Some benefits of an agile approach to Enterprise Architecture

It is perhaps true to say that the effectiveness of Enterprise Architecture varies from organisation to organisation, and it would appear that the differentiating factor in the success of practices is the level of acceptance from senior management teams.  Organisations which value the contributions enterprise architecture can make in aiding business decisions where IT is a contributing factor, can reap the benefits of a joined up approach when realising institutional goals and ambitions.  Let us not forget that enterprise architecture is not just about IT, it’s about bridging the gap between the services which IT can provide with the needs of the wider organisation and the strategic direction it is taking.  When permitted to do this properly enterprise architecture can be of real benefit and could be considered a strategic differentiator.  No longer will IT do IT for IT sake, instead sound business decisions can be taken in the full knowledge that the support provided extends beyond the tin and wires of 20th century IT into a meaningful, fully-rounded service offering to support and advise the decision makers and strategists navigating the fast-paced world of digital business today.

The practice of enterprise architecture is changing, the perceived ivory towers of enterprise architects are crumbling, this can only be a good thing.  Irrespective of the placement of enterprise architecture within an organisation, either within an IT department or elsewhere, those towers have been a barrier to the adoption and ultimate success of enterprise architecture within many organisations.  The practice of enterprise architecture today is becoming more agile in its approach, knowing when good enough is achieved and being able to build from that is an important tool in the EA’s bag of tricks.  In the past it has taken too long or has cost too much for the entire baseline architecture to be captured, in taking this approach enterprise architecture has failed before it has begun because that task will never be completed, it is an ever moving beast, even with solid change control in place.  Capture just enough to understand the estate and move forward with it.  Additionally, architects should be careful not to fall into the “computer says no” trap, rejecting initiatives which are meaningful to the organisation just because it doesn’t fit the current architecture is a mistake and will only lead to curtailed practices or circumvention of policy etc.  It is really important for enterprise architects to work collaboratively across the organisation with stakeholders who have a vested interest in seeing their own part succeed and seek accommodation wherever possible, delivering to business need whilst attempting not to accrue too much architectural debt.  Architects will never ride off into the sunset after having saved the day, we should be the unsung heroes of organisational success.  As each area of your organisation improves and succeeds adding to the success of the whole, the satisfaction is knowing you have played your part and things are getting better.

Adding Value

There are many areas where enterprise architecture can add value to an organisation both inside and outside of the IT function.

Collaboration

As previously mentioned, the concept of enterprise architecture existing within ivory towers has been a hindrance to adoption and/or acceptance in many organisations.  It is probably fair to say that this perception is brought about by challenges in communication; EA’s communicating in a way they understand which is perhaps overly complicated or not presented in a way which is relevant to their stakeholders.  A fairly new approach in EA circles  would appear to be a collaborative one, rather than just producing reports and other resultant information, work hard to engage stakeholders and take them on the journey with you.  Share the experiences, enable systems and processes within the EA function which not just permits but also encourages participation by those with a vested interest in the outcomes.

Figure 1: Goal to delivery view based on collaborative interactions

Figure 1: Goal to delivery view based on collaborative interactions

This in turn helps promote a more agile and flexible approach to enterprise architecture, engaging early with stakeholders and working with them, taking their ideas on board, examining goals, drivers, requirements etc. will allow a more complete understanding of the need, a more complete architecture being captured for any given transformation and increase the speed of delivery.

Figure 2: Work package delivery roadmap in developed in conjunction with stakeholder

Figure 2: Work package delivery roadmap in developed in conjunction with stakeholder

Strategic Planning

Enterprise architecture is in an ideal position to aid their organisation with strategic planning activities.  The knowledge of how the business and elements thereof interact with each other, information and underpinning technology components is a valuable asset to any decision making body.  The inclusion of people, process, requirements, constraints and goals within the architecture enables a go to resource for information about almost everything.  The presence of business capabilities and competencies along side, documented current state and future state models allows gaps to be identified whether in technology, business process or somewhere in between; it can help with identifying process improvement and efficiency gains for the whole organisation or its sub-components, remember technology is not the answer to all problems.  Disruptive technologies also enter the fray here, constant awareness of what the next big thing is likely to be in your sector, an understanding of its likely benefits to the business and where it could fit within the architecture so as to be used to best effect can aid with planning cycles in terms of “… perhaps it would be wise to delay this initiative until this new technology is available.”  The use of roadmaps outlining business capability and goal realisation are really useful in this scenario, especially when augmented with financial data to provide a cost/benefit view for stakeholders.

In a similar vein the same knowledge can be used to inform more localised business planning processes, to help set the roadmap for individual departments and how they are to realise their own goals.

Demand and Innovation Management

A solid understanding of all aspects of an organisations architecture estate aids with the processes of demand and innovation management.  As described above this understanding needn’t be complete, just good enough to allow sensible judgements to be made as to the resource needed to facilitate inbound requests for new capabilities or services.  Constraints put in place by enterprise architecture around technology, applications and information within the system can be leveraged to see quickly if and idea is likely to fit within the environment, then further simple analysis can be performed to examine how and where it will fit and finally examination of business benefit can be layered on top to give a full picture, given a sensible understanding of your baseline architecture this is not an onerous task.  A collaborative approach can also be taken here, and indeed in my opinion at least, this would be sensible to do. Software tools exist to aid in these areas and can be leveraged to engage stakeholders and other business functions in the development of underpinning IT which may be of interest to them.

Figure 3: Innovation Management Ideation/Gamification View

Figure 3: Innovation Management Ideation/Gamification View

Software tools which allow direct integration of innovation management and enterprise architecture data are beneficial here and provide another collaborative agile edge to the practice of enterprise architecture, such as the one used here from Corso Ltd.

In summary

Modern, agile enterprise architecture techniques enable businesses to harness information sources to help the business make key decisions in and around the IT estate and connected areas.  It should no longer be a function within the business which is only understood by those practicing the dark art.  A collaborative approach will provide better results, but of course that very much depends upon individuals and individual organisations and the governance in place to enable and drive this way of doing things, and if achievable the business will realise a much better service offering from IT than in years gone by.

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