Guest Column | November 30, 2020

Enterprise Architecture: What It Is, Why It's Important And How To Talk About It

By Ian Stendera, VP of Product at Ardoq

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Organizations are constantly adapting to keep up with the rapid rate of evolution within their industries. It seems like there’s always a new focus, priority, or trend impacting the way organizations operate. Whether it’s migrating to the cloud, establishing better omni-channel experiences, restructuring IT departments, or implementing digital transformation strategies, organizations are constantly changing and modifying to optimize how they do business. Enterprises are extremely complex and no matter how clever one person is, breaking through that complexity to see all the interdependencies -- and understanding the importance of the key capabilities that the product, service, or organization is delivering -- is more than a human mind can do. Luckily for them, enterprise architecture offers a way to make changes easier to plan for and implement. By enabling organizations to reduce inefficient and unnecessary spend, identifying opportunities to invest in, and ensuring that the cost/benefit analysis of change projects include the entire picture.

It seems like it should be a no brainer, but the value of enterprise architecture (EA) is often overlooked—and many enterprise architects face challenges when trying to communicate what they do and why it’s important to the future of the business.

How Does It Work?

Enterprise architecture helps organizations identify different ways to optimize performance through the process of analyzing and evaluating an organization’s business and IT capabilities. By offering a detailed look at the current state of the business—including its people, processes, and technologies—enterprise architecture is a valuable tool that can be used for planning and facilitating, a move to a desired future state. Essentially, enterprise architecture is the key to unlocking a complete and comprehensive view of the organization.

The ability to model the current state of the organization enables enterprise architects to truly understand where the organization stands in terms of meeting business goals and strategies as well as metrics and KPIs. Without that holistic and data-informed understanding of the business and its dependencies—which links together everything from products, processes, departments, data, apps, and more—business leaders wouldn’t have the insight needed to understand the right changes to make to get them to where they want to be.

What Does It Do?

The enterprise architect’s ultimate goal is to enact effective and measurable change. To do so, architects work to create not just a complete picture of the organization, but also roadmaps that represent different desired future states. By mapping out the paths to desired future states, they can decide the best path to take—with metrics to back up that decision showing how much better the organization will operate once changes are made.

With precise understanding of the tradeoffs that come with each potential scenario, architects can propose multiple solutions in line with changing strategies. These scenarios can be optimized for different business outcomes, like growth, cost optimization, risk reduction, etc., and ultimately drive important business decisions that can be confidently backed with data. Modern enterprise architecture tools go far beyond the old-school perceptions of EA as a simple visualization tool, and now include dynamic and collaborative data that supports the different ways to model future states.

One example of enterprise architecture in action comes from New Zealand’s largest retail grocery organization, Foodstuffs, which implemented enterprise architecture to help it stay agile and competitive. During its digital transformation journey, the company worked to establish a comprehensive and dynamic overview of its applications, capabilities, and people across the company’s ecosystem. With enterprise architecture, the Foodstuffs team built out its full set of catalogs focusing on a wide range of business processes from roles in its HR system to applications and capabilities. Now the Foodstuffs team has its knowledge centralized and can use data to tell better-informed stories about its change projects.

In the financial sector, there’s no shortage of disruption and large, complex financial institutions are constantly looking for ways to innovate while reducing both risk and cost. Sicredi Bank, which was the first financial cooperative initiative in Brazil, has over 24,000 employees and 1,600 branches. To better manage operations, the bank turned to enterprise architecture to drive innovation and improve efficiencies. Enterprise architecture helped the bank manage its constantly shifting priorities as they align with trends within the financial industry. With next-gen EA tools, the bank was able to collect and share the most relevant data needed to allow them to better evaluate how to integrate new technologies like RPA, AI, and blockchain. EA tools don’t just provide insight into where innovation gaps are, they also allow organizations to track innovation itself.

How To Communicate Enterprise Architecture’s Importance

IT leaders should be looking for modern EA tools that are flexible, data-driven, and collaborative to help bridge the gap to the business side of their organizations. When organizations go through change, getting to a better future state is likely the main goal. However, as the different parts of the organization -- IT, HR, marketing, and sales -- often originate from different disciplines, with different priorities in mind, it can create a barrier to overall understanding and alignment, and actually impedes the organization from reaching the best future state possible. Think of enterprise architects as bridge builders making connections between business and IT, and, in turn, strategy and execution. Communicating the value of enterprise architecture at each pivotal stage can be made easier by keeping this language in mind:

  • Understanding the current state: Enterprise architects create a full picture of the organization’s entire ecosystem. This enables decision makers to understand the current state of the business and allows them to analyze the organization’s anatomy.
  • Getting from Point A to Point B: Enterprise architecture creates a map of the business which makes it easier to measure against goals and determine what needs to be done to reach them.
  • Preparing for a constantly changing environment: Enterprise architects create business roadmaps based on their deep knowledge of their organization. They also remain in sync with their organization’s change projects so they are prepared to make any necessary adjustments if the business and its operations start evolving at different speeds.

Enterprise architecture has the potential to transform how organizations organize information, plan for the future, and execute change. By involving stakeholders and decision makers, next-gen EA tools can help organizations unlock their potential.

About The Author

Ian Stendera is VP of Product at Ardoq.