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Using Enterprise Architecture Strategy to Execute Vision

Enterprise Architecture strategy and blueprintAlvin Toffler once said, “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” This concept holds true for strategic planning and Enterprise Architecture. If don’t take into account all the moving parts of your company, from its people and processes to technologies and resources, you won’t be successful in executing your vision. Including Enterprise Architecture as part of your strategy makes sense. That’s why we’d like to offer this overview to get you started in thinking about EA. In this article, we will walk you through:

  • A definition of Enterprise Architecture to give you a baseline
  • 4 common operating models that are useful to consider
  • 4 maturity stages of Enterprise Architecture
  • 5 tips for your enterprise architecture strategy

Enterprise Architecture Definition

Enterprise architecture, or EA as it’s often referred to, is a conceptual blueprint. The purpose of the enterprise architecture blueprint is to align business vision with technology and processes across your entire organization. The reason for this is because the technology and processes you use help to achieve your vision. Developing an enterprise architecture blueprint will help you take a holistic view of your organization. A comprehensive organizational review coupled with strategizing for business maturity will help you isolate issues that are blocking your progress.

Keep in mind that while the concept of a blueprint infers that your EA plan is static, it’s not static at all. Rather, enterprise architecture must evolve and adapt as your business changes and matures. Today’s marketplace changes quickly and you need to be able to rapidly adjust to the changing environment in order to be successful. A good Enterprise Architecture strategy allows you to adjust to changes and is therefore considered a work in progress.

Now that you are familiar with the concept of Enterprise Architecture, there are a few more concepts to understand: Operating Models and EA Maturity Stages. These concepts will help you to better frame your Enterprise Architecture strategy discussions.

What is Your Operating Model?

For many organizations, operating models are useful in describing the different ways businesses function, including their processes and how they invest in IT infrastructure. Identifying your operating model is useful for building your enterprise architecture strategy. Four operating models that MIT introduced and that continue to have wide acceptance today include:

  • Coordination. In this model, multiple separate business units all need to share transaction information. For example, while business units are operated and managed separately, they may share customers, products or suppliers.
  • Unification. The organization operates as a single business that contains multiple smaller locations, all sharing one global system. Management is centralized.
  • Diversification. This is where separate business units want to take advantage of the economies of scale, but they each have their own sets of customers and services or products. The emphasis is on localization rather than centralization.
  • Replication. Different business units in this model don’t have a need for shared data, but they do share their systems and processes for efficiency and economy of scale. Management is also centralized.

Identifying your operating model and including it in your discussion of Enterprise Architecture strategy and blueprint will help you as you assess current processes and technology needs.

What is Your Enterprise Architecture Maturity Stage?

Another way to frame your EA discussion is around maturity stages. This concept was introduced by MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research in 2006, and while others have suggested slightly different models, all share similar concepts.

  • Stage 1: Business Silos. In this stage of your organization, your functional areas and locations operate separately like silos. Each department has its own processes and technology tools. Managers have a high level of involvement in decisions about the technology their departments use and the processes they follow. The IT investments you’ve made are generally for specific functional needs or for separate departments or locations.
  • Stage 2: Standardized Technology. As your business has grown, you’ve moved away from disparate systems. You have implemented standardized processes and shared infrastructure and systems across multiple departments, locations and divisions. Managers and employees now have very little control over decisions about technology and processes; those decisions are being made at an executive level. Any new applications must align with IT strategy which includes being compatible with existing systems. Departments and locations must work together in a more streamlined way.
  • Stage 3: Optimized core. With integrated systems and standardized processes in place, your business has an optimized core that is being built upon. Data is shared from one system to another. Many decisions are made on an enterprise-wide level using data from global ERP and other big data. Your organization may feel very top-down in this stage.
  • Stage 4: Business modularity. Your organization becomes more strategically agile in this stage. Your department managers and IT work together to “bolt on” functionality to the Optimized core, with project-specific extensions in mind. IT concepts you may be discussing now include Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Web services, standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and mash-ups. What this means for business is that departments and locations offer something specialized on the front end to increase innovation and customer responsiveness, without messing up the efficiency that has been achieved on the back end.

As organizations evolve from one stage to another, how do the changes impact your employees? In stages 1 and 4, managers and departments or localities have more control over processes, technology and decisions. That control is then significantly reduced during stages 2 and 3. What tensions do these changes create for your team as it struggles to move to the next stage? The tensions are inevitable but should be addressed as part of your change management plan. Keeping your eye on the vision and the benefits to the company (and its customers) in realizing the changes is important.

5 Tips for Your Enterprise Architecture Strategy

There are clear benefits to building an Enterprise Architecture strategy and blueprint: you’ll not only document where you are currently, you’ll create a vision for where you want to be and the phases you’ll go through to get there. Weaving your vision together with business processes and technology assures you’ve captured all the moving parts of your vision.

Now that you’re toying with the idea of developing an enterprise architecture strategy and blueprint, the EA experts on our team wanted to share a few tips to help make the journey easier for you. Below are five of our team’s top suggestions:

  • Don’t look at enterprise architecture as an IT project. Technology is a big component of the discussion, but technology is a tool that’s used to drive your business processes and ultimately achieve your vision. A mix of the executive team, business managers and IT should work together toward enterprise-wide solutions.
  • While ultimately your goal is to execute your business vision, you will discover along the way how useful the EA discussions are for solving multiple smaller business problems.
  • Focus on the main processes your organization repeatedly performs to deliver a product to your customers. These processes will help you identify your operating model and EA maturity stage, as well as inform your strategy for standardization. From there, you can begin to build a blueprint on where your organization is today and a roadmap for where you want to be in the future.
  • Determine what is blocking your team from meeting their goals and achieving the vision. What steps will help remove those blocks?
  • Realize you can’t accomplish your enterprise architecture strategy all at once. Create a realistic timeline and budget that addresses what you can do now versus what you can plan for later.
  • Since EA involves your entire business, we highly recommend involving an Enterprise Architecture expert. If your organization is large enough, you may choose to hire one or more in-house employees who have roles related to managing an enterprise architecture process. Midsized and smaller businesses will benefit from shorter-term consulting services. Regardless, having access to EA expertise will help you develop a thorough blueprint and advance more quickly.

Need Help with Enterprise Architecture?

Trek Global provides an array of services related to enterprise architecture, from helping you create your enterprise architecture strategy and blueprint, to technology integration, risk assessment, process development, efficiency analysis, and other related business consulting. We also support local EA community mentoring through the work of our CEO Joel Stangeland, who serves on the board of the Oregon Enterprise Architecture Community through Technology Association of Oregon.

Learn more about Trek Global’s Enterprise Architecture services

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