Business has changed radically in the past twenty years, and many would argue that the discipline of enterprise architecture simply hasn’t kept up. Consequently, the key to building your next successful enterprise architecture practice may lie in redefining EA entirely.
As seen with so many other processes, enterprise architecture must also evolve. Project management underwent significant transformation with the agile revolution. Manufacturing saw revolutionary change with the advent of Lean. Yet our EA frameworks have ridden a more subtle trajectory of incremental improvement over the years. Perhaps it’s time for EA to leapfrog into the 21st century of fast-paced business with a radical makeover.
5 Signs Traditional EA is Dying
I rely on data to make informed decisions, and for me, the proof that traditional enterprise architecture is languishing is all around us. Below are the top five symptoms I’ve begun to observe on a fairly regular basis.
1) Business Leaders (Still) Don’t Know What EA Is
Consumers knows how great smartphones are. Businesses understand the value of modern artificial intelligence and machine learning. So why do we have to keep explaining the purpose of EA? I argue that if traditional EA was so great, everyone would know what it is by now. That’s because everyone would be aware of its inherent value.
Ironically, the very discipline that’s supposedly anchored in uniformity through standards and principles varies widely in implementation from enterprise to enterprise. An enterprise architecture practice (be it an individual or team) needs consistency in order for business leaders to “remember” how and when to engage EA. While charters and mission statements are okay, I’m a fan of having an EA elevator pitch; a phrase that’s short, memorable, and easily recitable. Examples include:
- Engage EA when a business project costs over $100K USD
- EA is the group that delivers designs for cross-functional projects
- EA is the internal consultancy for large, inter-departmental projects
Many EAs I meet have no such pitch, leaving their customers and stakeholders confused around what the role (and hence value) of EA really is.
2) There’s Never Enough Architects
Traditional EA sometimes feels a bit like the logic of old-school advertising: “spend money on advertising, or your product won’t sell!” Yet when companies do spend money on advertising and still fail to hit their numbers, the advertiser rebuttal is priceless: "you didn't spend enough on advertising!"
Claiming that EA is ineffective because it lacks resources is a slippery slope. Even a modest investment in enterprise architecture, such as hiring a consultant or one full time EA, often yields significant savings in time and money. If EA leaders ask for more resources to be effective at all, it’s likely that these leaders are not rolling up their sleeves, which in turn fails to deliver that first burst of EA value that’s vital to kickstarting a broader EA program.
3) Project Leads Side-Step EA
Traditional enterprise architecture programs often have “gates” or other various hoops for business stakeholders to jump through. Design reviews, architecture standards boards, and other various forms of bureaucracy are some of the usual suspects here.
When stakeholders attend such ceremonies, the obvious question that comes to mind is: “What’s in this for me?” When EA becomes a one-way street and fails to deliver value to all participants, individuals begin to circumvent EA at large; seeking exceptions to process or brazenly side-stepping the EA process altogether. When this happens, your EA program is in serious trouble.
4) Companies Have Stopped Hiring EAs
Take a look at any of the major employment sites of today, and you'll find the generic "Enterprise Architect" titles are becoming harder to find. For the companies that are hiring business-technology architects, the roles boast titles such as Enterprise Data Architect, Enterprise Solution Architect, or Enterprise Application Architect.
The writing on the wall here is that businesses seek results in focused areas. Just as penicillin will always be a better seller than vitamins, businesses seek to solve pain points before building pie-in-the-sky, enterprise-wide frameworks.
Since most enterprises will always have some degree of pain, generalist EA roles become viewed as a nice-to-have role that’s perpetually sidelined by architects who are focused on solving domain-specific problems.
5) Business Departments Hire Their Own Architects
Related to the prior point, companies that are hiring architects are typically hiring architects in focused areas. Additionally, these architects may report into the business unit itself. While traditional EA may report into the information technology department, groups like customer support are hiring CX architects directly. Marketing teams are hiring MarTech architects. Sales teams are hiring armies of salesforce automation architects. This isn’t “shadow IT;” it’s merely business as usual.
Departments can and should hire their own architects. After all, seeking out formal architectural structure is a good thing. However, where things go sideways is when the solution and domain architect activities across the enterprise aren’t at least loosely coordinated by a modern enterprise architecture practice.
