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How Enterprise Architects Close the Gap between Technology and Business

A 2016 survey by Innotas revealed that 55 percent of all IT projects fail. In 2013, the same research showed almost identical results. The survey revealed the main problem – half of the respondents admitted to focusing on delivering the project on time rather than deriving business value from these IT initiatives.

The IT professionals are not the ones to blame. The problem of not being able to align business goals with IT goals has  influenced many of these failures.

Here are three examples using gardening that illustrate the importance of the creation of strong relationships between a company’s technical developers and its business managers.

When you have a garden, you can abandon it and let it grow on its own. Vines and bushy plants will take over your backyard and soon these disruptors will start dictating the rules. You also might tend your garden yourself, dedicate time and money to learn about plants, spending weekends to fertilize the soil and get rid of weeds. While this approach is definitely better than the first one, you’re still at the back of the expert pack. Of course, you can decide to hire a professional gardener, someone who can choose low-maintenance plants for you, give you personalized advice, and show up once a week to look after your garden.

Typically, an organization’s architecture forms chaotically. Changes are applied sporadically and on different levels, systems lack evaluation and distinct connection to one another. After running into a problem, managers decide to apply their own skills to improve the situation. This is the environment most businesses operate in. It’s not necessarily bad. Companies can and do succeed by experimenting and implementing intuitive solutions. Occasionally – in half the cases, as the Innotas survey suggests – they fail.

That’s when enterprise architects – the professional gardeners – come to the rescue.

What Defines an Enterprise Architect?

Everything has an architecture. If we look at the dictionary definition, architecture is “a practice of designing and building structures, a product of construction”. In broader terms, architecture means a systematically assembled combination of elements and their behavior. So, as a discipline enterprise architecture is the process of describing the structure of an organization and implementing changes to improve it.

Consequently, an enterprise architect (EA) is a person who aligns a company’s business strategy and plans with technology that will support the strategy. An EA makes sure that your business goals are in alignment with its technical aspects. These experts are able to talk to both technical experts and stakeholders, applying a holistic approach to create a solution that will help an organization achieve its goals.

Enterprise architects oversee:

  • Describing a company’s current architecture by investigating its components and how they’re organized within a system
  • Analyzing a company’s objective and assessing its opportunities, risks, benefits, and costs
  • Proposing technical solutions to help decision makers apply relevant changes
  • Aligning a company’s business and technical strategies
  • Creating a strategic plan describing the gaps between a company’s current and target state
  • Leveraging enterprise architecture frameworks to make systematic decisions
  • Bringing a “big picture” perspective to the adoption of new ideas

Ross Smith, Chief Architect at PITSS, shared with us three characteristics of organizations that need an EA:

  1. They are large enough to have independent business units.
  2. The business units have overlapping technology needs.
  3. The organization is looking to its tech infrastructure as a growth opportunity.

“An EA is best positioned to bridge the communication divided across semi-autonomous business units and understands the role of technology in business well enough to uncover and communicate the overlooked opportunities that technology presents. Without these compelling concerns of size and growth specifically through digital technology, an EA will not be recognized as essential.” says Ross.

Returning to our gardening metaphor, an enterprise architect is not someone who will water your plants. It’s a landscape designer and a botanist who makes sure that your flourishing back yard – your business goals – will be achieved according to a plan and by leveraging custom tools and methods.

How an Enterprise Architect Operates

An enterprise architect helps organizations plan their future and control how effectively the changes are implemented. As a result, a company is easier to operate, its connections and relationships are systematic, and the innovative projects bring obvious value. Here’s how an enterprise architect achieves these things.

1. Assessing a company’s current architecture. Before an architect starts any transformative endeavor he or she needs to first evaluate an organization’s current state, its existing systems, and how the connections between functional divisions are built. An EA will take note of your strategy’s strengths, weaknesses, and inconsistencies to decide which elements should be completely updated and which can be just slightly reconstructed. Using this information, an architect will then suggest a goal model for your company, its revised strategy.

