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Collaborative Enterprise Architecture Needs More Than Sharing PDFs

by Bunny Tharpe       • June 23, 2016

Collaborative enterprise architecture isn’t a new idea.

The very nature of Enterprise Architecture (EA) demands a collaborative effort. Enterprise architects are responsible for the architecture across the company, but they don’t own it. That’s down to the relevant departmental managers.

This considered, EA has long claimed to be a collaboration focused – but how collaborative is it?

Thanks to advancements in tech, the wider standard for collaboration allows even global organizations to share work, edit and comment. Because it’s all happening in-tool, it’s all logged and changes can even be represented in real time. Google’s Apps for Work has taken the enterprise by storm, and is a great example of this.

However, in the majority of cases, Enterprise Architects “collaborate” through reporting. But reporting being an avenue of collaboration shows a fundamental misunderstanding. Reporting is one-way, a dictation of what has already been done. Collaboration indicates that what has been done, has been done cooperatively. This means live input, suggestions and even changes by the relevant parties during the process.

Furthermore, not only is simply sending out reports not collaboration, the process is fundamentally flawed.

  • Changes have to be given after the fact, causing delays and other knock on effects
  • In many cases it might even be too late to make significant changes
  • Data outside of the tool is essentially ‘passive’ only, limiting its usefulness

The truly collaborative Enterprise Architecture approach

Compare this to truly collaborative EA. Feedback is given as the EA initiative develops, largely eliminating issues with delays. But with the complex and organization spanning nature of EA considered, facilitating collaboration the traditional way – through sharing office space and discussing things face-to-face – is infeasible  To be truly collaborative, Enterprise Architecture must facilitate collaboration ‘in-tool.’

Take Google’s Apps for Work suite. The mega corporation has long been a driver of technology, and an aspirational standard for software developers. Apps like Docs, Sheets and Slides have revolutionized the workplace, allowing collaboration in real time both in the office, and between different office locations.

Considering what’s expected of Enterprise Architecture and its Architects, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots. This is where Enterprise Architecture needs to be.

The benefits of truly collaborative Enterprise Architecture


Getting greater engagement and collaboration in EA from all relevant business and IT stakeholders, helps keep EA model content up-to-date. This supports faster and more reliable decision making.

Leading analysts have been expressing the importance of Agile EA for some time now, and the message hasn’t changed. Still, report-based collaboration as it’s widely executed in EA, is a barrier to such agility. In most cases it requires exporting data outside of the tool, where it can only be useful ‘passively’. It can’t be manipulated or re-worked.

This ‘half-baked’ take on collaborating essentially guarantees duplication in process. Either having to ‘regress’ and make changes after the fact, or in some cases, particularly in larger teams of architects, rework models, roadmaps and the like from the ground up, to ensure they’re aligned across the platform.

A truly collaborative approach, supported in-tool negates this, as everybody is updated in real time, and the architecture including changes to it can be commented on directly. This is also hugely beneficial going forward, as this sort of collaboration, encouraging people to comment in tool, essentially logs the thought process and reasoning behind certain changes and actions, allowing the EA department to be reviewed far more efficiently.

Enterprise Architecture Collaboration

Encouraging stakeholder buy-in

Stakeholders, decision makers, management. Traditionally, they’ve always been difficult for Enterprise Architects to get on board. The ivory tower nature of Enterprise Architecture can be a barrier for the non-expert and they may not fully realize the value.

However, with the acceleration in digital business, organizations can no longer afford to do this. Enterprise Architecture is essential for steering this acceleration, but it still needs to be more encompassing for senior figures to make the leap of faith.

True collaboration around EA helps in a number of ways. Consider the points below:

  • Trying to sync up busy calendars for meetings and the like is no longer an issue – the Enterprise Architecture can be shared with the relevant parties directly
  • It’s far easier to encourage additional investment to mature the Enterprise Architecture –  if those in charge of budget are directly involved in the Architecture, rather than passively, they’ll be easier to convince

This is a relatively new advantage to true, and in-tool collaboration, as in the past, inviting decision makers into the tool during the evaluation process required them learning how to navigate the complexities of the EA tool, or else sharing a PDF or Powerpoint presentation. However, modern EA can avoid this headache, with SaaS, web-based EA being as easy to navigate as clicking through a URL.

Decision makers can be sent directly to a point in the tool – to a diagram, roadmap, pivot table etc – via URL and submit their feedback, suggestions and/or concerns. The ideas behind leading collaborative apps are at play again here. Think ‘sharing’ in Google Drive, Docs, Sheets etc. In this case, proving the value of Enterprise Architecture goes from a lengthy process of organizing a time, exporting data etc, to a few button presses, and an automated email or notification.

And a number of other quality of life benefits…

Such as:

  • Stakeholders can contribute EA model data themselves
    • If they’ve have been given permission by the tool admin that is. This is beneficial as they might have knowledge of missing or out-dated attributes. This is better than the traditional method where stakeholders could see the EA model data but couldn’t engage or contribute
  • The ability to see in real-time when another team member or a stakeholder is viewing the same diagram, roadmap etc
    • This helps avoid any confusion in who’s working on what, and further eliminate duplication
  • Permissions – Being able to define exactly who can and cannot see data in the tool
    • Access can be restricted by customized parameters, e.g. by geography. In this case, stakeholders in the Australia office for example, can only view EA model content related to that location

As we accelerate towards a new era in digital business with the adoption of IoT and other technologies, Enterprise Architecture is going to be more in demand than ever. However, the old way to approach EA isn’t sufficient enough to support this. We need to approach EA greater emphasis on agility and collaboration.

collaborative enterprise architecture

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