The origin of Enterprise Architecture (EA) was created in the late 1980’s, to overcome the challenges of information systems integration. Today there is still no formal definition, but a commonly accepted intent of EA, is to determine how an organisation can most effectively achieve its current and future objectives.
That sounds very reasonable. So what’s the problem with Enterprise Architecture?
The intent of EA is great, but EA was designed for a time where change was slow and the Internet still in its infancy. There was time to define layers of abstraction that separated business processes, data and technology. Yet increasing change and disruption leads to increasingly shorter planning horizons and decision-making cycles, which together creates a very dynamic (or turbulent!) business and operating environments, in which Enterprise Architecture struggles to remain relevant.
That’s a big claim. Can you give an example?
Yes, but let’s start with agreeing on the problem, rather than the symptom.
You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem in the first place. – Einstein
I find Eastern philosophy very suited to understand and solve these kinds of questions. It naturally simplifies a problem by looking at the root cause, rather than the symptom. The root cause and problem in this case is change itself. Paradoxically, change is accelerated by the digital disruption, meaning that one feeds another, which is why change is out of control.
Isn’t that a bit too philosophical? After all, we live in a real world.
We do, but we increasingly operate in the digital world. And because of increasing change, EA as a framework for managing change and organisational / technology alignment, falls short.
Agility is a core capability required in the digital world, and affects organisations of all sizes, and on all levels. To remain relevant in the digital world, EA needs to embrace agility at its core, not just as an add-on.
Enterprise Architecture needs to re-define its purpose and method from the new starting point of agility instead of stability.
So we throw out the baby?
I recently watched a movie where a reference was made to a 200-year old recipe, with the response maybe that is long enough (the 100 foot journey, a great movie if you haven’t seen it).
Not throwing it out, but to evolve it, and aligning it with current times. EA’s intent (WHAT it does) is equally valid, but the method (HOW it does it) needs updating and be made agile.
How do you propose we do that? And how do you define agility?
Agility comes from the combination of three core organisational capabilities:
- The ability to continuously quantify what is most important, use it to prioritise all important business activities, and agree on a roadmap forward.
- The ability to continuously align / realign the right resources to what is important.
- The ability to scale using the right platform and partner eco-system
The starting point is to understand what is most important, as this drives all other activities.
But don’t we have goals for that already?
Goals are a good example. EA accepts organisational goals as a given, and stable, so that an operating model can be defined to achieve them. Yet goals do not exist in isolation but are influenced by external factors, such as the digital disruption, which leads to increasing uncertainty, which disrupts goal-setting. Because we cannot set goals, or plan, for what we don’t know.
Where else does it fall short?
The digital world brings the potential of scalability, with the right platforms and eco-systems. These are collaborative in nature, and reciprocity is what ultimately creates the synergy that keeps them alive and prosperous. The emerging API economy is critical in this also.
This is still largely uncharted territory, and so provides a good opportunity for Enterprise Architecture to evolve into Agile Enterprise Architecture, and fill this very important future need.
But doesn’t this mean an entirely new operating model needs to be supported?
Exactly! Operating models of the past are non-agile. They were designed to support a specific business model. But today, when business models change faster and faster, operating models need to look different. Below is a digital operating model based on Eastern philosophy, designed for change and the digital disruption.
What does that mean?
It means because you experience change and disruption, the opposite, the unchangeable, must also exist. There must be something in your world that doesn’t change, for disruption to make sense.
In your universe, that is you. You change least in your universe. So there more you understand yourself, your why, what, and how, the more you understand about your purpose and your part in the disruption, and who to collaborate and co-create with. This works on both a personal and business level.
From an Enterprise Architecture perspective, purpose need to be defined in a number of principles, which are reflected through goals and differentiators, translated into capabilities, and designed into processes, connected to applications technology, while maintaining line-of-sight.
Purpose is the glue that holds an organisation together in face of increasing change and disruption.
If purpose is the glue to hold the organisation, agility is the capability to rapidly respond to change. Together, purpose and agility are two polarities to manage change. From an EA perspective, a future state based on a continuously changing strategy needs to be defined. Existing processes can then be evaluated / modified / discarded against this, and new processes can be identified.
Why do you have 3 circles in your picture if a polarity is only 2?
Because polarities create synergy, and the third is the ‘offspring’ of the polarity. In this context, a digital offspring is scalability, which is achieved through a platform (or some call an eco-system). A platform bring many advantages, such as:
- Integration with other platforms, sharing the burden of increasing change.
- Focus on what is most important and what we are best at, outsourcing what e are not good at, to those who are.
From an EA perspective, a platform forces it to widen its perspective and find integration points with the outer world.
What do you think? What is your experience managing an enterprise architecture?
He is a published author of two books on transformation. Both are available on Amazon.
- ON PURPOSE – The Path to Extraordinary Business Transformation.
- FROM ORDINARY TO EXTRAORDINARY – How to Re-Imagine Yourself and Re-Define what is Possible.
Jesper is Swedish and apologises for any Swenglish creeping into his writing.
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