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Three ways to ensure your organisation has a strong enterprise architecture function

Peter nørregaard | version2 | 15 march 2016

Read the full article in Danish

How can your organisation improve its enterprise architecture (EA) function? There is plenty of advice out there - ranging from the good, create a compelling strategic long-term vision, to the bad, begin with a good EA repository, and to the ugly, assess the current situation from top-to-bottom and end-to-end. Applied with focus on the what rather on the how, these approaches may ultimately lead to an early death of the EA function. 

Therefore, based on the conversations I have with successful clients, the Danish IT Society’s EA network and the Danish IT Society’s council for Business & IT Alignment, I suggest focusing on improving how the EA function operates.

Get the right leader

The right leader with a tolerable process creates better results than a tolerable leader with the right process. The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) has a very long list of competencies an EA manager should have but very few people will master them all. Provided that the candidate already has competent knowledge of the business and IT, the most important attributes probably are the generic ones – leadership, teamworker, strong oral and written communication, logical analysis, stakeholder management and risk management.

These are all typical leader characteristics and not something commonly considered as important for architects. In my experience, I have seen architects forget to develop these traits on their way to the top. That is why I think they are important to emphasise here. It is not always practical to put a new leader in charge of the EA function – especially if you are currently in that role. Instead, challenge yourself on how you can develop your leadership skills by adhering to the following principles.

Generate value

This is a very simple piece of advice, but one that is hard to follow. The EA function does not generate value to the bottom line but rather generates immaterial assets which are inherently difficult to measure. Robert Kaplan, the founder of activity-based costing and a balanced scorecard, has argued that intangible assets seldom have a direct impact on financial outcomes such as increased revenues, lowered costs and higher profits. But improvements in intangible assets do affect financial outcomes through chains of cause-and-effect relationships.

‘Perception is reality’ as they say in the advertising industry. You must convince the stakeholders that EA generates value and use the resources you can. It might sound a bit Machiavellian, but success as a player on the top floor is often about presenting your results as successes.

The trick is how to do it. You could possibly argue that literature and research shows that investments in EA can make the organisation’s execution of strategies more efficient and effective. Another argument is that EA adds new business capabilities. That is probably not enough. To support your case, use anecdotes and storytelling in your communication strategy. We know that anecdotes stick better than data so use them whenever possible.

Align EA with existing priorities and processes

To create value with EA, the ambition of the function must be adapted to suit those of the organisation. This is clearly stated on the introductory pages of any EA framework, but let’s look at how you can align EA with existing priorities and processes.

Align with existing strategies. Business strategies and IT strategies are obvious starting points, but also consider more humble strategies such as a channel strategy. Strategies show the important priorities in the organisation so positioning EA as an aid to executing strategies, vision or goals is vital to your EA succeeding.

Align with the programme and IT portfolio management. Programme and IT portfolio management is complex and demanding. Especially when delays occur and replanning is required. EA can provide the overview, across projects, of business processes, IT systems and integrations. EA can contribute in creating a much needed overview of the output produced and its effects. To-be architecture and transition architectures are two good TOGAF concepts that ensure the programme and IT portfolio management are successful.

Finally, let us not forget the budget process and the project management process. When the EA function is assigned a goal, eg. the transition of 80% of the enterprise’s IT to the cloud by 2020, to be reached through various different projects, it becomes necessary for EA to be involved in the budget and project management processes. 

The three principles above can help the EA function with what to do to be successful. However, I have seen very different approaches to how the EA function works. Below are four rules that, if adhered to, will increase the likelihood of success.

Put communication over information

Information is an important raw material that allows the EA work, but information needs to be communicated and brought into play before EA provides any value.

Put people over processes

When it appears that a project’s architecture design document will fail an upcoming architecture review, you should engage with the project and help to complete the document. As trivial as it sounds, relations will improve when providing help.

Put processes over systems

This rule is a response to the fact that enterprise architects and IT professionals, in general, tend to be too system-centric in their approach to architecture. By focusing on the processes, which the IT systems support rather than the systems alone, the EA function becomes a step closer to generating value.

Apply a grain of salt

When I find myself giving advice, a story about a famous Russian conductor comes to mind. A journalist asked what the key to his success was and he replied: “Restraint!” Across Russia, conductors began conducting with restraint – resulting in boring performances. The conductor’s starting point was passion and temperament which with a bit of restraint became perfection.

A note: The target audience for this blog is enterprise and IT architects with a technical background striving to increase their influence and utilise their skills within the area of EA. To succeed with EA you need to take into account the principles and rules described above to help you on your way.

Peter Nørregaard is an enterprise architecture expert at PA Consulting Group

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