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What’s Behind a Successful Enterprise Architecture Strategy?

by Bunny Tharpe       • October 20, 2016

The benefits of enterprise architecture (EA) are many, but organizations adopt EA to varying degrees of success.

The most successful enterprise architecture initiatives benefit from better management of cost, time and resources, improvements to processes, and an increase in inter-departmental transparency through the de-siloing of operations.

They also benefit from enhanced decision making, risk management, improved internal/operational efficiencies and an uptick in innovation.

The unsuccessful however, typically lead to financial burdens, and a reminder of the initiatives false start in the form of shelfware.

But it isn’t that hard to get right. The problem, for the most part, is that many organizations attempt to cherry pick which parts of EA methodology they want to implement, based on what they think is more important.

There’s nothing wrong in an iterative adoption of enterprise architecture, beginning at level 0 on the maturity model, and moving through the stages. In fact, for most businesses, an agile approach to enterprise architecture requires this.

However, ignoring whole parts of the methodology altogether will stifle the initiatives potential.

So in order to get it right, a great starting place, is to first consider the reasons you need enterprise architecture, then establish what you’ll need to do to achieve those results.

The Aim of Enterprise Architecture

As alluded to earlier, enterprise architecture helps remove departmental silos in the business, increasing transparency on an organization-wide level. It does this by firstly, helping create, and instill a common perspective of the current state of the architecture and wider business. It also aids in creating a common vision of the future, aligning different business arms to work towards a common goal.

Enterprise architecture also works to improve processes. It highlights areas of duplication, and overlapping technology, reducing cost, and also helps businesses be more agile in the face of disruption, by removing the hurdles a complicated, unstructured architecture can create.

This leads to an organization that can be proactive for longer – through innovation and iterative improvements to strategy – instead of reactive, and help the business become a market leader, rather than playing catch up.

It also leads to an organization with a better approach to risk management, as it helps business leaders and decision makers better evaluate their current capabilities, and the blanks they need to fill in to reach the organization’s vision, of the architecture’s future state.

It provides business leaders and decision makers with a better perspective of which risks are worth taking, by making potential return on investments (ROI) more transparent.

Additionally, enterprise architecture can work to ensure alignment between IT and business, reducing the likelihood that the two arms will work against one another.

EA can also help an organization get the most out of other initiatives. One great example, considering the current business climate, is Big Data. For Big Data, EA can help unify information from various sources, allowing business to benefit from a better connected, bigger pool of data in order to make more well informed analysis, predictions and decisions.

Enterprise Architecture in Practice

In order to achieve the results cited above, enterprise architecture should adhere to the following three best practices:

A wide perspective: Enterprise architecture should be an all inclusive view of the business. A half-baked, narrow approach to enterprise architecture will lead to misalignment, and missed opportunity.

This holistic approach is great for both the organization itself, and its stakeholders as it helps drive alignment by better connecting departments, and making it more clear where those departments’ endeavors tie into the business’s overall strategy.

Collaborative: An effective enterprise architecture is a collaborative one. As mentioned above, enterprise architecture permeates the whole business, and so the input into the initiative should reflect this. Stakeholders, C-level business leaders, and departmental management should all be actively included in the Enterprise Architecture process.

In many cases, it’s the active side of collaboration that businesses miss out on. To many EAs, collaboration goes as far as sharing results and plans in the form of PDFs. This is often down to limitations of the EA tool, making true collaboration – whereby the aforementioned parties are actually involved in the strategic planning process – logistically difficult or impossible, due to location, ease of sharing etc. However, there are enterprise architecture tools with collaboration built in mind, even allowing users to contribute to the EA remotely, so stakeholders and other interested parties can be properly included.

Outcome Focused: In some cases, a business might have implemented an enterprise architecture initiative almost perfectly, but find it still lacks the promised return. This is often a case of the architects losing sight of the business outcomes. The nature of EA – the constant revisions to strategy, the ever changing landscape of the market – means that the early stages of enterprise architecture (mapping of the architecture itself) is never technically finished.

This leads to many EAs falling into the trap of doing too much, a state dubbed “analysis paralysis”. A “Just Enough” approach to enterprise architecture helps EAs be more precise and move projects through the pipeline more quickly.

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