Business Engagement Is Lost when Architecture is Technology-Focused

Gartner defines enterprise architecture (EA) as

the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key requirements, principles and models that describe the enterprise’s future state and enable its evolution. The scope of the EA includes the people, processes, information and technology of the enterprise, and their relationships to one another and to the external environment. Enterprise architects compose holistic solutions that address the business challenges of the enterprise and support the governance needed to implement them. 1Stefan Bente, Uwe Bombosch, Shailendra Langade, Collaborative Enterprise Architecture: Enriching EA with Lean, Agile, and Enterprise 2.0 practices, Newnes, Sep 1, 2012., emphasis added.

We could argue whether it is a process or something else, but, Gartner gets it right in asserting that architecture

  • composes holistic solutions to address business challenges,
  • includes people, process, information and technology within its scope, and
  • supports the governance needed to implement solutions.

In describing its enterprise architecture, which is based on the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF), the US National Institutes of Health says that

[Enterprise architecture] illustrates the organization’s core mission, each component critical to performing that mission, and how each of these components is interrelated. These components include:

  • Guiding principles
  • Organization structure
  • Business processes
  • People or stakeholders
  • Applications, data, and infrastructure
  • Technologies upon which networks, applications and systems are built

Guiding principles, organization structure, business processes, and people don’t sound very technical. That’s because enterprise architecture is about more than technology. It is about the entire organization (or enterprise) and identifying all of the bits and pieces that make the organization work. 2, emphasis added.

While there are significant differences between these two definitions, both of them highlight the value of architecture in providing structure across people, process, information, and technology so that they operate together to deliver business value. Perhaps it is because most architects grew up in IT, but so much of their work focuses on software, hardware, and infrastructure that architecture becomes little more high-level systems design.  When this happens, business value gets lost.

The results are easy to see in many organizations: Business stakeholders find IT irrelevant if not incomprehensible, and they disengage from architecture and implementation activities. This disengagement contributes to “solutions” that just get in the way, and the increased frustration leads the business to circumvent what governance may be in place and pursue non-standard point applications.

At the same time, IT leaders find themselves supporting an unnecessarily complex integration environment and applications that are used in ways that they were not intended. The resulting pressures on operating costs puts IT on the defensive, facing increased scrutiny, and it becomes more difficult for leaders to come to the table as trusted executive partners in driving business value.  On the other hand, to the extent that architects and technology leaders can impact all of the components of a business capability, not just technology, they will become vehicles for moving beyond frustration and cost focus.  In this role, they will be empowered to drive much more meaningful value to their organizations and customers.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Stefan Bente, Uwe Bombosch, Shailendra Langade, Collaborative Enterprise Architecture: Enriching EA with Lean, Agile, and Enterprise 2.0 practices, Newnes, Sep 1, 2012., emphasis added.
2., emphasis added.