Enterprise Architecture and Transformation at the Crossroads
Enterprise architecture and enterprise transformation and two distinct concepts, but how much of a role should the former play in the latter? Should EA's role be tightly constrained in the process of transformation? Or is enterprise transformation nowadays significantly dependent upon architecture? Should we make enterprise architecture a critical aspect for any business moving forward?
For some, if you want enterprise transformation, you really need the organizing benefits of enterprise architecture (EA) to succeed.
For others, the elevation of enterprise architecture as an essential ingredient to enterprise transformation improperly conflates the role of enterprise architecture and waters down enterprise architecture while risking its powerful contribution.
So how should we view these important roles and functions? How high into the enterprise transformation firmament should enterprise architecture rise? And will rising too high, in effect, melt its wings and cause it to crash back to earth and perhaps become irrelevant?
Or is enterprise transformation nowadays significantly dependent upon enterprise architecture, and therefore, should we make enterprise architecture a critical aspect for any business moving forward?
We posed these and other questions to a panel of business and EA experts at the recent Open Group Conference in San Francisco to deeply examine the fascinating relationship between enterprise architecture (EA) and enterprise transformation.
The panel: Len Fehskens, vice president of skills and capabilities at The Open Group; Madhav Naidu, lead enterprise architect at Ciena; Bill Rouse, professor in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the College of Computing, as well as executive director of the Tennenbaum Institute, all at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Jeanne Ross, director and principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research.
The discussion was moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor-Solutions.
Listen to the podcast (40:03 minutes).
Here are some excerpts:
Dana Gardner: Why is enterprise transformation not significantly dependent upon enterprise architecture, and why would it be a disservice to bring enterprise architecture into the same category?
Len Fehskens: My biggest concern is the identification of enterprise architecture with enterprise transformation.
First of all, these two disciplines have different names, and there's a reason for that. Architecture is a means to transformation, but it is not the same as transformation. Architecture enables transformation, but by itself is not enough to effect successful transformation. There are a whole bunch of other things that you have to do.
My second concern is that right now, the discipline of enterprise architecture is sort of undergoing -- I wouldn't call it an identity crisis -- but certainly, it's the case that we still really haven't come to a widespread, universally shared understanding of what enterprise architecture really means.
My position is that they're two separate disciplines. Enterprise architecture is a valuable contributor to enterprise transformation, but the fact of the matter is that people have been transforming enterprises reasonably successfully for a long time without using enterprise architecture. So it's not necessary, but it certainly helps. ... There are other things that you need to be able to do besides developing architectures in order to successfully transform an enterprise.
Gardner: As a practitioner of enterprise architecture at Ciena Corp., are you finding that your role, the value that you're bringing to your company as an enterprise architect, is transformative? Do you think that there's really a confluence between these different disciplines at this time?
Madhav Naidu: Transformation itself is more like a wedding and EA is more like a wedding planner. I know we have seen many weddings without a wedding planner, but it makes it easier if you have a wedding planner, because they have gone through certain steps (as part of their experience). They walk us through those processes, those methods, and those approaches. It makes it easier.
I agree with what Len said. Enterprise transformation is different. It's a huge task and it is the actual end. Enterprise architecture is a profession that can help lead the transformation successfully.
Almost everybody in the enterprise is engaged in [transformation] one way or another. The enterprise architect plays more like a facilitator role. They are bringing the folks together, aligning them with the transformation, the vision of it, and then driving the transformation and building the capabilities. Those are the roles I will look at EA handling, but definitely, these two are two different aspects.
Gardner: Is there something about the state of affairs right now that makes enterprise architecture specifically important or particularly important for enterprise transformation?
Naidu: We know many organizations that have successfully transformed without really calling a function EA and without really using help from a team called EA. But indirectly they are using the same processes, methods and best practices. They may not be calling those things out, but they are using the best practices.
Bill Rouse: There are two distinctions I'd like to draw. First of all, in the many transformation experiences we've studied, you can simplistically say there are three key issues: people, organizations, and technology and the technology is the easy part. The people and organizations are the hard part.
The other thing is I think you're talking about is the enterprise IT architecture. If I draw an enterprise architecture, I actually map out organizations and relationships among organizations and work and how it gets done by people and view that as the architecture of the enterprise.
Sometimes, we think of an enterprise quite broadly, like the architecture of the healthcare enterprise is not synonymous with information technology (IT). In fact, if you were to magically overnight have a wonderful IT architecture throughout our healthcare system in United States, it would be quite helpful but we would still have a problem with our system because the incentives aren't right. The whole incentive system is messed up.
So I do think that the enterprise IT architecture, is an important enabler, a crucial enabler, to many aspects of enterprise transformation. But I don't see them as close at all in terms of thinking of them as synonymous.
Gardner: Len Fehskens, are we actually talking about IT architecture or enterprise architecture and what's the key difference?
Fehskens: Well, again that's this part of the problem, and there's a big debate going on within the enterprise architecture community whether enterprise architecture is really about IT, in which case it probably ought to be called enterprise IT architecture or whether it's about the enterprise as a whole.
For example, when you look at the commitment of resources to the IT function in most organizations, depending on how you count, whether you count by headcount or dollars invested or whatever, the numbers typically run about 5-10 percent. So there's 90 percent of most organizations that is not about IT, and in the true enterprise transformation, that other 90 percent has to transform itself as well.
So part of it is just glib naming of the discipline. Certainly, what most people mean when they say enterprise architecture and what is actually practiced under the rubric of enterprise architecture is mostly about IT. That is, the implementation of the architecture, the effects of the architecture occurs primarily in the IT domain.
Gardner: But, Len, don't TOGAF at The Open Group and ArchiMate really step far beyond IT? Isn't that sort of the trend?
Fehskens: It certainly is a trend, but I think we've still got a long way to go. Just look at the language that's used in the architecture development method (ADM) for TOGAF, for example, and the model of an enterprise architecture. There's business, information, application, and technology.
Well, three of those concepts are very much related to IT and only one of them is really about business. And mostly, the business part is about that part of the business that IT can provide support for. Yes, we do know organizations that are using TOGAF to do architecture outside of the IT realm, but the way it's described, the way it was originally intended, is largely focused on IT.
What is going on is generally not called architecture. It's called organizational design or management or it goes under a whole bunch of other stuff. And it's not referred to as enterprise architecture, but there is a lot of that stuff happening. As I said earlier, it is essential to making enterprise transformation successful.
My personal opinion is that virtually all forms of design involve doing some architectural thinking. Whether you call it that or not, architecture is a particular aspect of the design process, and people do it without recognizing it, and therefore are probably not doing it explicitly.
But Bill made a really important observation, which is that it can't be solely about IT. There's lots of other stuff in the enterprise that needs to transform.
Jeanne Ross: Go back to the challenge we have here of enterprise architecture being buried in the IT unit. Enterprise architecture is an enterprise effort, initiative, and impact. Because enterprise architecture is so often buried in IT, IT people are trying to do things and accomplish things that cannot be done within IT.
We've got to continue to push that enterprise architecture is about designing the way this company will do it business, and that it's far beyond the scope of IT alone. I take it back to the transformation discussion. What we find is that when a company really understands enterprise architecture and embraces it, it will go through a transformation, because it's not used to thinking that way and it's not used to acting that way.
If management says we're going to start using IT strategically, we're going to start designing ourselves so that we have disciplined business processes and that we use data well. The company is embracing enterprise architecture and that will lead to a transformation.