Do Not Depend On EA To Innovate

Many organizations expect EAs to be the source of technology innovations. They are broadly knowledgeable, experienced, connect-the-dots kind of people you might naturally expect to come up with reasonable ideas for new approaches and technology. When you think about it a bit, this expectation is misplaced. Here’s why I think this:

The best technology innovators are users who have a problem to solve; motivation to solve a specific problem affecting their lives is the key ingredient. EAs just don’t have these kinds of problems; because they operate as a bridge between business and technology, most often they are attempting to solve things that affect other people’s lives. Please don’t get me wrong: EAs are always looking for new, innovative ways to improve things. But this doesn’t replace the “I gotta fix this now” kind of motivation inspiring most innovations.

So am I saying organizations should take EAs out of the innovator role? Yes and no.

Here at Forrester, we have been writing and talking about topics such as Innovation Networks and new roles for business technology for a while. I think that EAs are better placed at the center of an Innovation Network where they connect innovation suppliers (lead users who are dreaming up new ways to solve their problems) with innovation users (other folks who can benefit from a generalization of the solutions the suppliers come up with). In addition, EAs can bring innovation implementers — the team members who know how to actually make innovations into solutions that work for more than just one individual or group — into the conversation.

So what should you do?

  1. Send EAs on a mission to find people doing innovative things in IT and the business. This has a side effect of connecting EAs to the frontlines, where they might discover all kinds of things.
  2. While they are out looking for people doing innovative things, EAs should search around for unsolved problems where nobody is innovating. These are potential innovation consumption points.
  3. Embrace shadow IT shops, as they are where a lot of innovation happens. We did some research recently on zoning your architecture. The idea is that the outermost region is the empowered zone where EA consults and advises business technology experts but does not impose rigor. Opening these zones under proper controls prevents mission-critical disasters while building relationships with key business innovators.

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Comments

Innovation at the Intersections

Brian, I read your post with great interest. It highlights the very critical role that EAs play when it comes to Innovation within the Enterprise. However, in addition to serving as a bridge between innovation suppliers and innovation users, EAs should innovate themselves at the key architectural intersection points because they are best positioned to do so -- as outlined in my recent post on this topic: http://bit.ly/vRxQgv

EAs are central to but not the source of innovation

Hi. Read your blog and see your point regarding the five intersection points where EAs best can innovate and agree with them. The point of my blog isn't contradictory to your post; rather the focus is different. The point I was trying to make here is that EA's, while can introduce innovation, and they have the often have the experience and a broad view of technology and business to do so, they are missing one key ingredient that makes innovation happen - a problem to solve before they can go home at night.

The adage, necessity is the mother of invention applies. While EA should source innovation, I think they are better positioned as innovation brokers between the people with business problems to solve and people who can use the solutions to solve other problems. In other words, what EAs are best at is recognizing when a solution to one one particular problem can be generalized into a solution of many people’s problems - this turns ideas into business value which is the heart of innovation.

You should read Democratizing Innovation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratizing_Innovation), if you haven't already. It’s the source of some of my ideas on this topic.

Thanks for commenting and disagreeing, its not interesting when everybody agrees or is silent. I welcome your feedback.

Hi Brian, Your comments

Hi Brian, Your comments provide additional context and I agree with your observations. I can see that both of us agree that EAs have a critical role to play in fostering innovation across the enterprise.