Observations From Day 2 Of Forrester’s EA Forum

Gene Leganza [Posted by Gene Leganza]

OK, so I didn’t take notes today on what tidbits I might blog about; I think my brain has reached the saturation point. These forums are intense for both the audience and the analysts. Still a great buzz here today, though, it’s just about a lot of very enthusiastic enterprise architects. Not that that is anything new; enterprise architects are a very engaged, very intellectually curious crowd, always at the ready to explore ideas. I think we managed to tap into some really key issues for enterprise architects in our keynotes and track sessions this year. John Rymer and Dave West’s keynote on Lean software generated a ton of interest – we had so many questions that we’re going to have to find a way to publish a response to them all (see Forrester’s web site or the App Dev team’s blog in the near future). And then our debate between Dave West as the (evil) Champion of Agile Development versus myself as the Champion of Architecture seriously struck a chord. Sure, we hammed it up for entertainment value, but people are seeing exactly this debate going on in their environments. Or rather, they’re seeing the conflict and it hasn’t even risen to the level of a debate yet in some cases. Agile methods fulfill a real need in the interaction between business and app development, but we’re in danger of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater by addressing responsiveness but foregoing adherence to a meaningful set of architecture platform standards. We think it’s imperative – and completely attainable – to achieve the goals of Agile while still achieving the goals of enterprise architecture. We must! It’s what the business needs, and it will require compromise by both Agile zealots and EA zealots.

We’ve been talking a lot about addressing business needs in the last 2 days, and in my conversations with clients it seems that an approach that blows away classic knee-jerk EA attitudes and ideas about what EA is supposed to be is becoming more commonplace. This sort of thing used to be the viewpoint of rare individuals who really got it. Now we’re seeing more EA leaders making no assumptions about what EA should be – they’re just making sure what it is and what it does has a clear positive impact on the business. In some cases this is resulting from individuals without EA backgrounds being put in charge of EA. These folks come in with no assumptions. They do some research into what EA is all about, and they are quite happy to ignore the stuff that doesn’t relate to their needs and just pick up on the stuff that will work for them. The approach is pragmatic and fit-to-purpose. The EA part comes from looking enterprise-wide and strategically into the future beyond the more typical short-term goals. These folks don’t have room for idealists or zealots, they’re just trying to create a meaningful and relevant strategy. I think this is because 1) The old model didn’t work: describe it how you might, it basically wound up sounding like architecture for architecture’s sake to all the non-architects you were trying to influence; and 2) we don’t yet have a very prescriptive cookbook on how to do enterprise architecture in the “new” way that includes a major focus on business architecture. Without the availability of step-by-step guidance on how to “do EA right,”  EA leaders are forced to wipe the slate clean and ask really basic questions like “what does the business need from EA at this point in time?” and “what are the most important things we can do this year to show value?” This is a good thing and will result in a new set of best practices.

We took a stand at this EA Forum. We said a shift has to happen now, from the EA program of the past, which was really about technology strategy, to the EA program of the future, which is about the business strategy. Some folks have always thought that EA was about more than the technology strategy, of course, and there probably has been a steady increase of this sort of thinking, but it seems to have reached a tipping point where it feels like a discrete shift in thinking across the industry at large. It doesn’t feel gradual. What it feels like from the feedback I’ve gotten so far about our EA Forum this year is that enterprise architects are more than ready to get behind this shift in direction. There’s a buzz in the air about a change needed and the excitement that comes with new possibilities. One client said to me “this is great – Forrester is helping to change the industry direction on how to approach enterprise architecture.” Well, perhaps our trumpeting these sort of ideas will help increase to momentum of change, but it’s already there – we’re just recognizing it and trying to figure out how to help it along. I think it’s our role-based strategy at work – we’re just trying harder to get inside enterprise architects’ heads and then working on figuring out what kind of assistance a research and advisory company can provide once we understand the situation. At an event like this, it seemed appropriate to run these ideas up the flagpole. The result? We’re seeing a lot of saluting out there!