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Elevating and Demystifying Enterprise Architecture to Maximize Business Impact

By Cameron Ahler, Executive Director, Enterprise Architecture and Solution Delivery, Bridgestone Americas

Cameron Ahler, Executive Director, Enterprise Architecture and Solution Delivery, Bridgestone Americas

I recently attended an Enterprise Architecture (EA) conference to get a pulse for how businesses perceive their EA teams. While the keynote speakers were strategic, technologically forward-facing and business outcome focused, many attendees I interacted with shared a different reality.

When asked about their daily activities, most enterprise architects revealed their typical day consists of documenting current state designs and providing oversight for every IT project that crosses their desks. When they did have time to create future facing roadmaps, they were often met with business partners who felt this was slowing down progress of the business and adding costs. Sounds familiar? This can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be your reality. Here are a few suggestions for achieving better alignment and providing long-term value.

Stop the madness

An EA department is generally built around a strategic aspiration, but the vanguards of tomorrow are almost always dominated by the urgent needs of the day. This is impractical for teams responsible for impacting the future. How can anyone that deep in the weeds innovate and solve business problems when they are constantly being asked to provide immediate relief.

IT leaders must examine what their enterprise architects are actually accomplishing and help prioritize their time. IT leaders should provide some insulation, so they have the opportunity to flourish. Your team will thank you for it.

Create an environment that drives the right behaviors

The ideal enterprise architect is a trusted advisor who expertly balances delivering long-range technical plans with the business, while ensuring projects and ongoing operations support this plan with minimal technical debt.

This is much easier said than done, so I recommend taking a moment to align with a maturity model, or short circuit one that exists. Look to TOGAF or Gartner maturity models as a reference, or co-create a vision and ask your team what is required to start stop and continue.

"An Enterprise Architecture department is generally built around a strategic aspiration, but the vanguards of tomorrow are almost always dominated by the urgent needs of the day"

Once you have a baseline, create balanced goals and incentive structures, so the EA team is providing the right mix of strategic value and supporting quality handoffs with other teams. Quickly eliminate goals that create a moral hazard (e.g. if they are incented purely on project estimation variances, they will be inclined to babysit the speed of each of their projects daily).

Finally, and most importantly, hire the right people, foster an environment built on trust and empower them to have the autonomy to deliver on these priorities. Continue toward that vision state with a strong drive and purpose.

Speak the language of the business

It’s no wonder business partners resist bringing IT to the table. To some audiences, IT can be a highly technical and sometimes boring. One EA I met told me his leader required they use EA- based nomenclature in all conversations with IT or the business. He said that while many are familiar with key terms like Reference Architecture, adoption and partnership with the business were struggles at best.

What if you asked a restaurant server if there were any quick sandwiches available and they told you: “We’ve 86’d the meat, but I can get one of our culinary specialists to design a heat-infused gluten and cheese compendium”? How long before you decided to go to elsewhere? A better answer would have been: “We don’t have any meat, but one of our chefs can make you a grilled cheese sandwich.” An even better answer? “How much time do you have? I can tell you are hungry and in a hurry. We can make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich in the time you need.”

Understand the problem on their terms, and give them an answer they can embrace.

This may sound like you need an IT unicorn, but all it takes is finding people that have the technological chops with the passion and desire to learn the business. Give them time to observe the business in action

Get executive buy-in to make EA a way of doing business

There is always more demand for technology than one team can successfully execute, and IT can’t do it without buy-in from the business. If enterprise architects are the only ones looking out for business principles, achieving a simplified and elegant technology landscape is nothing but a Sisyphean effort. The business should think about these questions and concepts from the executive levels down to the front line, just as they do with safety, customer service or quality.

This should be easier with today’s technology, but it’s not. In this digital age, it is easy for anyone to buy software with their credit card and use it how they see fit. This doesn’t mean it is right. Big technology players have thousands of customers and have built solutions that meet standard business needs “off the shelf”; however, we’ve been conditioned to write “one little piece of code” to meet a commoditized process that’s been around for decades.

We are seeing a turning of the tides with more progressive Cloud-based platforms and migrations to DevOps models. Cloud solutions are forcing the hand when and how you receive upgrades. Should you decide to develop on these platforms, some of the more sophisticated platforms incorporate QA automation and code coverage to reduce the risk of blowing up your system on the next release. Governance of this has to be inherent to the culture of the company, not a handful of technologists.

Aligning your people, business processes and solutions around rock solid and scalable technologies will maximize business uptime, customer engagement and support the creation of new business models. An optimized and empowered EA team with principles aligned with the business will help you get there.

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