The traditional EA mindset is to have all architects within the company report directly to the chief EA. The problem is, this doesn’t scale! A centralized, general EA practice simply cannot specialize in all enterprise business disciplines.
Departments should have the right to hire their own architects, and modern enterprise architecture practices should create flexible architecture communities that govern without the rigidity of solid lines of reporting into EA itself. This flexible balance of autonomy and governance is key for maintaining agility in highly dynamic enterprises with a constant current of re-orgs and turnover.
How EA Must Evolve
While the grim reaper may be coming for antiquated enterprise architecture practices, EA's core value proposition still remains strong. Yet to remain relevant, the means by which EA value is delivered must adapt to the radically different business environment of today. The key takeaways around revitalization of EA may lie in shortening planning timelines, refocusing EA scope, using business results as success metrics, and re-branding EA itself.
Traditional EA focuses on very long horizons; typically 2-5 years out, and that’s no longer realistic today. Unless you're in a very, very static vertical that endures very little change, forecasting that far into the future is highly impractical. While it never hurts to think about the future, modern architects employed within fast-moving companies should focus their vision on 6-18 month timelines. Any projections beyond 18 months should be considered “coarse-grained” views of the future.
EA must pivot away from what's good for all, and instead focus on what's important for key departments in the short and near-term. While it's ok to think long-term, the further out you project, the more uncertain things become.
Reshaping EA Scope
Nobody likes generic, one-size-fits-all service. Just as online shopping has become more personal, so too must EA tailor its approach to the enterprise. I assert that the more focused EA is, the higher the customer satisfaction. This is shown in the graphic below:
Traditional EA focused its efforts on department, business unit, and enterprise-wide views of the business. I argue that modern EA should be the mirror image of that! Put simply, EA should be mindful of the global enterprise footprint, but should increase focus on departmental and divisional initiatives that have immediate impact on the bottom line.
EA needs to shift focus away from what's "good for everyone" and instead focus on "what's great for the few, relevant groups of today."
This is not an either-or scenario. It’s fine to have coarse-grained views of enterprise processes such as lead-to-cash or hire-to-retire as an overarching baseline. Yet flying at such a high altitude should no longer be EA’s primary focus. Instead, it’s far better to have fine-grained views of subsets of those enterprise processes. Examples include LeadGen opportunity analysis and onboarding/offboarding automation opportunities. These views offer immediate value to actual line-level managers who are often struggling to solve real-world problems in these spaces.
Emphasis on Results
Traditional EA triumphs are often measured in terms of deliverables. Solution architectures and various artifacts (such as diagrams and business process mappings) are the typical measure of success. But such things are merely a means rather than an end result. So why not cut to the chase and draw a straight line to business results?
The quickest path to being a business partner is to stop talking about why the business isn’t approaching EA, and instead take a proactive approach of inserting EA into key business projects. One of the quickest paths to building trust is by "paying your dues" as I call it; by helping with grunt work on a project at first. By rolling up your sleeves and doing some actual work yourself, a symbiotic relationship between the business unit in question and EA forms. In other words, when EA delivers real-world business value in the form of thorough analysis of a technology vendor’s offerings, or perhaps by delivering a real-world solution for a next-generation data warehouse, this solves real business problems. In return, the EA team learns about business, team dynamics, and of course establishes a reputation as being a "doer" type organization within the company. There’s simply no better way to level-up on street credibility than this.
EA's Rebranding Campaign
If enterprise architecture is to reinvent itself, odds of success are directly related to how quickly the baggage of traditional EA can be shed. Rather than trying to change an existing image that’s either negative or poorly established, why not start anew?
The once unimaginative company name of Research in Motion eventually became the household name “Blackberry.” GMAC Financial Services sang a similar tune, renaming themselves to “Ally Financial;” a phrase that describes not only what they, but also drops subtle hints of trustworthiness. Clear Channel became "iHeartRadio," which needs no further explanation.
The phrase “enterprise architecture” is cold. It’s generic. It’s ambiguous. It’s time to think about a new name, and this is where you can let your creative mojo shine.
For enterprise architecture to remain relevant in fast-paced companies, it too needs to adapt with the times. This means creating a sharper focus on near and mid-term objectives that impact the company’s bottom line. It also means re-thinking about the structure of EA to accommodate looser-knit team formations, and finally to think about the re-marketing of EA itself.