Meaningful Enterprise Architecture for the Business and the C-Suite
The role of enterprise architects can be critical to the success of large IT projects. Without them, many digital transformation initiatives would not succeed – or at least organizations would not implement them as efficiently and effectively as they could.
However, the C-suite and the rest of the business sometimes misunderstand the role of enterprise architect (EA). This misunderstanding is often because their job descriptions are ill-defined and do not have well-established links to business objectives.
This lack of clarity can lead to EAs believing they are "doing the right thing" when spending too much time gathering information and inputting it into their EA tool. Not that this isn't a significant task. Structured enterprise architecture information is essential for organizations to make critical business decisions. However, its collection should be seen merely as a means to an end and not the end goal itself.
The real goal is to use the information to address business-centric challenges and answer questions posed by the C-suite concerning how the IT infrastructure supports the organization's strategic direction.
Let's look at some ways in which enterprise architects can better align their work with the requirements of the business and the C-suite.
How Can Enterprise Architects Support the Business?
In most cases, when the board and C-suite set a strategic objective, a significant IT project is needed to support it. These strategic initiatives could take various forms, including the desire to improve customer experience & increase satisfaction by serving them digitally or a cost-optimization program resulting in process improvements and application rationalization.
Actively contributing to an IT project that supports a key strategic objective not only contributes to improving the business but is also a perfect way for enterprise architects to demonstrate their value to the business.
Getting Buy-In from the Business
An important method for architects to demonstrate value to their business involves them ensuring that they are reflecting business requirements accurately. Simply collecting data about what they know is not enough – they need to communicate and collaborate with other stakeholders to gather information about current application usage, suitability of the applications to support the business, future projects that need IT support and a whole lot more. In addition, EAs need to publish relevant information to non-IT employees so they can make meaningful decisions.
Without the right tools and processes in place, gathering and publishing information can be difficult, manual and time-consuming. Most employees in the business do not have time to learn a tool to simply inform IT about their thoughts on different applications or to get data to make decisions. Therefore, to successfully survey & get meaningful responses from employees or publish reports, EAs need to use tools that non-IT employees are familiar with which can integrate with the EA tool. These tools could include Teams, SharePoint, Power BI, Confluence, Jira and ServiceNow.
These tools working together with EA tools allow architects to create and maintain a single-source-of-truth of their enterprise architecture.
Supporting Future Business
Once enterprise architects have input all the necessary information about their EA and have gathered data from business users, they are in a solid position to understand where they are today. They can use this starting point to determine which key elements they want to move forward.
These road-mapping exercises could, for example, help two businesses that are merging to determine which applications they should keep based on factors such as business & technical fit, the vendor lifecycle and ongoing costs. In addition to application rationalization, companies could use EA information to help establish where they could modernize existing technologies. These activities would be over-and-above those resulting from the merger.
How Can Enterprise Architects Support the C-Suite?
In addition to supporting the business, enterprise architecture teams must provide relevant information to the C-suite to make timely and accurate decisions. Supporting the C-Suite is not only clearly beneficial to executives as they can make better-informed decisions, but it also gives greater visibility to the EA team and demonstrates how they add value to the wider corporate objectives.
However, to support the C-suite in their decision-making, architects need to provide real insights and not just vague data that leaves executives to come to their own conclusions. Executives do not have the time and may not have the necessary insights into the specifics of the IT architecture to draw meaningful conclusions from IT-centric dashboards.
Enterprise Architects need to think about the questions and challenges that the C-suite face and be ready with answers to questions like:
"I've got spiraling technology costs – what actions show we take to address them? What processes should we put in place to prevent it from happening in the future?"
"Where are the security and compliance risks within my company and what is the most cost-effective and efficient way to mitigate them? What will the impact be of taking or not taking these actions?"
In other words, EAs need to think beyond simply providing executives with basic information such as counts of applications and the number of users for a business capability. Instead, they need to provide insights so that they can quickly assess positive and negative impacts to the business and determine the most appropriate course of action.
Armed with this level of information, executives can address challenges such as migrations to the cloud, mergers & acquisitions and tackling technical debt.
In summary, enterprise architects have access to a lot of in-depth information that can be used to model scenarios and drive high-quality decision-making. However, while it is nice to have a rich, well-developed enterprise architecture repository with well-governed information, the entire exercise of collecting, correlating, managing and updating the data is meaningless if architects do not use it to create value within the business.
Enterprise Architects should try to add significant value to the company by aligning themselves to strategic business projects such as cost-saving exercises, cloud migrations or M&A activity.