Is your company on a planned trajectory for growth, or are your business units pulling you along for the ride?
The Pitfalls of Unplanned Technology Growth
An enterprise is a lot like a garden. Different applications represent the various vegetation, and data represents the rich soil on which everything depends. There are also those pesky gophers and other vermin (hackers) who constantly threaten your precious plot. And of course everyone is looking to you to wear the landscaper hat; voluntarily or not.
Gardeners must be mindful of how plants cohabitate together. Seasoned gardeners know that planting turnips near potatoes (two plants with extensive root systems) will eventually entangle each other in a subterranean battle to mutual demise. Likewise, two nutrient-hungry plants will likely compete for resources rather than compliment each other. The same type of negative competition may occur when an enterprise plants numerous CRM systems, or when several different financial systems of record contend for resources. Some additional telltale signs that your previous enterprise landscaper had been asleep on the job include:
- A redundant sprawl of business applications
- Disconnected data among cloud applications
- Numerous departmental analytics teams
- Major data quality issues
- Poor cross-functional visibility into current business processes
Maturing Your Macro Architecture
As organizations start to mature, they'll often take a reactive stance by tackling the biggest fires first. This usually comes in the form of building a first-pass roadmap for key systems such as CRM, ERP, and so on. Managing groupings of systems (usually by capability area) is a great start. However, organizations often fall short when determining how these larger groupings of key systems should interact with each other. In other words, how does CRM (and all of its satellite systems) feed the financial module of ERP? Which CRM system is the source of truth for business accounts? If the accounting department edits an invoice in Netsuite, will the sales deal desk be notified within Salesforce.com? Without a roadmap for the enterprise itself, you could be driving in circles.
Why the Enterprise Needs a Roadmap
Building a roadmap for the enterprise itself is effectively what enterprise architecture achieves.
Enterprise architecture is the art and science of methodically mapping out how are these large, extremely complex enterprise components work in unison. Having a roadmap for a major application (like Salesforce) is great, but having a roadmap for your entire enterprise is even better. Operating without an enterprise roadmap is like driving around without GPS. You'll eventually get to your destination, but only after having being lost several times and asking multiple people (i.e. expensive consultants) for directions that vary greatly depending on who you ask. This is especially true when consultants are resellers of a particular technology, which effectively means they are motivated to route you to their location rather than the destination best suited to your enterprise.
Enterprise Architecture as Your Corporate Compass
Knowing where you're going is common sense. Yet it's not easy to plot a predictable corporate trajectory when departments are reorganizing, new products are being introduced, and applications pop-in and out like champagne corks at a lively wedding. Similar to GPS, enterprise architecture is a modern navigational aid. Also like GPS, enterprise architecture is not perfect and is not to be followed blindly. Nonetheless, enterprise architecture is infinitely better than "winging it" and allowing your organization to sprawl in organic, haphazard directions.
Enterprise architecture starts by plotting your current coordinates. This only makes sense given it's difficult to know where you're going if you don't know where you are currently located. There are many examples of enterprise architecture artifacts that demonstrate current location, from business canvases that intuitively convey how a company operates on a single page, to application portfolios which provide instant visibility into enterprise applications and the functionality (and often redundancy) they lend. Surprisingly, such artifacts are relatively inexpensive to produce and may be quickly delivered after just a few business interviews.
The aforementioned enterprise architecture artifacts deliver cross-functional situational awareness, which is integral information when making strategic organizational decisions. In a way, enterprise architecture is a decision support system that sheds light on crucial criteria needed for key decision makers.
Finally, the beauty of enterprise architecture is that it is tailored for each organization. For startups, it’s going to be lean-and-mean; that means focusing only on value-add activities required to further the bottom line. For larger and more mature organizations, EA typically scales out to provide additional benefits such as operational risk management and enterprise performance management.
Composing a plan for how all of your major business plans, systems, and data coalesce is what an enterprise roadmap is. Delivering this roadmap is achieved through enterprise architecture. Fortunately enterprise architecture is a low-cost, high-yield investment. It solves immediate pain points while providing long-term strategy.