Thursday, November 6, 2014

Enterprise Architecture Practice - Capabilities

Enterprise Architecture (EA) function now have an unprecedented chance to lead the way in identifying new business opportunities, thanks to the innovations in the web and mobile technologies and businesses realizing the business advantages of such advancements. EA serves a strategic business purpose by enabling business capabilities to be implemented via IT architecture and related IT delivery processes.

Though Enterprise Architecture is not a very new practice, the maturity level is still not the optimal in most enterprises. Seeing the benefits that the EA function can bring to the table,  many enterprises are attempting to setup the EA practice within, but are in fact struggling to get it right. EA not just science and not just art as well. It is a combination of art and science. Successful EA practice has been found to being able to demonstrate certain key capabilities. In the EA world, there is no such thing as 'one size fits all', as it is highly dependent on the enterprises' business, its objectives, goals, strategies and priorities, which is never the same across enterprises.

While the objective of this blog is to discuss about the key capabilities that the EA function should be able to demonstrate, it is also good to highlight out what EA is not.

What EA is not:
  • EA is NOT a project
  • EA is NOT about review 
  • EA is NOT a one-time activity
  • EA is NOT for IT
  • EA is NOT a strategy
  • EA is NOT all about cost-reduction
  • EA is NOT one-man show

A successful EA practice should consider practicing and demonstrating the following key capabilities:

Staying Relevant

As we all know, it is highly unlikely that an architectural solution that works well for one enterprise will work well for another in the same industry domain. This is because each enterprise has its own vision and mission to win over the competition and constantly wish to stand alone in the crowd in certain key areas. Staying relevant helps the EA function in aligning strategic and operational views of business with the underlying technology and service delivery processes. For this reason, the EA practice should strive to understand the vision, mission and strategies of the enterprise and continue to stay aligned to the same, so that the architectural solutions continue to stay relevant for the enterprise.

Technology & Architecture Vision

No doubt that modern enterprise largely depend on technology and in certain cases, the business in fact is driven by technology. Irrespective of whether technology drives the business or not, technology is a key enabler of the business. So, it becomes essential to have a technology vision, which is aligned to the business vision. It is needless to mention that having a vision will not be just enough, and the same shall be driven down to the operational processes and practices. Every architecture and governance process should derive the technology vision as envisaged and so the solutions continue to stay relevant and yield the intended results. The technology vision and strategy shall be such that leverages both new tech innovations and existing capabilities that will enable the business to achieve the target state. 

The goal of the architecture vision is to articulate how the proposed architecture will enable the business goals, respond to the strategic drivers, conform to the principles, and addresses the stakeholder concerns and objectives.

Transforming and automating operations

While leveraging the existing knowledge and resources is key in saving costs, it is important for the EA function to stay on top of the technology and business innovations and explore opportunities of leveraging the same so that the enterprise stays on course of achieving its target mission and vision. This is where the EA teams should consider leveraging Agile approaches, so that the target reference architecture also stays dynamic and relevant. The EA framework shall have an evolution cycle, so as to improve the framework itself and similarly the architecture solutions should also be continually evolved based on feedback and availability of enabling technologies and innovations.

It is needless to mention here that the EA function shall equally consider the 'Business As Usual' as any transformational initiative should not derail the enterprise from achieving its intended mission and vision.

Being the Change Leader

EA is all about bringing change for the good. i.e. EA programs is all about driving the enterprise from its current state to the target reference state, which is nothing but identifying and driving changes to various resources at various levels, so that the target state is achieved. This is yet another key capability that come down to the old adage of building “better, faster, cheaper” systems that provide agility to change or expand capabilities, in response to ever-changing business requirements. EA function leads the planning for these new system and technology capabilities, ensuring the best solutions to the business requirements by providing blueprints and implementation road maps to the design and delivery teams. They also provide a service to the other organizational functions by ensuring compliance of these solutions at critical design and delivery milestones.

Mitigating risk

As the emphasis shifts from cleaning up the legacy of systems and technologies to better planning and governance of new IS and IT initiatives, we see a corresponding shift in the role of the EA practice. The focus shifts from driving out costs to reducing risks associated with new programs, while ensuring timely delivery of new capabilities. 

Every architectural initiatives shall be subject to a risk review and decisions shall be made based on the business value expected out of it. The changing business and regulatory conditions might also impact the solutions and at times could end up the enterprises not being able to realize the intended value out of it. This where the "Fail Fast" approach would help in making the right decisions. Periodic reviews of the change or transformational projects should be conducted with a view to ascertain whether the intended value is not impacted with the current conditions. Thus being able to manage and mitigate the risks well is a key capability that the EA practice should demonstrate.

Overseeing investments

It is natural for enterprises to look for Return on Investments (RoI), as the capital has a cost. The EA practice shall consider the cost of capital and the investment requirements for various change initiatives and work with the related other functions to ensure that the benefits are quantified so as to ensure the investments yield desired returns. In cases where the benefits are not directly quantifiable, the EA team shall identify such indirect benefits derived out of such investments and shall ascertain the monetary value in a best possible manner. 

Governing the architecture

As said earlier, EA function is not a project and it is a continuous function. EA function shall put in place necessary framework to monitor and manage the architectural activities in a constant basis. Business architects in the EA function monitor the project portfolio, while IT architects govern technology solutions, leveraging reference architectures to build the future state in alignment with strategic road maps. The governance principles shall be applied to various architecture activities with an objective to ensure the strategy alignment, risk management, measuring & monitoring, optimal resource utilization.

Integrating people, processes, and technology
Considering the innovation around the areas of web, mobile, big data powered by social media, modern enterprises are looking forward to leverage these to derive maximum business value. In this direction, to stay competitive and relevant to the customer business, most successful organizations are rapidly moving towards the system of engagement architecture supported by digital collaboration platforms and social strategies devised by EA where EA would create an effective social governance model and an overall enterprise strategy. It necessitates a pervasive social layer that spans many different system of records and departments within an organization. Discussion would also enlighten more focus on expanding social footprint by delivering consistent digital experience and utilizing social content and online communities to increase collaboration with customers and other stakeholders.