Digital Transformation & Agile Enterprise Architecture

by Zak Cole       • March 3, 2016

Digital transformation remains a hot topic as the convergence of new customer preferences and expectations, and the increasing number of touchpoints is driving business and technology decision-making like never before.

Rising to this challenge in the digital business world requires a laser-like focus on the customer and innovation opportunities, which means change is a necessity. Digital transformation is the crux to drive organizational, process and technology changes that help ensure the customer is more closely connected to, and better served by, the business.

Technology organizations will even begin to attribute their own revenue streams as digital business models play a much larger role in organizations of all sizes.

As such, enterprise architecture (EA) is extremely well positioned to support change and innovation initiatives, but how can EAs position themselves to influence and even lead digital transformation?

This will become increasingly relevant if analyst figures are anything to go by. IDC have forecasted that the percentage of enterprises creating advanced digital transformation initiatives will reach 50% by 2020, up from 22%. Additionally, Forrester sets out that only 27% of today’s businesses have a coherent digital strategy for how they will create customer value in the digital business world – a number which will only increase.

Enterprise Architecture For Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation can be seen as customer and market pressures driving technology and organizational change and innovation that is necessary for the business to satisfy and delight its customer base (it is quite a mouthful I admit).

Architects should view the enterprise as a complex, living system and technology-enabled transformation requires a much more agile approach than traditional EA has been able to offer in the past. Focusing more on solving business problems than on extensive documentation, and taking a data-driven approach to transformation will allow EA to drive digital transformation.

Starting out on a transformation journey pursuing increased productivity alone is not going to deliver the kind of outcomes that will delight customers and set the foundations for competitiveness and growth. Instead, focus on the business opportunities that will allow you to better serve and delight the customer base, open up new products or services to the existing base, or open up a new customer segment entirely.

There is still much work to be done to break down the silos that exist; every department or line of business has its requirements and to a certain extent their own way of working, supported by applications that are siloed, resting on infrastructure silos.

In this type of environment the world is revolving around the organization’s infrastructure. But today, digital business often starts where the customer first touches the business online or via an app. This must be the new focus and the traditional silos need to be fixed in order to truly transform for the customer.

Transformation Requires Agile Enterprise Architecture

With as many articles and posts about digital transformation and EA, you’d think there was a defined clear path to follow on the journey to becoming a digitized business. Yet we all know there’s no recipe that can guarantee digital success.

One thing is for sure however, those organizations that can establish business agility as a strategic capability will be best placed to respond to the opportunities from digital transformation. An agile business means being responsive to new opportunities, resilient to risks, and innovative in the face of transformation requirements.

There are limitations to achieving business agility through EA, though. Those being:

  • EA is often buried deep within the IT team
  • EA has a poor connection to the business organization
  • EA is too focused on producing extensive documentation rather than delivering business outcomes
  • EA sits in an ivory tower

However, thinking about agility at the meta layer helps to describe an enterprise that is inherently agile, flexible and architected for continuing change and transformation. Start to think of business agility as a meta requirement, where requirement change must be supported. Even meta processes, where process change must be supported.

The agile EA needs to be oriented towards how things change, rather than the things themselves to help build an enterprise architecture and organization that can act with agility. Architects can focus on specifying technology that is inherently flexible so that it is capable of supporting the expected change.

EAs that can architect their organization for increased business agility can position themselves to influence and even lead digital transformation agenda, by providing the decision support system to focus and deliver on the right digital strategies.


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