Architect Angst On Their Readiness For Empowered Business

Forrester sees business empowerment — where business areas seek greater autonomy to address their own technology needs — as an inevitable trend. We’ve seen this before: New technology brings business areas new opportunities to improve their performance — from finance (PCs and spreadsheets) to marketing (web and eCommerce) to sales (PDAs). When this occurred, IT was unconnected to the frontlines of the business; IT’s technology was viewed as hard to use, and the result was business-initiated “shadow IT.”

At the recent Forrester Enterprise Architecture Forum in San Francisco, we offered attendees a copy of the new book Empowered, by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. To get a copy, attendees had to complete a two-question survey. The questions directly related to their readiness to support this round of business empowerment:

“On a scale of 1-5, where 1 = ‘This doesn’t sound like my company at all’ and 5 = ‘This sounds exactly like my company,’ please rate the following questions about your organization:

  1. The EA function has close ties with business management.
  2. Our technology strategy and standards allow for rapidly changing technologies.”

212 attendees completed this survey. The results show that IT organizations are only “half ready” for this new round of business empowerment. 

First, a little bit about the individuals who completed this survey. They were the most senior staff responsible for EA at their firms, not junior staff. Almost 50% had VP titles, reporting directly to the CIO. More than 15% were business architects from outside of IT — embedded in the business and involved with business transformation and optimization initiatives. They came from firms in a wide range of industries — financial services predominating, but with good representation from government, retail, consumer products, and technology. They represent a good cross-section of where Forrester sees enterprise architecture going, not where it has been.

Only 33% answered that the EA function has close ties with business management. That is, two-thirds of EA teams are not positioned to help IT understand the needs and opportunities of their business. 

With regards to technology strategy and standards flexibility, the results were worse: Only 27% indicated readiness to adeptly adopt new technologies; 36% suggested they weren’t at all positioned for this. 

The last observation I have compares attendees’ responses to these two questions. 23% of the attendees reported higher technology flexibility but weren’t close to business management — they had flexibility without the business insights to drive it. 31% had stronger ties to business but lower technology flexibility — a prescription for frustration. 

So what does this data suggest? First, EA teams are not ready for business empowerment — and realize it. Second, when they are thinking about this, they don’t have a systematic plan to address it.

What would you make of this data? How would you answer these questions for your organization? Post your comments in our Enterprise Architecture Community.


Yes. I have seen this happen

Yes. I have seen this happen with my clients. Usually this happens due to the following reasons in my opinion...

a) Lack of transparency in the IT development process on the business side
b) Slow development cycle and a history of project delays/cost overruns that makes business very jittery of engaging their IT counterparts
c) Lack of business understanding and interest in IT (IT and business living in their own silos).

All this breeds mistrust between business and IT and hence business takes it upon themselves to deliver results that will help them.

EAs or IT Dept.s may address this in the following ways...

a) Educating and engaging business leaders/stakeholders in the IT process/decisions
b) Adopting Agile/Lean development processes so that business can experience and use development results faster and in quick iterations.
c) Engaging with business by trying to understand the business processes and developing business analysts who understand particular business areas and can serve as business' eyes, ears and mouth in the IT process.

The trusted advisor is the right model

Without strong relationships with business management, there is significant risk that the technology standards process will be disconnected from the company's strategy and goals. That's never a good situation. In addition, the advisor also needs to be business-savvy to help understand how new technologies may change strategy and goals, rather than just being a shiny new thing. I posted more thoughts on my blog here.