Enterprise architecture (EA) is supposed to solve problems, not create them. The last thing you want is for your EA project to accumulate costs that put roadblocks in the way of real change. In fact, that’s basically the opposite of what EA is supposed to be about. It is, however, more common than most EA architects would probably like to admit, as 66% of EA projects fail.
The problem is that EA is complicated — you already know this, but it’s hard to overstate. There are a lot of moving pieces, stakeholders and options. You need visibility over your IT estate, business processes and business goals, and then the ability to quickly take action before your information gets out of date. Making that a reality comes down to having the right tools, mindset and strategy.
Ultimately, avoiding EA disaster starts with understanding the challenges you're up against. Here, we’re going to look at four of the top EA issues we’ve seen derail EA projects, and solutions that will help you learn from (and avoid) these mistakes. Let’s get started.
Suggested reading: Once you're done learning about EA issues, check out our guide explaining what good EA looks like — The Definitive Enterprise Architecture Blueprint.
Coming up with plans, models, diagrams, flow charts and more is definitely a strength of enterprise architects. Failing to plan on this granular level can certainly spell disaster — although, as we’ll get to, too much planning can be a problem in and of itself. But this isn’t the planning that we’re talking about. We’re thinking about the bigger picture.
It’s critical to make sure that you’re undertaking an EA project for a reason, and to set out those goals. What’s more, those goals need to align with the strategic priorities of your business, and the ways in which your organization is changing today. That might be:
Adding business value: For example, enabling the development of new products or services, or improving how those products or services are delivered.
Improving speed and agility: For example, streamlining how different teams work together by standardizing tools, allowing for faster and more responsive decision-making.
Becoming more resilient: For example, improving agility, or minimizing exposure to unsupported applications, will reduce the impact of external stressors on your ability to function. Enterprise architecture and risk management should go hand-in-hand.
Reducing costs: For example, by rationalizing your application portfolio, you can minimize subscriptions. In terms of the bigger picture, effective EA will create more efficient workflows and reduce overall business costs (e.g. by enabling all of the above).
Fundamentally, if you fail to align your enterprise architecture plans with business goals, you won’t focus on the right things, and are likely to waste everyone’s time, your own included.
1 Why No One Understands Enterprise Architecture & Why Technology Abstractions Always Fail
Your ability to avoid this issue comes down to your understanding of business goals. That means getting input from the board and building relationships with key stakeholders across different functions within your business. Once you understand what’s needed, and where you’re going, you can select relevant goals and direct your EA project accordingly.
Remember, it’s important to not just plan around where you are today, but where you are headed. Realistically, the pace of change that’s now normal has made the idea of “five-year” or “ten-year” plans a little passé, but you still need to take into account your current trajectory and create agile plans that align with longer-term goals. Fundamentally, these are good ground rules for any digital transformation project.
Lastly, you need to make sure that you have clear governance structures for your EA project to keep it on track. That means creating architecture review boards and governance boards. However, you need to do all of this without getting bogged down in endless planning, which brings us directly to issue number two.
Given our first piece of advice, this might seem contradictory. However, you can get in just as much trouble if you take planning to the other extreme. To be meaningful, EA needs to actually affect change within your organization. Fundamentally, EA has a reputation for living in an Ivory Tower, and that’s entirely down to an all too pervasive disconnect between planning, action and the on-the-ground reality. Building org charts that you never do anything with is a time-wasting exercise.
Remember, there isn’t really an “end-state” or ideal architecture that can even be defined. Your business constantly changes. In fact, not only does this make “ultimate planning” rather pointless, it makes taking quick action critical to effective decision-making. If you’re too focused on capturing all of the information available about everything, that information will be outdated by the time you’ve finished your collection process, not to mention the potentially convoluted rationalization process you were planning on undertaking.
2 What is enterprise architecture? A framework for transformation
Start small and think incrementally. Don’t try and change everything at once, pick one area to improve and get started. When making these choices, focus on things that will have the biggest impact, or are aligned with other changes going on — e.g. a cloud migration, or an application supporting a business-critical capability coming to end-of-life. Basically, this comes back to aligning your planning with strategic business goals.
