Talking to Business Executives about EA

Would you really want to talk to business executives about Enterprise Architecture?  The answer is definitely “yes”, but doing so requires a very thoughtful and tailored approach.  When talking with anyone about EA-related topics, the keys are to “know your audience”, to put the discussion in context with discrete examples, and to make sure the examples come alive by being timely and relevant to current business concerns.

The story that most IT-resident EA-champions tell when introducing other IT audiences to EA is heavy on methods, models and frameworks.  Why?  It is in the nature of IT audiences to want to know “how” it will work and what it will look like.  It is critical to have answers to those questions, for that audience.

For business executives, while some may want those same details, most care more about the answer to the questions “what will it do for us?”, “what will it cost?”, “what do you expect from us”, and “how is it different (read better) than our existing approaches to strategy and planning?”.  And as IT leaders become increasingly business-savvy, most will ask these same questions.  No EA program ever gets off the ground without the internal champion having thought through all the variations of these questions and having a rich pallet of answers at their fingertips.  This pallet allows them to paint variations of the story that each audience member needs to hear.  We have always cautioned that the “one size fits all audiences” PowerPoint deck is an ineffective way to position EA, and we want to take this opportunity to double-down on that message.  Sure, build the deck to make sure your story has breadth, but recognize the reality that it will be delivered in audience-specific variations.

So, back to the business executives, we have a few recommendations:

  • Look for examples relevant to specific business strategies and transformations and show simple examples where EA techniques and models lend clarity to analyses and simplify complex conversations.
  • Talk about the notion of “one enterprise” – is it important to the company?  Has the company been plagued by well intentioned but isolated internal silos?  Use top level examples to show how simple, easy to comprehend views lead to insight that lets business execs streamline their operations, get to decisions faster and more accurately, and implement solutions with lower risk. Some easy to find examples that will resonate with business executives deal with the existence of redundant solutions and duplicate data stores that get out of sync and cause nightmares for executives.
  • Is the organization project and delivery-focused?  Demonstrate how clarity on business capabilities reduces duplication of effort on individual projects and solutions, permitting consolidation that optimizes resources.
  • Is planning a bottoms-up process?  Show how EA-related business architecture constructs exposes the relationships among elements of the portfolio that were previously viewed separately, enabling a more coherent and structured planning approach.
  • Do you find you need to reinvent the wheel for each new business challenge?  Is the information that you need to solve business problems unavailable, unreliable, or buried inside islands?  Use Information Architecture models to demonstrate alignment across elements of the business, exposing opportunities to lower overall cost, improving quality, enable analytics, and create a more nimble information environment.
  • Be iterative.  Do not launch mega-EA practices requiring months of research and big resource commitments.  Approximate and adopt a continuous improvement approach, building out detail only as required.
  • If you are in IT, engage key business-side personnel, informally if that’s the best you can do.  Pull them in by exposing them to the possibilities; do not try to push concepts and ideas on them.  Business executives will be more receptive if their own staffs were involved.
  • Make sure that you don’t position EA as an IT discipline, but rather a tool that IT uses in partnership with the business to understand business strategy in the context of the company’s work, to influence and rationalize portfolio and investment decisions in the context of longer-term business directions.
  • And, finally, since the phrase “enterprise architecture” may carry an association with technology, and have some negative history, note that you don’t need to call it EA.  Instead focus on what is does for the company.

Note that each company is a little different and requires a story tuned to their individual challenges.  You’ll notice from the suggestions above that simply telling a business audience all the wonderful things that EA (including business architecture, information architecture, etc.) will do for you is not enough.  Light bulbs go on only when you have a chance to show them what it means to them.  So, the short answer here is don’t try to “sell” an audience on the academic virtues of EA.  Show them through multiple, rapidly constructed examples.  The most powerful examples focus on the relationships among component parts and exposes mappings that they always thought existed, but never quite had a chance to see before.