Many of the greatest challenges surrounding the discipline of Enterprise Architecture stem from the idea that it takes too long, costs too much, and does not seem to add value. In short, EA is seen as something that adds cost and complexity to our organisations rather than making life easier or enabling new and innovative ways of working.
There can be no getting away from the fact that some things do cost time, money, and resources, and good enterprise architecture is one of them. The way that cost is perceived can be changed. Think about it, when did you last complain about the cost or value of headache pills when you had a headache? Or the time it takes to prepare the BBQ when you have friends coming for dinner? No, we don’t complain or have a problem when the cost or time is directly aimed at solving pain or delivering satisfaction. The same will be true in business, assuming that your architecture efforts are directed towards taking away what others see as their pain, or providing them with additional satisfaction they seek. Then, cost and time become less of an issue, and value increases.
In these examples, we can see also how successful enterprise architecture means moving away from the old paradigm of EA = IT architecture for the enterprise and into EA = pain relief and satisfaction for the entire enterprise.
Such a shift does not mean we stop being reactive; indeed, in some ways we become more reactive. That reactiveness changes though, and we become reactive to the problems that the business has, not simply to the problems we as architects perceive. We stop acting like policemen and instead act more like physicians.
At the same time, staying with the physician analogy, we take the time while patients visit us, or we them, to suggest how they can make changes to prevent problems in the future. Often patients in business or medicine don’t know or think about the longer-term consequences of their actions. In this way, we can engage reactively, only going where help is needed and positioning ourselves as trusted advisors. Once we gain that trust, we can switch into proactive mode, advising of opportunities or longer-term consequences.
Three Actions to Help Shift Perception From Reactive to Proactive
- Run Risk and Reward Analysis on Past Projects. In financial circles, they say that past performance is no guarantee of future results. Well, from an architecture perspective, we can be sure that your future challenges will be influenced by past performance and decisions. So why not produce some analysis that shows where cost over runs, or there’s additional rework or waste, or time delays were related to poor up-front architectural analysis. You can then go on to show what future impact might be based on current projects and approaches; thus, proactively showing how EA helps in a cost avoidance situation. Use of past projects and decisions can also help to show how products came to market slower or how new business models took longer. Don’t be afraid to ask your CFO or finance team what the cost of these types of delays were on the organisation. You may find that the value add of EA may be far greater than you think.
- Make Regular Time to Analyse and Predict Technology Trends. Having a bunch of so called “smart people” telling you, “We knew or could have told you that,” does not make you feel good, nor feel good about them. Rarely as business managers do we have time to stand back and fully appreciate the broader impact of new technologies or our own decisions. Enterprise architects are in a great position to look at and explain not just about negative impact, but about positive opportunity. Think about your own organisation, who might be explaining to the business the impact of things like 3D printing or smart wrist band devices or even Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Using RPA as an example, it seems that business managers or process people are doing most with it, and it is being used to reduce cost. As an EA, are you looking at how RPA might enable new services or products? Are you proactively looking at how you can support them and steer them to use the right robots – or are you simply reacting to their requests to install and run robots in the company? Many user organisations suggest that they see EA as the roadblock for RPA and seek to work around the EA team. Take more time to look at these trends, stop being a roadblock, support the business as they need to, but then draw the line out further and seek to explain how else it might or could impact the business.
- Use a Hearts and Minds Approach. One of my favourite stories around change comes from the military. It is a story of how UK Special Forces enacted great change on a people, not through fighting but through hearts and minds, and I suggest the same will work well for enterprise architects. The simple story is of soldiers sitting outside a village and only entering when, for example, a child was sick. The soldiers would go in, administer medicine and help the child, then retire back outside the village. Then they would wait until there was another problem, go in solve the problem and retire. Over time, the villagers suggested that the soldiers would be more comfortable inside the village, and invited them in. The soldiers were seen as people who helped, not adversaries. Once the soldiers had moved in, they spent time with vaccinations and inoculations and were able to help proactively prevent disease. So they moved from being reactive to proactive, but only after the village saw the value of their reactions helping support the village’s problems. This success also stems from the fact that the soldiers only worked to the villagers agenda, up and until they became trusted advisors. So in your EA practice, whose agenda are you working on? Yours or the business’s? Have you taken a step back and focused on winning by doing and imposing less, have you considered only getting involved when someone has a problem and then melting quietly away after solving it? I suggest that if you take similar approaches you will find it easier to be invited to actively participate before problems occur and to give opinions on how to avoid them.