardless of who “controls” the technology spend. It is time for IT leadership to “think like an architect.”

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