Business leaders have realized that, in today’s world, with factors such as rapid advancements in technology, increasing social media presence, an ever-changing customer desire for product flexibility and eager adoption among Generation Z, technology is a key enabler in driving innovation and efficiency. Technology investments have demonstrated and continue to provide tangible and measurable outcomes to businesses – increased customer bases, revenue and compliance, and an improved employee experience, all enabling businesses to sustain a competitive advantage.
The concept of enterprise architecture (EA), and its role in technology investment and implementation decisions, has been around since the 1960s. Today, most organizations around the globe practice enterprise architecture capability in one form or another. Over the years, EA has evolved significantly, as technology has become the table stakes to achieve desired outcomes for most industries. EA practitioners have said that “EA is a journey, not a destination,” and each stage of the journey must proactively focus on a set of targeted business outcomes, both near- and long-term. Working with clients over time, we have seen that EA has seldom been effective in achieving those business outcomes in scenarios where the organization had a legacy mindset on the function of EA in organizations.
Lack of adoption across the enterprise
Enterprise architecture has always been politically and technically challenging. Often, the concept translates into a physical organizational function, designed to have dedicated architects whose sole purpose is to define architectural principles and drive compliance toward those principles. In most organizations, the EA function resides in the IT organization, driven by the CIO or CTO and focused on the technical architecture of the organization. The focus of the EA function, in this model, is on outputs that are housed in dated architecture repositories that are rarely understood outside of the technology function. In addition, EA is often considered to be a process-driven function that results in a multitude of models, diagrams and architectures developed to document the current state of the IT enterprise, rather than focusing on supporting the bottom line. However, to achieve the potential benefits of EA, an EA function needs both business and technologists to be on board, working towards a common value proposition.
For organizations to achieve the potential benefits of EA, the focus needs to be shifted to enabling business processes and value streams in which the activities are regular and repeatable, supported by EA tools and technology. Also, an EA function needs both business-oriented teams and technologists to be on board, working towards these common value propositions.
Need for increased agility across the enterprise
Agile practices have become the norm across industries due to tangible benefits realized by a more incremental and streamlined delivery model. Benefits include a faster time to market, better product quality, reduced risk, and a greater focus on end users. In fact, Agile is currently the most popular approach to project management. According to digital.ai’s 15th annual State of Agile Report, there is a significant growth in Agile adoption within software development teams– an increase from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 20211.
Agility and innovation are principles more easily adopted at the tactical levels of software and solution architecture than at the strategic levels of EA. Agile focuses on quick adoption of changes and a rapid pace of delivery with minimal documentation. The drawback, however, of rapid and repeated change is that the aim of EA to maintain documented models of business activity systems is undermined. EA historically reinforces a process-heavy approach, which puts more emphasis on planning and documentation than delivering working software. This, in turn, makes it harder to build and maintain models and long-term road maps.
Enterprise architecture as an enabler
At Protiviti, we believe that an effective EA strategy must be closely tied to the organizational strategy. This can be achieved by aligning the organizational vision and leveraging EA as one of the guiding principles in achieving that vision. This helps reinforce the importance of EA and getting buy-ins from key business stakeholders beyond the CIO and CTO offices. When seeking to establish and evolve an effective EA practice, organizations should focus on clearly defining and communicating the objectives and key results and milestones in line with their business goals. The key results should be measurable and demonstrate tangible value to the organization. To achieve this, each of the EA outputs must align with the key results and demonstrate measurable outcomes that are quantifiable.
In this rapidly changing technology landscape, enterprise architecture as a function should focus on enabling delivery teams with the guardrails to be more effective in the current technology environment, while focusing on the future needs of the organization and building the runway of the next increment of initiatives. Enterprise adoption starts with a partnership with the business, aligning technology to the business leaders and fostering capability-driven discussions about both what the organization can do now and plans to do in the future. Understanding how technology delivers on the organization’s business capabilities and driving a coordinated initiative delivery effort across business and technology can build the bridge of trust between the organization and accelerate the adoption of EA, and by proxy the technology function, as a partner.
As part of Agile delivery, architects should identify the right hooks into the agile delivery model in which they can define architecture principles up front, evaluate architecturally significant decisions and monitor the adherence to the current architecture of the organization in order to deliver effectively and within the boundaries of the organization. In parallel to the delivery of initiatives, Architects should define their own Agile delivery of new architectural capabilities on the horizon that will enable the future state and accelerate consumption and use of those capabilities as part of near-term delivery.