Is EA Effectiveness At The Mercy Of Process Standardization?

When digging into the data from September 2009 Global State Of Enterprise Architecture Online Survey, I found an interesting correlation in the data: Survey respondents who reported a high degree of business and IT process standardization also reported that EA was more effective and more influential within the organization. As the level of standardization decreased, so did EA effectiveness and influence. Just take a look at this sample data from a report that recently went live on our website:

Why does this correlation exist? We’ve been saying (and most clients have been agreeing) that process standardization is a keystone to effectiveness across all areas of IT: apps, infrastructure, PMOs, you name it. When I look at IT organizations in my research, those that focus on standardizing processes or that live in an environment of highly standardized business processes tend to be doing a better job.

But simply being more standardized can’t be the “secret sauce” for EA success. There must be something that standardization does to an organization — a window or door that it creates — that enables IT functions such as EA to get better at what they do. Based on deeper analysis of our data, this is my hypothesis:

  • Standardization gives EA the opportunity to define and leverage specialized roles. For example, what would a business architect do if business processes were entirely undefined, other than scramble to make sense of them? Having standardization in place gives EA roles the ability to take on a higher purpose and therefore gives the EA function a reason to define them in the first place. The data from our survey supports this: As standardization increased, so did the likelihood that these roles were defined in the central EA group.
  • Standardization increases IT’s spend on new initiatives. On average, respondents with a low level of process standardization spent 34% of their IT budget on new projects and initiatives, versus 37% in highly standardized firms. Having standardization in place grants organizations the bird’s-eye view of IT spend that is necessary to make informed IT portfolio decisions. As a result, spend is better managed and more can be allocated to innovation and transformation. This translates to improved EA-business relations, more time spent with business peers, and better EA understanding of IT plans for spend and initiatives.

What do you think? If you have a high degree of IT and/or business process standardization in your firm, how has that helped your EA function? If you lack standardization, what has this prevented EA from achieving?


Enterprise Architecture Effectiveness and Standardization

Standard processes, technologies and roles are indicators of organizational maturity and some degree of organizational maturity needs to be in place to allow the mindshare required to focus on the promise of Enterprise Architecture.

I have struggled ot add IT value when an organization stumbles from crisis to crisis.

Thanks for your comment

Thanks for your comment Esther - I agree with your point. It touches on another aspect that influences my hypothesis - culture. There is a clear cultural difference between an organization that defines (and is able to successfully execute) high levels of standardization, and an organization that is more free-wheeling (and sometimes "stumbling" as you said). In my opinon this type of culture is much more likely to see the promise of EA and nurture it.

The key goal of EA is to

The key goal of EA is to arrive at a well structured enterprise (and not just from an IT perspective as this article implies, which is therefore really more about E IT A). When the structure is complete the need for the architect typically diminishes, as in building and naval architecture. Standardisation implies more complete structure (and hopefully effective and efficient structure), so in theory the need for EA effort should decrease as the job is completed.

However, in my experience, and along the lines that you indicate Tim, more structured organisations tend to realise the value of structure itself, and consequently the value of the structural designer, i.e. the architect, which leads to more strategic work with greater responsibility.

PS - I'd be interested in how statistically significant are your survey results on IT spend?

Thanks, Ron. What you say in

Thanks, Ron. What you say in the second half of your comment resonates with my thinking about the cultural differences in non-standardized and highly standardized organizations (see my reply to the comment above).

As for the statistical significance of the budget information, its tests significant at ~80% confidence level.