Why No Business with EA?

So there I am sitting on a panel at the Troux Worldwide Conference a couple of weeks ago, answering interesting questions with some interesting co-panelists, when a thought struck me.  “After decades of positioning EA as a discipline for business-IT alignment, why aren’t EA programs more in tune with(driven by, owned by, participation from) the business?”

I’m not just talking about myself positioning EA in this way.  Just about every definition you come across, from vendors, consultants, analysts, and practitioners alike; EA is described as being business driven, strategic in nature, and focused on the long-term future state of the enterprise.  But within most organizations I engage, EA is found to be lacking significant business drivers, business participation or even any level of credibility from business executives.

So I ask again, Why?

I think that there are a variety of reasons for this, and the exact mix of reasons are probably unique for each individual enterprise.  However, I would guess that there are a few factors that are predominant in most organizations.

  1. Lack of EA leadership within the IT organization.  I don’t mean that there are no leaders in IT.  I mean that the leadership in IT for EA (let’s face it, most EA organizations are within the IT function) isn’t doing what is necessary to form the relationships and value proposition for EA to be relevant outside EA.  They remain satisfied with a focus on IT outcomes – applications, infrastructure, standards and governance.
  2. Lack of business understanding within IT and EA leadership and practitioners.  IT leaders and EA program members must develop an understanding of the core operations, motivational forces, financial model, and strategic plans of the enterprise.
  3. Lack of translation of business understanding.  Some EA practitioners have made the initial investment in gaining essential knowledge about the business in which their enterprise competes, as well as the internal operating and financial models, and their strategic drivers.  But the next step is the critical one.  They need to create artifacts that represent that understanding in a way that communicates with senior executive leadership.
  4. Too much responsibility at the project/implementation level within IT.  Time and time again, we see very capable EA teams try to gain credibility by helping out as an added resource/technical lead/project manager; only to be given these responsibilities as a permanent part of their charter.

While there are other reasons that warrant consideration (lack of understanding/approval by the CIO, wrong personnel involved, economic downturn); the above represent the factors that demand focused effort to overcome.

What can we do to change this?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read books and industry literature of a non-technical nature about the industry in which your company competes.
  • Experiment with different types of high level models that represent your understanding of your business’ current and potential future state(s).  There are no commonly accepted formats and nomenclature for these types of models, as they are dependent on the executives you are trying to communicate with.  And do not be afraid to have different models to communicate the same thing to different audiences.
  • Understand the financial model of your enterprise and how it impacts IT’s value delivery.  You must develop a contact in the CFO office.
  • Resist project level responsibilities for your EA team.  If you have to accept them for a short time, develop a plan with your superiors to instill architecture skills into the project delivery staff.

1 thought on “Why No Business with EA?”

  1. Planning; proactively addressing potential problems before they occur, develop planning materials and structure in places where it is needed . . . Although this is done at many levels across the organization by many different roles, the architect is specifically trained on how to develop structure in such a way to best communicate the challenges, alternatives, risks, impacts and recommendations.

    Even though we call it enterprise architecture, at best only 10-15 % of time in any organization is spent “Proactively addressing potential problems before they occur – so in fact, EA is and always will be niche function….

    In the section where we talk about “So I ask again, Why?”…If you replace (in the blog) all IT and EA with 1) HR, or 2) Accounting, or 3) Supply Chain, etc, these professionals are all saying exactly the same things in relation to their profession and the organization.

    The advises given . . . Again, architects are trained professionals that think about and solve problems differently than any other professional in the organization. This beauty of these talents is they can be applied and exhibited at any level of the organization such as corporate, business unit and project level.

    The challenge and reality is, as a matter of leadership, many times the EA professional must insert their talents into many areas of the organization proactively, where they have not necessarily been directly invited. What leadership skills do you need to do that successfully in a sustainable way?

    The additional advice is, don’t expect to be asked, take the initiative to learn everything possible about how to influence and experiment the hell out of it. Yes you will fail on occasion but after much practice and some success, your name will start to pop up in conversations and it will have nothing to do with EA, it’s because you happen to have special talents and skills and most importantly is someone who is competent and everyone enjoys working with 😉

    If the EA individual or EA function is not fully embraced in your organization, is it because the organization executives and staff just do not understand how valuable you are?

    And by the way… embrace projects as way to communicate and tie your skills with peripheral needs that you astutely acquire from projects. It’s a great networking tool so use it to benefits your cause and keep up the fight 😉

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