Build A High-Performance EA Practice

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.
  •  Build a high-performance EA program. Businesses have begun to marry top-down planning — which defines strategy-critical capabilities — to agile processes, which incorporate feedback loops that keep the approach responsive to ongoing change. They have accomplished this with high-performance EA programs that connect the dots between business and technology planning.

The EA program must become the connective layer between technology and business that guides planning, decision-making, innovation, and governance activities. In the high-performance EA program:

  • Business architects works with business thought leaders to distill strategies.Leveraging input from executives and business subject matter experts (SMEs), the high-performing EA practice generates a target state of the business that achieves its strategic objectives, and a transformation road map that builds the business capabilities the enterprise needs.
  • Business and IT architects work collaboratively to set tech strategy.EA works with IT leaders to set a strategy that leverages both new tech innovations and existing capabilities that will enable the business to achieve the target state.
  • Architects govern portfolio decisions to enable the business architecture vision.Business architects monitor the project portfolio, while IT architects govern technology solutions, leveraging reference architectures to build the future state in alignment with strategic road maps.

While staying true to the classic EA goals of a long-term focus and cross-silo, enterprisewide perspective, Forrester's EA Practice Playbook, our programmatic framework to take you from starting your practice to ensuring its ongoing contributions to the business, provides the flexibility to accommodate varying levels of resource commitment and the political, historical, and cultural obstacles that EA programs often face. Start with our Executive Overview, which will be your guide to the various modules in the playbook.


Some succinct, well

Some succinct, well considered thoughts, a little spoiled by becoming a plug for Forrester's Framework.

The description of the 'status quo' is spot-on, and is in my experience the predominant mode of operation out there. Very frustrating!

However, what's being proposed here I don't see as moving this along very far, as the locus of change still seems to be focused predominantly on technology. Rather I suggest that an EA program should aim to develop a more general blueprint for harnessing people, processes, information and related technology to refine and realise business strategy. In which case process improvement, and organisation re-structuring initiatives, for example, would clearly fall within the remit of an EA program.

EA's foray into business

I do like the fact that Gene (and Forrester) are putting heavy focus on the business architecture. The set of practices called Business-centric EA which Forrester presented at the EA Forum is a positive leap (not step) forward to really collaborating with business on their terms. Our experience with mature EA organizations is that they are regarding the business (or enterprise) operating model and the business model as the place to start analyzing business benefit-oriented transformation. Business capabilities provide a good structure and vocabulary for planning discussions with the business but many organizations find this level too coarse. As Ron suggests, business processes and how they are supported with IT or non-IT service organizations bring more business detail into the discussion. Business doesn't look at "Sales", "Manufacturing" or "Product" in general (even level 3 on a capability map can be too coarse) to improve business, but at a specific product, for a specific customer segment, in a specific region and through a specific channel. EA has the ability to recommend where IT can and cannot be a differentiator in a process by either improving the customer experience or optimizing process efficiency and needs to do it on the level of detail that the business model and business operating model provides. I would be interested in hearing Ron's opinion on this.

Thx For The Comments

Thanks for the comments, Ron and Paula. As for the locus of change focusing on IT, the simple fact is the last couple times we did surveys on the organizational placement of EA teams, 93% were in IT. It's quite interesting that the percent reporting into the business has been creeping up in the last few years, but it's still minuscule. We have to figure out how to extend our influence into the business from over in IT and make the best of gradual change. The most dramatic progress in the maturation of the EA practice is happening right now along the lines of how you both have described the various business architecture activities. But we can't just jump forward and say EA should own all organizational transformation initiatives and expect it to happen. Architects -- and the heads of architecture practices -- don't typically have the ear of the most senior level execs, the ones who would need to put EA in charge of such things (remember that Jeanne Ross and her CISR colleagues wrote the "Enterprise Architecture As Strategy" book for a CEO audience, but CEOs didn't read it). Just getting involved with business planning and working with business SMEs to get more detailed with strategic planning is a big leap forward and the visible results that EA produces (I mean the real business impact, not just the architecture models) will impel the practice forward to further levels of maturity.

As for approaches, both higher-level capability model style artifacts and more detailed process architecture artifacts seem to me to have value when working with business execs and SMEs, and they're in fact complementary. Capability maps provide a pragmatic high-level abstraction good for general strategy discussions and heat map analysis, while the more detailed level is where you go to start changing the business.

Yes - it's true that it will

Yes - it's true that it will be awhile before the majority of enterprise transformations are a true business/IT hybrid effort. IT will be interesting to see who collaboration develops as the make-up of the people entering the workforce changes (the IT affinity of business staff and business affinity of IT staff) - a natural development(?). But cultural changes don't happen overnight and Rome wasn't built in a day.

Thanks for getting back Gene,

Thanks for getting back Gene, and for your comments Paula, appreciated.

Gene, your 93% sounds about right. With most of these really IT design teams with big picture design aspirations drowning in a sea of tactical projects. The best that can be hoped for here is a gradual shift towards more strategic enterprise wide IT design, most often driven by a need to rationalise investment. Rather to move to true EA, the engineered enterprise, the starting point needs to be shifted from technology to business processes and information / control. This will require revolutionary leadership of a practitioner base that's broader than IT folk.

Paula, you make a point about business generally being quite tactical ('.. a specific product, for a specific customer segment, in a specific region and through a specific channel.'). Whereas an architectural approach is by nature, strategic and relatively long term .. boom! So what this tells me is that the majority of businesses simply aren't ready for and will fail at architecture of any sort.

Business' interests in change

Business' interests in change are certainly both tactical and strategic. Even strategic plans will be related to the business and operating models of a company. (e.g. a project to harmonize the operating models across the various operating entities and brands of the firm. I see this as strategic and EA can help derive appropriate transformational initiatives and manage the enterprise portfolio of initiatives.)

Maybe its just my

Maybe its just my experiences, but so many organisations seem to settle into loosely coupled fiefdoms, each driven by relatively short term objectives and often with a reactive strategy, if it can be called that. In such circumstances progressing a holistic, structural design (i.e. enterprise architecture) can be challenging to say the least.

EA to EI

I have done some writing around what it takes to get to a successful program with regard to real business value from EA at
Essentially, with the idea that EA is supposed to provide you with real intelligence from which you can run your business. I'd love to get your thoughts.