Enterprise Architecture: The (Frequently) Missing Link


By HPA Senior Advisor Bob Kaplan

While it involves a considerable amount of work to develop and maintain, I’ve never quite understood why Enterprise Architecture (EA) is so often overlooked when it comes to creating alignment between IT capabilities and desired future business outcomes. The approach and techniques have been around since the 1980s, pioneered by IBM during the company’s heyday.

EA involves enterprise architects, senior technologists and most importantly senior business executives analyzing an organization’s operational innerworkings (people and processes), technological infrastructure and vulnerabilities, the external business environment (e.g. potential disruptions and risks), and business strategies. The findings are then used to develop an IT roadmap and organizational recommendations that will support a conceptual technological future state or a variety of possible future technology scenarios. Critical to the EA is the description of the definition and relationships of core pieces of the enterprise and its systems: What is a customer (and other key definitions), how will data be stored and accessed, who sets the rules of the road for system changes, what is the security framework to be deployed and adhered to are just a few examples.

Another thing that puzzles me are those companies that pay lip service to the idea of Enterprise Architecture, but don’t actually have a functional EA in place. This is far more common than you’d think. This lapse can – and frequently does – result in a glaring loss of productivity, agility, revenue, cost reduction, and all the good stuff successful EA delivers. In fact, lack of EA can lead to significant problems over time such as systems becoming needlessly complex, difficulty with integrating new application capabilities into the business, and serious problems with post-merger integrations.

Key benefits of embracing Enterprise Architecture

According to 2020 Gartner report, “76% of organizations are either starting, restarting, or renewing their EA practices.” For the remaining 24% of businesses that need further convincing, here is a handful of solid reasons to consider jumping on the EA bandwagon – and fast:

  • Improved organizational decision-making
  • Better adaptability to shifting demands and changing market conditions
  • Elimination of inefficient and redundant processes and IT assets
  • Optimization of the use of IT assets
  • Greater IT transparency provided to those outside of the IT team
  • Effective facilitation of project management

You might be wondering, if EA is so fundamental to growth, why is it so overlooked?

The reality is, developing a solid EA is hard: It requires total cooperation and alignment between business leaders and tech leaders, which sounds easier than it is to accomplish. This is frequently the fault of the business leaders who feel IT is not part of the job description. By not making time to participate in EA activities they are sowing the seeds for cost and competitive problems.

Too many companies don’t have the right EA resources and consequently do not feel up to the challenge. Senior EA talent is difficult to find and even harder to protect in the organization. EA can be attacked by both the technology side of the house (we do not need it to get our work done) and by business leaders (I don’t have time for this). Some companies don’t see the long term payoff as worth the effort. A mistake.

While EA can yield effective and measurable change over time, there may not be immediate benefits. Short-term payoff should not be the primary driver when it comes to Enterprise Architecture.

Finally, companies frequently use “capabilities maps” in place of a real EA, despite their being vastly different concepts and serving different purposes. A capabilities map, while useful, is actually no more than a catalog of current applications and code. At the lowest level it simply describes the resources in place (a billing application, a workflow stack, etc.). This is useful so that redundant applications are not put in place in different parts of the organization. But this “map” generally fails to show the interrelationships between the various capabilities and lacks logical links back to business processes. A catalog is helpful but it is not a replacement for a map.

For companies that are considering moving into serious Enterprise Architecture work despite perceived (and real) challenges, here are three things to get you on the right track.

  1. Hire the right talent: While finding seasoned enterprise architects can be difficult, it’s essential to ensuring your EA is in skilled hands. This person will (should) understand which EA framework will work best for your company and goals, and will be better able to ensure your IT strategy aligns to the business mission, strategy, and processes.
  2. Create structure: Having an organizational structure where EA has true control, power, and resources will set your EA on the path to achieving your business goals. It will also ensure there is a single source of truth that will guide the roadmap and inform recommendations.
  3. Align leaders: Make development of an EA the joint responsibility of senior business leaders and senior technical leaders. This functional partnership will ensure necessary technical resources are in place to achieve the desired business outcomes.

How it’s done: Enterprise Architecture process flow

Once your EA team is in place, leaders are aligned, and goals are established, here’s the recommended action plan for moving forward.

Drive meaningful change with Enterprise Architecture

Simply put, organizations that put a business outcome-based EA into practice are in a stronger position to align IT with business goals, reduce risk, achieve optimal cost-savings, and enable business transformation. If your business doesn’t have an EA in place, what are you waiting for?

Is your business seeking strategic alignment between your IT organization and the core business?

HighPoint Associates brings a commonsense approach and a hybrid team of technology strategists and former tech executives–who have been in your shoes–to tackle the most critical IT challenges and deliver success. Contact us to start the conversation.