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The Role Of Enterprise Architecture in the Strategic Planning Process

by Bunny Tharpe       • September 15, 2015

Identifying and analyzing new ideas across the organization is the first step in the strategic planning process of successful organizations.

While portfolio management and the project management office (PMO) evaluate the initial idea, the enterprise architecture (EA) team evaluates ideas with top priority and compiles a business case for pursuing (or not pursuing) the idea.

The team examines whether the new idea contradicts or extends existing projects. It examines risk, time schedules, effects on corporate goals and how the changes would be constrained by the principles and controls of the organization.

It develops transition plans and suggests solution alternatives that describe the impact of the change, including estimates on cost, risk, resources, etc.

The business case is shared across the PMO, IT, portfolio management and the business teams to help them make an informed decision about whether to pursue the idea for implementation.

A review board can regularly review returned business cases and prioritize them based on a range of objective and subjective factors such as cost, financial return, strategic relevance, opinions of stakeholders and risk.

Business cases are then translated into initiatives and projects, which can be scheduled for execution.

Enterprise Architecture In The Strategic Planning Lifecycle

EA is often seen as bringing an ‘ivory tower’ perspective in the adoption of new ideas.

But, in the context of this new, integrated approach to strategic planning, the EA function becomes more integrated within the organization and more focused on clearly defined objectives.

The EA lifecycle process is based on the belief that the purpose of an EA is to focus on how to “Do the right things” and “Do things right.”

“Do The Right Things”

The EA team compiles and analyses structured information on the:

Internal capabilities of the organization, goals and long term strategies these capabilities support, and resources that support the goals and strategies.

The EA team reviews high priority initiatives against the capabilities and resources they affect. Initial analysis can be made on the impact of new initiatives on existing projects and whether they are in line with existing strategy.

Target state architectures can be built which deliver the details around each initiative. From these, solution alternatives assess costs, resource estimates and risk. The result is a well defined business case for that initiative.

In developing a business case, the EA team brings together silos of information from various resources, both internal and external, to sort out singular and overlapping ideas. Analysis helps sharpen the focus on key information and provide knowledge in a useful context.

This approach helps the PMO to make smarter decisions about allocating funding and resources to projects. The business case also gives stakeholders such as IT a voice in the process before it reaches the implementation stage.

EA’s role is to synthesize the information in such a way that it helps the organization focus on doing the right things and ensuring they are done the right way.

“Do Things Right”

The EA team also plays a long-term strategic role. An EA can hold information about past successes and reusable assets such as patterns along with a library of guiding principles agreed by the organization.

As new projects begin, a clear high-level overview of what the project will deliver along with any patterns and principles that must apply will be presented. In this manner, the EA acts in a governance role to ensure reuse of investment and standardization is maintained.

The improved control reduces risk and cost. As projects conclude, the output of the project will be assessed and reusable assets harvested into the architectural asset library. This provides a historical context for future decisions.

Types Of Enterprise Architect

Today’s EA practitioners fall into two primary roles:

  • Vanguard enterprise architect
  • Foundational enterprise architect

An innovation driver, the Vanguard enterprise architect deals with technology disruptions and enterprise connectivity, while the Foundational enterprise architect maintains enterprise technology and the systems of record.

The vanguard practitioner is emerging as a person with an ability to make and communicate business decisions that transcend digital business and technological disruptors.

Gartner predicts the number of these practitioners will grow considerably. The vanguard enterprise architect is an agile role by nature, dealing with constant innovation and change. The future of EA puts the enterprise architect in a leadership role by driving strategy based on business goals and drivers.

Deliverables for this emerging breed of enterprise architect include strategic guidance from the CxO-suite and downwards using the innovation and EA tools described in this book. The diverse skill set of this version of the enterprise architect links digital business, social connected-ness, and technology.

To build out these types of teams, organizations are looking to the millennial generation who have garnered these skills due to early exposure to technology and the digital world.

This is not to say that historical knowledge of EA practices and an understanding of modeling and IT structures is no longer valued, but skill sets need to evolve with business requirements. The new face of EA will succeed through fresh, big picture thinking combined with traditional application of models and data.

Today’s reality is that pretty much any capability the business innovates will require the technology department to figure out how to deliver it and at speed. This means an understanding of how this technology will not only impact its users, but the entire business ecosystem will be a highly valued contribution to the enterprise and the vanguard enterprise architect is very well positioned to deliver that value.

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