How Enterprise Architecture Underpins Strategic Planning
Strategy essentially describes an organization’s means to an end. Good strategy requires a healthy understanding of the end goal before the methods to reach it are hashed out, and much of this understanding lends itself to “Strategic Planning.”
In short, strategic planning refers to the defining of strategy, goals and direction, but it also expands to the allocation of the resources needed to meet said targets.
So where does Enterprise Architecture come in?
In defining Enterprise Architecture (EA), leading business analysts, Gartner, have this to say: “Enterprise Architecture is a strategic planning process that translates an enterprise’s business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change.
EA teams work with stakeholders in IT and the business at large to define a future-state vision of the company. They consider future requirements, principles and models, and then compare this to the current-state of the company, identifying gaps and using these gaps as insights to influence plans going forward.
Therefore, we can see Enterprise Architecture as the bridge between defining a strategy, and its implementation.
One of the benefits of Enterprise Architecture in strategy implementation is transparency. How well strategy is communicated is an essential component of getting it right. Oftentimes, those formulating a strategy and those implement it are different people, in different departments, with different expertise. A common problem, as departments in organizations often work in ‘silos’ – parts of a larger whole working in separation to one another. This disparity is a hotbed for disconnections in data and ideas, and in turn, limited (or none at all) success in implementing strategy.
Well integrated collaboration support in Enterprise Architecture serves to align the relevant parties by keeping everyone up to date. It also benefits the business by applying a consensually agreed upon, and stable framework in which all parties can build on efficiently.
The figure above demonstrates EA’s place at the heart of strategy and implementation. Enterprise Architecture intercepts the various steps in planning and delivery. It provides analysis to highlight the more critical areas of attention, highlighting which projects should be prioritized. Additionally, EA also serves to align the various stages involved in delivery, through well structured governance of the architecture at large.
Strategic Planning and Business Outcomes
Gartner have often spoken about business outcome driven EA. The mantra is an attempt to shed some of the baggage in how Enterprise Architecture is conveyed to those outside the discipline.
EA has historically struggled with its perception as an ‘ivory tower’ technology discipline. Therefore, a business outcome approach is beneficial as it makes the end goal and benefits to the organization more clear to management and other stakeholders.
This approach benefits heavily from the ‘just enough‘ approach to Enterprise Architecture, and focuses predominantly on what the business needs, and what the IT Organization must do to support it.
As indicated by the graphic above, strategy is at the root of this approach. Organizations must decide on their goals and direction, and then communicate this to the Enterprise Architecture team.
From here, the EA team can considering their business capabilities and map them out to the different Business Plans levels, before moving on to strategy implementation.
The Strategic Planning Timeline
The first point of call on the strategic planning timeline is to consider the corporate vision. This vision usually details things such as how the business leaders and other relevant stakeholders, think the company will differentiate itself from the competition; and the perceived value of the companies services and/or products (in the eye of the customer) compared to their competition.
Ideas pertaining to the transformation of the business are then weighted by their value in relation to the corporate vision. From here, the relevant resources needed to action such ideas are considered, and eventually compared to what the company already has.
For example, a business may decide that a better on-boarding process would help achieve its vision of being a leader in customer experience. One such way this could be achieved is through a more intuitive trialing and feedback platform. Subsequently, the business would analyze its current on-boarding process to highlight where it falls behind the newly established ideal. Transition planning would then be actioned to determine how the gap between the current process, and the ideal can be addressed.
Without Enterprise Architecture or strategic planning, these ideas are arguably only good for white board decorations. Attempts to implement the new strategy will likely result in a number of false starts, or even failure to get off the ground at all as essential considerations are overlooked, plans are rushed into action and the various organizational silos all pull in different directions.
With Enterprise Architecture, however, ideas can graduate from the whiteboard, become almost tangible targets that departments can envision and work towards. With everybody on the same page and pulling in the same direction, not to mention the decreased likelihood of unwelcome surprises upon implementation, the whole process becomes a lot more manageable.