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How to develop a high-performance enterprise architecture

Here's how you can reposition your EA and make it more business-focused

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"If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there," said the Cheshire cat to Alice. While Lewis Carroll certainly didn't have enterprise architecture (EA) professionals in mind when he penned these words in 1865, it bears to mind the difficulties faced by many of today's EA teams as they strive to be more business-focused and strategically engaged. Many EA programmes get started - and immediately become busy - but with a vague charter, unclear expectations, and a goal simply of "being useful." Sometimes they are useful - they become go-to people for technical issues and firefighting. Or, they find a hot topic that no one else is pursuing. However, "useful' does not build a solid foundation for advancing the EA practice.

CIOs might appreciate the firefighting - but they need high-performance EA practices that are business-focused, strategic, and pragmatic. Getting there requires a mission and vision relevant to the needs of the larger organisation. But having this still gets you only part of the way there. You also need to develop a strategy to achieve this vision simply because roles, skills, processes, and relationships have to add up.

Whether your EA programme is effective at managing technology or helping application development - or not - you should plan on a transformation. Repositioning EA as business-focused, strategic, and pragmatic doesn't happen by accident - you are only as good as your plan. All aspects of your programme (skills, relationships, processes, and deliverables) may need to change. To move your firm's practice of EA forward, Forrester's EA Practice Playbook recommends that you:

Set your mission and objectives using a combination of bottom-up and top-down planning

By using a combination of bottom-up needs identification followed by top-down harmonisation, you can define an appropriate strategic mission that is relevant to stakeholders, a mission that might otherwise have appeared abstract and disconnected from business needs. A bottom-up approach looks at the business stakeholders' specific business goals and objectives and the current-state gaps to identify the specific objectives and initiatives EA can undertake. However, a list of business-relevant objectives isn't enough to reposition EA. You also need a top-down approach to identify the common values your organisation needs and the cohesive mission that knits them together. For example, there could be multiple business goals and gaps within a common theme of information availability and quality, suggesting an overall EA objective for information as a strategic asset crossing business processes.

Build your strategy around EA capabilities and services

Strategy is what separates a successful EA practice from busy one. Strategy looks at EA's current-state capabilities and the larger organisational context, constructs an appropriate mission, and lays out all the elements necessary to achieve that mission. It defines the key performance indicators (KPIs) used to measure progress and results. Moreover, a well-communications and well-executed strategy builds significantly more credibility than any amount of firefighting or chasing down of hot issues.

To get started, Forrester recommends using a capability map to translate high-level goals into more specific goals and objectives. Assess what the mission, objectives, and value proposition mean to the outcomes of capability, and set this as the goal. For example, you can set a goal for your strategy/road map capability around embedding it into developing your customer service plans for using social media.

EA services connect your capabilities to value for your customers. For each capability outcome, ask what is the service (or services) the EA programme must provide to bring about that outcome. Define your services portfolio first, and then the processes, deliverables, and skills needed to deliver these services. Follow this definition exercise by selecting the key performance indicators that show your services' effectiveness and value.

Address three key decisions

As you work through your strategy development, these critical decisions will bubble to the top:

1. The role and responsibilities of "extended team" architecture resources. Most organisations have a core team and an extended team of architects; the extended team is typically 150% the size of the core team. Extended teams typically include project or solution architects and technical domain architects. Defining what the EA programme needs from this extended team is critical for an effective EA practice.

2. Changes to EA responsibilities and ownership. Enterprise architecture programmes typically start out as subject matter experts for technologies. With a new, higher-value mission, some existing EA responsibilities may fit poorly - for example, EA teams that have focused most of their resources on technology components may find themselves with insufficient time to build business-oriented future-state architectures and road maps. Continuing with these existing responsibilities brings two challenges: they take resources and attention away from the new EA mission, and they leave stakeholders confused about the EA charter and value proposition. Examine these out-of-scope responsibilities to see if they can be delegated with oversight to extended team resources, rather than EA ownership deliverable.

3. How architecture governance will be performed. Most organisations have some degree of architecture governance, which may simply be a review of the use of technical standards by IT projects. Business-focused EA programmes will need a different approach to governance - being involved before projects are approved and being enablers of business strategy, not mere protectors of IT standards. Key questions include authority and escalation, how to characterize and capture technical debt, how to handle compromises, and scope of architecture governance.

Alex Cullen is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research, serving enterprise architecture professionals.


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