Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enterprise Architecture is Broken

There are so many discussions going on about what IT architecture is, and the most confused seem to be those surrounding enterprise architecture.

The IT profession has the dilemma that it is continuously inventing itself and evolving, and terminology is not standardized as a result. However, many organizations have “enterprise architecture” groups. It is also generally recognized that IT needs to be more business-centric, but seldom does one see a description of what that means. What should IT do differently? What should business do differently?

Recently I proposed an experiment to the online Google group “Enterprise Architecture Network“, as follows: ask a business architect (typically trained in the IT camp) for a model of the architecture of the business: they will likely show you a process flow diagram, showing the DATA flows. Then ask a business person for a model of the same business, and they will show you a model that captures the CASH flows.

My point was that there is a great disconnect between what IT and business each consider to be the business architecture. And I claim that an EA should be able to explain each model, and inter-relate them.

Karl Garrison of that group then responded, “I quite like Cliff’s comments - particularly that EA is about process modeling, while executives think in terms of cash flow. And that they are completely different. This is really right on the mark and explains why many executives may support EA, but don’t want EA to define their business…As a side note, when I’ve worked closely with executives to help identify and analyze acquisitions or define new organizational structures, I’ve found it very helpful to just shut up about EA since it often alienates business folks.” (Emphasis added.)

Well yes, I have found the same thing. Executives don’t see the relevance of enterprise architecture to their plans, because its tangible value has not been articulated. It doesn’t appear in the cash flow model!

In other words, for EA to be relevant to executives, it will have to appear in their models.

And to accomplish that, it will take someone who understands both IT and business well enough to link the IT models with the business models.

Is that person the enterprise architect? You tell me.

- Cliff

Slashdot Slashdot It! Digg It!


  1. Historically, Enterprise Architects have focused on driving views of processes/technology/data that are not otherwise linked at the enterprise level. Many EAs can provide context around costs, risks and other operational considerations of technology decisions and direction. While technology executives typically find impact analyses relevant, to your point, business executives are not as interested.

    Unfortunately, few EAs have gone the distance – few drive business value directly, traceably, overtly. It’s a shame, because Enterprise Architects are uniquely positioned to provide multiple views of a business (Cliff’s cash flow example being one of them), but few EAs possess the capability or inclination to provide that level of analysis. Some are waiting to be ordained as enterprise strategists before addressing business value, others just can’t pull themselves out of the technology.

    There’s no need to wait - most EAs have the access and the perspective needed to provide analysis and recommendations on end-to-end business strategy right now, AND can project likely impact of existing/proposed strategies on the enterprise. Think about it – EAs understand HR, legal and finance processes since we oversee the systems automating those processes. We understand regulatory and legal process impacts, since we manage compliance activity. We understand business process since we’ve mapped them all and spent years building systems to simplify/optimize/streamline them. We know our customer behavior since we own every major touch-point to the customer and the systems that support and track in-person interactions. We can predict sales, benefits of marketing campaigns, and impacts of external events because we own the warehouses and run the BI strategy. We know what tweaks to our supply chain will do, since we’ve owned its automation, tracking and in some cases strategy for years. We can predict the IT capability required to serve a variety of business models, and we know where the redundancy and fat lies in the business org structures (Karl’s point). We certainly understand technology impacts, down to the operational cost of a single new blade in a data center. So if EAs want to be taken seriously as business partners, why not ante up?

    Using your existing resources, do the analysis/research required to get a handle on why your business is behaving the way it is, understand the ripple effects of your business decisions on technology and your technology decisions on the business, and devise an optimal roadmap for each based on the published goals/focus as articulated last by your CEO. Do it well and provide your analysis to the CIO, and I suspect that EA will be taken very seriously from that point forward.

    Long-winded answer, Cliff - but yes, I believe the EA can be the answer, if the EAs are so inclined.

    -Angela Yochem

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. My thoughts are that the answer is less about title and more about insight and talents. As you allude to in your post, the roles and responsibilities of an enterprise architect vary widely between organizations. I've seen many cases where the focus is purely technical and the person in that role is by no means equipped to bridge the gap you are speaking to between the business and IT models of the enterprise.

    For myself personally, while my titles have varied from business analyst to enterprise solutions director, these responsibilities, to create business-driven models of how IT supports the business, laid squarely on my shoulders. I could also see some front-running CIOs taking the charge in this domain.

    Given the ambiguity of all these roles (business architect, enterprise architect, CIO, etc)I think we'd do better to focus on who within our organizations can be helping us pave this path than what their specific title should be.