11 December 2019

It is no secret that the current relationship between enterprise architects (EAs) and business leaders is a strained one. Faced with stretched budgets, time restraints, and pressure from above, the latter often find themselves becoming frustrated when plans are blocked at a technical level.

On the other hand, EAs increasingly feel that their recommendations do not get the attention they deserve, particularly as companies switch to agile practices. So why is this relationship so complex, and how can EAs provide noticeable value to their business leader counterparts?

 A challenging field

While the typical EA has a lot to deliver, they are currently facing a variety of industry challenges. A combination of factors, from the rise of flexible agile methods to the job title itself increasingly being considered somewhat vague, means that the role is potentially at risk of losing its relevance.

A main reason for this is that large EA projects are struggling to keep pace with the rapid rate of decision-making in today’s organisations. Traditionally, an EA would spend significant amounts of time applying, managing, and updating architecture models. However, in the current, fast moving environment driven by technological advancements, architects no longer have the luxury of being able to plan everything out in advance.

Much of the time, EAs feel that organisations lack key priorities as they attempt to transform everything at once. Often, by proposing more technically ‘realistic’ paths, they are regarded as progress ‘blockers’ rather than ‘enablers’.

A difficult relationship

Relationships between business leaders and EAs are often fraught with difficulties. With each working towards very different types of objectives, this misalignment can result in internal friction between the two.

Business leaders often question whether they actually need an EA in their organisation, viewing them as a further pressure on project timelines and yet another bureaucratic layer.

Additional tension then results from EAs using models which are unfamiliar to business minds for sharing recommendations on new business opportunities. Put simply, EAs and business leaders talk in a different language and, in turn, reach conclusions based on very different thought processes.

Opportunity to shine

Despite this current misalignment, a clear opportunity exists for EAs to demonstrate and provide business value in commercial environments. Central to achieving this, is becoming acquainted with service delivery, establishing knowledge management to accommodate on-demand delivery, and aligning work with the goals of the company.

The most successful EAs will quickly familiarise themselves with service delivery – looking at projects from the viewpoint of the customer. In doing so, they can then learn to speak the language of the customer rather than ‘archi-geek’. What’s more, breaking up an EA project into multiple parts is necessary to ensure that the relevant advice is constantly being delivered to the enterprise.

The next step is to establish a knowledge management system to accommodate on-demand – or as close to on-demand as possible – delivery. Proving value involves EAs aligning work with the mission and goals of the organisation and making sure their efforts contribute to them – and if those goals don’t already exist, the EA can help business leaders discover them.

In this way, EAs will be highly service-orientated rather than being focused on architecture product delivery. This shift will enable them to provide on-demand decision support based on solid information and analysis, and deliver just enough architecting to support these decisions.

The future of enterprise architecture

As we progress towards standardising and refactoring enterprise architecture around a service delivery model there will be noticeable changes in the profession.

Despite the fact that current Architecture Development Methods (ADM) provide a holistic view of enterprise architecting, they connect with architects, not customers. In the future, customers will be presented with what are essentially ‘Micro Enterprise Architecture Services’ named and honed to deliver value based on certain use cases, and tailored entirely to their needs.

A tangible example would be supporting an acquisition, where business leaders would not typically say ‘we need an enterprise architecture to make an acquisition decision’. They would instead be attracted to an Acquisition Decision Support Service – especially one that is proven to analyse a current organisation and the target acquisition while providing clear pros and cons.

It’s also likely that there will be increased levels of specialisation from both the service provider viewpoint and the industry use viewpoint. More EAs and Enterprise Architecture Service providers will focus on delivering value for specific use cases. With this, there is potential for specialisation to arise, such as an Acquisition Decision Support Service for retail.

Finally, to improve the decision-making process and operations tempo, we are likely to see increasing numbers of reference models being reused. In other words, it is less likely that valuable time and resource will go into building these from scratch.

Ultimately, through proactively evolving the role, next-generation EAs will remain in high demand by demonstrating their ability to be flexible and operate with a business mindset, as well as in the mindset of a developer. In doing so, EAs can become trusted advisors that provide timely, if not on-demand, support during business-critical decision-making processes.

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