Lately, I have been wondering in my dealings with clients, prospects and online forums if we have forgotten this most basic, but important goal of EA – adaptability – the ability to accommodate change quickly and easily. Complexity and the rate of change continue to increase, but the focus of many EA groups seems to be more focused on accommodating particular focus areas – major projects or business areas. While much of this is because we are in a more tactical arc of the pendulum swing right now due to the economy and resource constraints, it is important to maintain a focus on enabling change while we work on specific domains or initiatives at the sub-enterprise level.
There are two elements that are crucial to an organization creating and maintaining an adaptive environment – standards and governance. Standards provide a common place to start – whether they be infrastructure standards like standard vendors and products for hardware and middleware; or application standards like coding standards, common integration practices or reusable components; or data standards like common metadata, naming standards and authoritative sources. But in addition to defining these standards, effective governance must be in place to ensure that the standards are applied, especially in times such as these where there is immense pressure on project teams to deliver value and results as quickly as possible. It is actually times like these that demand EA and governance to be most effective – when there seems to be an organizational push to eliminate anything that might delay project delivery. This is when EA, IT and enterprise leadership must continue to place adaptability as a primary goal for planning, design and implementation.
I have some other ideas on this area as well, so see my other post this month for more.
As organizations continue to struggle with the complexity and amount of change to deal with, the EA team plays a crucial role in laying a foundation of adaptability for the organization to build from. Once an organizations has done an acceptable job of providing a standardized infrastructure and at least basic governance of infrastructure standards, focus tends to shift towards the application portfolio and integration approaches. This is natural and seems to conform to most of the evolutionary models of EA, such as the one from MIT Sloane CISR in Enterprise Architecture as Strategy. However, I would like to provide you with an alternative to consider as I see organizations continually struggle with business units demanding more uniqueness to the functional systems they need to run their part of the business.
I think the key for some organizations to achieve a more adaptive environment is to focus on architecting the information and integration environments. If information was more standard and consistent BETWEEN information systems with a common integration architecture (standard methods, components, messages, and middleware), then the information systems themselves could be unique functionally. The architecture would need to provide the means of translating information formats and content from systems into the standard format and content for sharing outside the system. This would also support SOA approaches, cloud computing strategies, mobility, and other approaches being pursued today.
As an EA team, are you focusing on the functionality of a specific area or are you leaving that to the project team, so that you can focus on the shared aspects of an application environment, namely the information assets and integration capability across the enterprise?
Last month, in the Who Decides? entry and in a longer FAQ article, I discussed the pros and cons of various governance models for formalizing EA standards. In particular, I made the point that the EA team should neither take it upon itself to be the final decision-making body to approve standards, nor to let it default to them. If they do, they may find themselves in an awkward situation, defending individual standards after the fact, or even defending having standards at all. It is important that approval rests at a high enough level that the decision will be viewed as legitimate by the broadest possible stakeholder community.
In that article I opened a polling question asking “What is the highest level in your organization involved in any part of formally approving EA standards?”. That poll remains open for another month, but in the meantime the preliminary results reveal one positive outcome while also pointing to an opportunity for improvement. The positive outcome is that only 8% indicated that the EA team itself made the standards decisions. Less promising is that 17% replied that nobody formally approves standards and “Other IT management” made up another 8%. So, combined, 33% of respondents have standards without higher-level leadership support. The better news is that 59% indicated that their CIO or the CIO’s direct reports were responsible for authorizing standards. At least in those cases the IT organization is operating with some level of implied unity and authority.
As you might have surmised by doing the math, only 8% had anyone from the business involved in the governance process. This result is likely an indication that the respondents EA programs operate mainly in the technology space. Few such programs are able to attract business leadership to the governance process. This is the area that EA leaders should work to improve, and we expect it will happen as our discipline demonstrates increased maturity in information and business architecture. Business leadership will have a more direct line of sight to the implications of EA standards (which will, by definition, be more holistic and not just technology based), and will be more inclined to take an active role in EA decisions that affect them.
This leads me to our new poll. The flip side of standards approval is standards compliance. The true test of how well standards guide and inform the organization can be measured, in part, by how well they stand up against challenges. So, we’re curious about our readers experiences and will report out on this new poll in a future posting.