It’s also a good idea to prioritize adding to what you already have and know (e.g. building out your Microsoft toolkit) rather than reinventing the wheel. This makes it far easier to take actions quickly, while fundamentally improving your ability to collaborate across departments.
EA software is a critical part of accelerating planning and making it possible to take incremental steps without losing sight of the bigger picture. The right tool will provide real-time access to all of your business data, automate visualizations, and deploy advanced analysis tools that simplify decision-making and communication. The less time you have to spend collecting and organizing data, the quicker you can go from planning to realization — and sidestep this critical challenge that can undermine your EA goals.
Pro tip: EA frameworks are a critical part of effective planning, but they can also generate a mindset that prioritizes endless planning cycles. If you want to learn more, check out our blog about if enterprise architecture frameworks even matter.
Enterprise architecture has a reputation for saying “no”, and this can rub people the wrong way. Now, a lot of time those “noes” are warranted. After all, a central goal of EA is to rationalize application portfolios and business processes — standardizing around solutions that work — which can’t be done while allowing everyone and anyone to start developing new processes or purchasing a new app.
With that said, you need to find effective ways of communicating what you’re doing and why, and getting support from around the business. That means senior leadership and people from across departments — e.g. enterprise, security, applications, etc. This is critical for three main reasons:
Funding: If you don’t have support from the board and senior leadership, specifically, you are unlikely to secure the funding you need to see your project through.
Adoption: Rolling out your EA solution will require people from across your business to change how they work. If they don’t believe in what you’re doing, they’re much more likely to ignore you and do their own thing.
Strategy: Getting buy-in from your business generally requires getting input from across the business. This helps you understand business goals and develop the right strategy — which, as we’ve already addressed, is critically important.
EA impacts the whole business. If you don’t have support, it won’t work, people won’t listen to you, and you might not be working on the right things in the first place.
It’s important to talk to people and educate them on the benefits of what you are doing. You need to demonstrate the direct benefits of EA to those individuals, as well as be flexible in terms of your planning in order to incorporate their needs into the plan. However, most importantly, find ways to demonstrate how standardizing will improve overall business capabilities and improve long-term success.
Visualizations, models and projections, like those delivered by quality enterprise architecture tools, make communicating your plans, and their benefits, that much easier. With that said, the central lesson here is talking to people, taking on-board their advice and developing plans that actually improve their lives — rather than just setting up roadblocks that get in their way.
A central job of EA architects is to map relationships between data, applications, processes and more. However, there is a chicken and egg problem when it comes to many EA projects. Data silos make it hard to even identify what data exists. If data is hidden from you, how can you recognise that a silo exists? Particularly if trying to cut down on planning time, critical connections can get missed. Failure to identify these connections can derail your operation, ultimately creating more problems than you set out to resolve.
For example, new customer contacts might originate with your marketing department, and then be accessed by your sales teams. However, customer service teams, and even legal or logistics teams might also access that information at a later date for different reasons — each using a different tool. If you make a change to where/how that customer data is stored, you have to make sure that every one of those departments can update their access, otherwise you could disrupt critical business processes.
Success comes back to your ability to plan and understand how your applications and organization work. You need clear visibility over your business processes, technology architecture and lines of communication. Remember, it’s not just about information technology, but how your business operates as a whole.
Fundamentally, avoiding this issue comes back to planning. However, if you’re going to do that without falling into the trap of doing nothing but planning, you’ll need some support. EA software is critical to enabling this at speed. The more information you can capture quickly, the better.
Over the years, we’ve seen EA failures of all kinds at Orbus — organizations with long-term EA projects that still haven’t delivered results, all of the way through to businesses unable to get a new EA function up and running. In all cases, our ability to provide EA software was critical to helping those organizations right their wrongs and plan more effectively, all while retaining their ability to take action at speed.
iServer365 enables you to rapidly create a single-source-of-truth for all of your architecture requirements, and then quickly analyze data and communicate actions across the business — all within a flexible cloud-based platform. This helps you stay relevant, get buy-in and avoid endless planning cycles. If you want to learn more, get in touch and book your free demo of iServier365 today.