Four Best Practices To Get Your EA Program On Track

An effective enterprise architecture (EA) practice can eliminate business-IT-alignment problems, bring order and purpose to an organization's use of technology, and lead an enterprise on the road to greater collaboration and innovation. The problem is that with these ambitious goals, EAs often face the daunting task of convincing business and IT leaders with operational responsibilities, near-term deliverables, and parochial interests to focus on the value of enterprise synergies. It's all too common to see EA programs crash and burn because architects fail to convince key stakeholders of their value.

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To understand how successful EA teams gain credibility within their organizations and show the value of strategic architecture activity, my colleagues and I recently turned our attention toward Forrester Leadership Boards' (FLB) Enterprise Architecture Council. Case studies from council members revealed EA leaders must create an agenda that provides near-term value while weaving in progress towards strategic objectives. Based on their insight and real-world experiences, Forrester has defined four best practices for starting or refreshing EA programs:

1. Focus intensely on clearly defined goals

Most EA teams have more work on their hands than resources, making it easy to stay busy and productive without planning extensively. However, just staying busy with valuable tasks does not ensure success. EA teams should take time to revisit their drivers and priorities at least once a year to ensure that they are creating value and making concrete progress against the goals they communicated to their stakeholders. To ensure that you're defining the right goals, consider running a two-day workshop to get issues on the table (day one) and brainstorm your plan (day two).

[ See also: Forget business-IT alignment; go for immersion ]

Conversations with FLB senior architects revealed that council member Rob Rubio, CIO of Woodmen of the World, used this workshop formula to jump-start a formal EA program within an environment where the best justification for a course of action was "we've always done it that way." By including both business area and technology subject-matter experts in the discussion, it became clear that the biggest need was to significantly improve Woodmen's ability to respond quickly to regulatory changes and competitive business requirements. From this conclusion, Mr. Rubio was able focus his team on what mattered most to the business: improving agility and flexibility.

2. Base EA goals on what matters to the business now

When business conditions change, business goals change. That's why the most successful architects are the ones who achieve relevance by linking their goals to what matters to leaders now. For example, Jason Breazeale, FLB member and manager of the BI-LO Foods architecture team, found that the secret to becoming indispensible was to capitalize on their role as a team of technology experts by defining technology critical to a strategic business thrust. The EA team linked their efforts to the "store of the future": Super BI-Los with leading-edge retail technology, which were expected to comprise 75% of BI-LO's stores in two years. They switched to creating road maps for retail technology including point-of-sale (POS) controllers, checkout technology, applications, etc. The team leveraged its credibility in managing technology strategy to open dialogs with business executives to map out requirements for these new business scenarios.

Forrester recommends using the scenarios and narratives from your planning session to review with IT and business execs what you plan to do and why you are doing it. This accomplishes two things: It validates that you have correctly assessed priorities, and it shows that your focus is on business value. Meaningful discussions about the business capabilities you are trying to enable and the architecture tasks you will execute to get there from here will make significant strides in the effort to communicate the value of the architecture program.

3. Create an EA practice effective for your needs and culture

Creating the EA agenda requires attention to two equally important issues: What architecture does your enterprise need to be effective, and how will you make it happen? One of the reasons EA programs fail is that architects assume all enterprises need to attain enterprisewide business process standardization and integration. While a one-size-fits-all EA approach won't satisfy business needs for flexibility, adaptability, and innovation, partitioning architecture into a set of zones defined by their unique business needs can create the dynamic environment necessary to address these problems. Consider zone architectural models as a means to address local differences while maintaining the overall consistency necessary to achieve enterprise efficiencies and support core EA strategies.

4. Align the application portfolio with business strategy

Applications are the touchpoints between business and IT, which means that application portfolio road maps are the key to relating evolving business capabilities to EA and IT goals. For this reason, EAs must map application changes -- enhancements, replacements, and retirements -- to business capabilities and business goals and place them on a timeline to clearly show the business' path to the future.

Successful EA leaders have recognized that your services portfolio -- which includes the application portfolio as well as infrastructure-based services such as email and mobile communications -- is your primary enabler of business capabilities. This is exactly what one FLB member, an EA chief, realized after joining a company that shortly thereafter announced a major move away from a comprehensive enterprise resource planning system. For this logistics firm, the demise of its ERP strategy triggered an application strategy crisis, but the new EA head determined to turn this from an architecture disaster into an opportunity to do the kind of top-down analysis he thought the company needed the day he walked in the door. The major gaps in the application strategy provided the widely held perception of strategic need that he had been looking for. The EA team concentrated on an analysis of business processes and the application portfolio to develop application strategy road maps and a vision of the future to replace the cancelled ERP package.

In most cases, in the minds of the business audience, the disruption caused by changes to the application portfolio more than offsets the benefits of a portfolio rationalization focused on efficiency. But linking portfolio evolution to specific business capabilities can create the burning desire for change in the same audience, providing the organizational momentum architects need to drive their agenda.

Gene Leganza is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves enterprise architecture professionals.

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This story, "Four Best Practices To Get Your EA Program On Track" was originally published by CIO.

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