The impact of the internet on information technology (IT) and knowledge management systems, and the advent of ‘big data’ have radically changed how business is conducted. To operate effectively in this evolving new environment organizations are turning to Enterprise Architecture (EA) to provide a framework for the implementation of new applications and systems to manage business processes.
But are enterprise architects, coming largely as they do from an IT background, able to contribute fully to business transformation in the way they should? Research at Vlerick Business School, which suggests they are not, has led the school to launch its new Centre for Excellence in Enterprise Architecture Management.
Although many organizations acknowledge EA to be an important discipline for dealing with business transformation and strategy, unfortunately it seems that too few business leaders have taken ownership of EA. So there is much for the new centre to do.
In a recent IEDP article Andrew Campbell pointed out that “…functional skills are not enough. More critical to organization success is strategy and the way the organization’s operating model is aligned with the strategy.” This could not be more imperative than in the case of the IT function and its role in EA.
The message Vlerick’s researchers received from the organizations they surveyed was unequivocal: you cannot just take the tools, techniques and best-practices from IT architecture to create a truly viable EA. Enterprise architects may view their organization as a complex system, but should not do so just within an IT context, they need to see EA as a holistic business discipline. Vlerick argues that to do this requires a balance of opposites: discipline and creativity, rigor and pragmatism, accuracy and nuance, long-term vision and short-term results. The challenges the researchers discovered from the organizations they interviewed can be grouped into three areas:
Skills and techniques, which are often IT-driven and very formal;
Organizational fit and integration, which is sometimes lacking and puts EA on a path towards isolation;
Value and ROI, because payoff or added value is not easy to demonstrate.
To meet these challenges, Vlerick suggests organizations must evolve a more creative, pragmatic, future- and client-oriented approach, and that enterprise architects should attempt to “…morph from engineers to creative designers for the whole enterprise.”
In their case-study research a number of success stories emerged, revealing some organizations whose business executives do take up ownership of EA. They are evolving towards a different way of practicing EA. But some EA-aware organizations are still in the steep, early phases of learning. Others have reached a level where EA is established as an integral part of managing the enterprise. Out of this came a number of lessons and recommendations:
Be more flexible, pragmatic and less strict in your EA approach;
Screen and evaluate your own EA practices, so that you do not over- or under-invest in EA;
Integrate EA in existing management practices;
Let the business drive and take ownership of EA with strong IT support.
The Centre for Excellence in Enterprise Architecture Management holds its first workshop session next week, January 17th on Justifying Enterprise Architecture, with a further four sessions scheduled through the year. Organizations are invited to join at any time and become members for a three-year cycle. Following on from the workshops the centre will build a knowledge/content hub on EA with papers, cases, survey results, video-testimonials, etc. for our members.
Management programs at Vlerick School of Business