Observations And Thoughts From Day 1 Of Our EA Forum

Gene Leganza [Posted by Gene Leganza]

There’s quite a buzz here at Forrester’s EA Forum. There is just a lot going on in EA circles these days, and the horrible state of the economy can’t seem to suppress it. The general notion that EA practices should directly support the business is really taking hold. While this has always ostensibly been a key aspect of EA, most organizations really focused their EA practices on their technology strategies. I’m getting a lot of positive feedback that a primary focus on business value is the only way to keep EA practices relevant; and these days, not relevant is not tolerated.

There were great questions from a very engaged audience for each of the keynote sessions. For Jeff Scott’s keynote about the mandate to engage in business architecture, there was no resistance to making that quantum leap, just questions about how to proceed – lots of questions. The audience ate up Jeanne Ross’ terrific keynote about architecting agility, and probably could have gone on all morning pumping her about the best practices her research has uncovered regarding developing the organizational maturity required to truly achieve global agility. Hub Vandervoort’s keynote reminded us all that technology is pivotal in forging advanced business functionality but Hub was still intensely focused on the vision for the desired state of business capabilities. He showed us how the assumptions of just a few years ago break down under the load of current-day and near-term business requirements, and how continued technology-based innovation was the only way forward.

There was just a ton going in one jam-packed day. Probably my best experience of the day was when a client at a one-on-one session at 3pm told me that he had come to the forum with a whole list of questions he hoped to get answers to before he left, and he had already gotten all the answers he was looking for at that point.

In another one-on-one, a client said that he was trying to hire business architects, and he just can't find them. He had been hoping that one bright spot in the dark cloud that is the economy would be that there would be a lot of great talent on the street. But it seems that there is nowhere near a consensus about what business architects are, what skills they need, what their background should look like. It’s a different problem from trying to hire an information architect; we know what we need from a great information architect, they’re just extremely rare, and the ones that are out there are probably making a ton of money as consultants. But with business architects, you can’t find them to hire if there isn’t a consensus about exactly what they are.

I’m also seeing a theme that has been around for awhile starting to approach critical mass. This is about the term “enterprise architecture.” In organizations that have failed EA efforts in their history, it’s a name that connotes esoteric terminology and abstractions that carry no practical value. Even in organizations with no such failures in their history, it’s off-putting as a label. At the FLB dinner with the EA Council Monday night, I suggested we just call it “planning,” and a council member shot back that it had better be “planning and governance” if you really want to get to the meat. Jeff Scott’s answer to a question about the “elevator pitch” for explaining EA to a CxO, and Jeanne Ross’ answer to a question about meaningful EA metrics at the EA Council lunch also related to this language issue. Jeff responded that you shouldn’t try to explain what EA is to a CxO in an elevator pitch, and Jeanne said (I’m grossly paraphrasing) that there weren’t good pure EA metrics – the measures are in the business success. The value is in the contribution to the business, and talking about EA doesn’t really do anybody any good. No question that the function is important, even critical; it’s just that any attempt to talk about architecture to non-architects inevitably leads to abstractions that business people just aren’t interested in relating to – it’s not their world and you can’t make them care about it. They do like it, however, when you solve their problems and help them reach their goals.