2. Implementing transitional architecture. The description of a company’s current and goal states is one of the main steps towards a relevant enterprise architecture. An architect will construct a step-by-step approach, moving from the present to the future, and illustrate the midway landmarks your team needs to achieve. This practice is often called “transitional architecture.” Also, the visualization of intermediate steps and the gaps that need to be filled can be shared within a company to help maintain a common vision.

3. Suggesting valuable technical changes. One of the main EA roles includes interpreting technical changes in a business perspective and transforming them into clear business value. An architect can demonstrate to decision makers how old systems expend the budget or the ways technical initiatives boost production and decrease developmental costs. An EA will make sure that technical changes go hand in hand with enterprise growth and promote the roles of development and deployment teams to intersect with business functions.

4. Introducing common practices. Different teams should be able to effectively collaborate on different aspects of architectural change. The common principles, tools, and language create transparency and eliminate restrictions. An enterprise architect will introduce a customized set of widely recognized EA frameworks that can be adopted in small steps and then incrementally implemented on an enterprise-wide level. Some of these frameworks are TOGAF and its ongoing Architecture Development Method, the Zachman’s framework with a matrix of questions and perspectives, and SABSA which analyzes security architecture development.

4 Cases for Employing an Enterprise Architect

While many businesses manage without enterprise architects and operate within a naturally established architecture, the success of your innovation can depend on how you maximize the use of technology to help your business units. Here are four cases in which engaging an enterprise architect will likely be beneficial for your organization.

You’re modernizing your legacy systems

When your systems are outdated and can’t keep up with your growing business, you start thinking about modernization. Just like any transformative action your company takes, such changes require an integrated overview of your current elements and a step-by-step plan to adjustment and improvement. This includes the assessment of the current architecture with the help of standardized tools and deliberate choice of the modernization method and technological stack. And while the new systems are being implemented, the leader of the project should provide ongoing support and regulations. Having the combination of all required skills, enterprise architects are just the people for this job.

You’re adopting the DevOps practice

According to ECS Digital, 67 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) adopted the DevOps approach. This increasingly popular discipline entails collaboration between traditionally siloed teams – developers and IT operations staff – which results in decreased time to market. To successfully implement DevOps, your cross-disciplined teams need to maintain a shared mindset, which is more difficult than embracing new technical principles. That’s why only 31 percent of the surveyed companies managed to adopt DevOps across the entire organization. Enterprise architects will ensure that, while accelerating the delivery process, the teams stay attuned to the main business goals, and secure the DevOps mindset in a company’s culture. Moreover, the enterprise architecture frameworks allow for the iterative process of DevOps adoption – from small teams to an entire organization.

You’re outsourcing

IT outsourcing has become a common practice due to its lower costs and the way it enables enterprises to focus on business functions rather than engineering. However, the success of your outsourcing relationships is linked to how effectively you can interweave outsourcing with your enterprise architecture. While you transport your technical challenges to a vendor, you still need to make sure that new divisions are relevant to your architecture. Enterprise architects will manage these relationships.

You’re releasing a new product

To make a decision, every new idea and solution requires an evaluated description of its risks, benefits, requirements, and constraints. By considering your company’s capabilities, an enterprise architect can decide which technology to invest in – a problem that can’t be solved by engineers or stakeholders only. It takes a person with broad technical and strategic skills to sanction or reject new ideas and suggest methods and tools for successful delivery.

Drawing a Line from A to B

Transformative changes can’t happen without taking action, but only precise planning and alignment of all of your processes help close the gap between the present and the future. When different components of an enterprise don’t share the same vision, they can’t put an organization’s resources to optimal use and clearly see their perspectives.

Enterprise architecture is a strategic rather than technical effort and is core to organizations handling the complexities of change. While the absence of an EA in a company isn’t critical to its growth, it broadens the breach between strategy and execution that can be eliminated by analysis and design.

One question remains – how do you find that person? Since the position requires a broad range of skills and an expertise in your particular business, you should think more globally and conduct a wide geographic search. Look for people with experience in a variety of IT projects and technology consultants in your business vertical.

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