George Ambler, GartnerGeorge Ambler, Gartner

Enterprise architecture teams struggle to move from a tech role to a business optimisation function

Some enterprise architecture (EA) programmes are struggling to transform from being focused primarily on technical architecture, to becoming fully-fledged EA practices that include business and information architecture supporting the execution of the organisation’s critical business imperatives.

This is the view of George Ambler, executive partner at Executive Programs. He spoke recently at the EA seminars, which took place in Johannesburg and Cape Town, at The Hilton Hotel in Sandton and 15 On respectively.

The seminars, presented by Ambler and analyst , helped delegates address a number of issues and challenges faced by EA teams in South Africa.

The topics discussed included positioning the architecture, organising the EA programme, developing EA principles, and defining EA governance. Ambler identified several challenges faced by EA teams today, and offered advice on how they might be overcome.

One of the challenges for EA programmes is that they are too technology and compliance focused. “There are still many EA teams who perceive enterprise architecture as proactive, focused primarily on the optimisation of technology. This limits the EA programme to a focus on the technology outcomes of enforcing technology standards, and rationalising and consolidating infrastructure,” he explains.

While this has some value, he says, organisations quickly find this is not a sustainable source of value for the enterprise over the longer term. “Leading EA teams have embraced information, business and solution architecture perspectives to assist the reinvention of their organisation’s operation models and to unlock strategic change. However, these EA programmes remain the minority,” he says.

Another problem faced by EA teams is that they are overly concerned with enterprise architecture frameworks. According to Ambler, there is still too much focus and emphasis being place on EA frameworks as the focus of EA efforts.

“When frameworks are an EA team’s focus, we find a significant amount of energy and resources are used to complete the EA framework,” he says. “This results in a large number of EA deliverables, but these deliverable rarely contribute to helping organisations execute on their strategic imperatives.”

These teams need a shift from a focus on the EA process and framework to a focus on the business outcomes, Ambler advises. Instead of a framework and process focus, successful EA teams must ensure they maintain a laser-like focus on a few key business outcomes.

“The focus of successful teams is the business outcomes they are producing, instead of how they are doing enterprise architecture,” says Ambler. “Mature enterprise architecture teams customise EA frameworks to their organisation’s unique needs and business concerns.”

Another barrier faced by EA teams is that they frequently get sucked into projects, neglecting architecture development. “Without a sharp focus on the business outcomes, and how the EA team will support the change required to support these business outcomes, EA teams get sucked into IT projects quickly,” he says. “When this happens, the important work of architecture development gets neglected. It is not the job of EA to be on the critical path of projects or to be responsible for the creation of project-related deliverables, or worse – actually running projects.”

It is important for EA teams to note talents are more important than enterprise architecture skills and knowledge. EA programmes that lack the ability to keep important stakeholders engaged and involved in the EA effort remain ineffective, he says.

Driving stakeholder participation and engagement in the EA process requires enterprise architects to develop a number of key “soft-skills” or talents in support of a participative collaborative approach. These talents include facilitation, influence, pragmatism, persuasion, creativity and innovation.

“These talents are often lacking in enterprise architects, resulting in EA programme failure. Enterprise architects are not placing sufficient emphasis on developing these talents; rather, they are over-investing in the development of EA knowledge, framework, and process skills. These may be necessary, but not sufficient to lead enterprise change,” Ambler concludes.