As businesses get larger, and the need for effective alignment of the business with technology capabilities grows, enterprise architecture becomes an essential competency. But in China, many CIOs are struggling with setting up a high-performance enterprise architecture program to support their business strategies in a disruptive market landscape. This seems equally true for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and multinational companies (MNCs).
To gain a better understanding of the problem, I had an interesting conversation with Le Yao, general secretary of Center for Informatization and Information Management (CIIM) and director of the CIO program at Peking University. Le Yao is one of the first pioneers introducing The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) into China to help address the above challenges. I believe that the five-year journey of TOGAF in China is just an early beginning for EA, and companies in the China market need relevant EA insights to help them support their business:
Taking an EA course is one thing; practicing EA is something else. Companies taking TOGAF courses in China seem to be aiming more at sales enablement than practicing EA internally. MNCs like IBM, Accenture, and HP are more likely to try to infuse the essence of the methodology into their PowerPoint slides for marketing and/or bidding purposes; IBM has also invited channel partners such as Neusoft, Digital China, CS&S, and Asiainfo to take the training.
TOGAF is too high-level to be relevant. End user trainees learning the enterprise architecture framework that Yao’s team introduced in China in 2007 found it to be too high-level and conceptual. Also, the trainers only went through what was written in the textbook without using industry-specific cases or practice-related information — making the training less relevant and difficult to apply.
In Forrester’s EA Practice Playbook, we describe high-performance enterprise architecture programs as “business-focused, strategic, and pragmatic.” They are business-focused so that the direction and guidance EA provides has clear business relevance and value. They are strategic because the greatest value EA brings is to help its business to achieve its business strategies. They are pragmatic because, well, the path to strategy is never straight, and EA teams who aren’t agile in their approach get pushed aside.
National Grid, facing the enormous changes to the utility industry, developed an enterprisewide business capability model and made that the center of their joint business-IS planning. The result? All the way up to the C-level, EA is being recognized as a strategic change agent.
Scottish Widows Investment Partnership “reinvented” their EA program, centered on a business capability model developed over four weeks, and used to organize and link all the EA portfolios. They now have business managers as well as EA using their architecture planning tool.
Enterprise architects I talk with are struggling with the pace of change in their business.
We all know the pace of change in business, and in the technology which shapes and supports our business, is accelerating. Customers are expecting more ethics from companies and also more personalized services but do not want to share private information. Technology is leveling the playing field between established firms and new competitors. The economic, social, and regulatory environment is becoming more complex.
What this means for enterprise architects is that the founding assumptions of EA — a stable, unified business strategy, a structured process for planning through execution, and a compelling rationale for EA’s target states and standards — don’t apply anymore. Some of the comments I hear:
“We’re struggling with getting new business initiatives to follow the road maps we’ve developed.”
“By the time we go through our architecture development method, things have changed and our deliverables aren’t relevant anymore.”
“We are dealing with so many changes which are not synchronized that we are forced to delay some of the most strategic initiatives and associated opportunities.”
The bottom line is that the EA methods available today don’t handle the continuous, pervasive, disruption-driven business change that is increasingly the norm in the digital business era. Our businesses need agility — our methods aren’t agile enough to keep up.
As the pace of change continues to accelerate in an increasingly complex business environment, organizations need to thoroughly understand how their business operates and plan the technology-fueled business transformation they'll need in the future. Establishing this understanding and enabling the transition to the future state have always been the concerns of enterprise architecture programs, and EA has emerged as a critical practice for managing an enterprise's evolution.
But EA programs have existed for more than a decade, and most of them have fallen short of these lofty goals. Why? Old-school EA has been too tactical, too technology-centric, or too disengaged from business priorities to have significant impact. Enterprises need a high-performance approach to EA that is laser-focused on driving business outcomes. To plan their future, organizations have the following alternatives:
Try to get there without a formal EA program.Enterprises that have yet to initiate an EA program — or have abandoned their effort — are operating without a coherent plan to evolve toward a clearly articulated future state. The lack of an EA program may not derail business as usual, but business change is likely to occur in a siloed, uncoordinated fashion.
Stick with the status quo EA program.Highly skilled and knowledgeable architects typically staff EA programs. But resources are typically focused on project-level activities. Strategy work is likely to be about technology road maps — not business capabilities. Isolating technology planning from business planning maintains the old-school, arms-length relationship between IT and the business.