Marc Lankhorst

How Do Enterprise Architects Get Invited to the Decision Table?

Enterprise Architecture Means Business

Perhaps it’s in the name – enterprise architecture. Maybe that’s what prevents business stakeholders from engaging in a more meaningful way with the EA team. Architecture summons images of systems design, technology infrastructure, software development – IT, in other words, and that spells techie guys in the basement. “Definitely not what we’re interested in”, the verdict probably goes. It’s quite possible that’s at least part of the problem.

Whatever the cause may be, the fact of the matter is leadership in most large organizations does not have a strong relationship with the EA function. They may have found it underwhelming in terms of results in the past, or indeed too IT-oriented. And this is a real issue. In a world of increased competition on the back of evolving technology and changing regulation, organizations stand to benefit greatly from an architectural approach to change. As such, it should be well-ingrained into decision makers’ minds that enterprise architecture is first and foremost a key business change enabler whose primary function is to advise the management team.

Board Meeting

Whether we’re talking about strategy advancement, cybersecurity, improved processes or compliance, EA brings intelligent insight and practical advice to the conversation, which is why it needs to have a seat at the table. The clear line of sight it promises to deliver between high-level business goals on one hand and low-level operational activities on the other is invaluable during complex transformation scenarios. It’s this transparency as well as the ability to home in on all aspects and stages of a business change initiative that ensures effective strategy implementation. So the question is how can enterprise architects get themselves invited to the table? By the way, I also touch on this in a recent BiZZdesign Podcast I did, you may want to give it a listen.

Ways to Become More Relevant

I believe it is the duty of enterprise architects everywhere to bring value to their organization by improving some area over which they hold responsibility. Sometimes this means pushing things to the next level of maturity. Or sometimes it can even mean starting with something as simple as placing EA on people’s radar (more on this latter one here).

Don’t just play defense, go on the offense

Good things come to those who act, in this case. A job well done begets more work, which means it is possible to actually create your own demand. Currently, there is an unbelievable need for great information/advice at a leadership level, so go out there and advertise yourself to an audience that needs solutions. Show others what you can do for them; do it; and then tell them what you did for them.

Don’t wait for stakeholders to make the first step and come to you. As illustrated above, historically, EA hasn’t had the best track record at getting in touch with business leaders, which is probably why it’s not more developed as a field today. Clearly articulate to leadership that EA is not a minor consequence to having an IT department. Rather, EA is the Skunk Works within IT, with the ability to provide overwhelming value if properly leveraged by those at the top.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes

Architects often speak in tech terms, since they usually come from a technical background. Unfortunately, this ends up alienating the C-suite. So it’s important to remember that business stakeholders have to deal with business problems. Being more mindful of this fact is sure to increase your rate of success when pitching ideas and initiatives. What does leadership care about? Well, among the key challenges that enterprises face at this point in time we can mention:

  • Capital allocation
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Customer centricity
  • Business agility
  • Operational resilience (now more than ever)

So any project you have in mind, try and integrate it in a bigger story that centers around the core challenges that we mentioned above. For instance, the CFO is unlikely to resonate with you when you speak about application redundancy in some area or department. But, they will definitely care about cost savings if you can actually deliver a clear report that showcases how certain well-targeted changes will save the business X amount of dollars per year. That lets them know you understand what their priorities are and also serves up benefits on a platter, without them having to get too involved or coordinate things. So make it easy for them and you’ll be making it easy for yourself.

Actively monitor opportunities

This means keep an eye on market trends – be it technological developments, new industry best practices, or even social trends. For example, being agile, or doing agile is a big topic of conversation and rightfully so. Now, deciding that you want to be more agile as an organization and actually achieving that are two completely different things. And is certainly much more than ‘doing Scrum’.

But when you hear leadership is planning on embarking on the agile path, why not get ahead of this transition and put yourself and the EA department forward as a key enabler of this initiative. Deliver a presentation on doing agile correctly – best practices, pitfalls, project scope, potential impact. Then, once you’ve proven you have something relevant to add, start getting those deliverables out and ensure your opinion will be consulted again in the future.

Ending Thoughts

The bottom line is that there is genuinely a huge demand for high-quality information at the C-suite/leadership level. With so many change drivers influencing the marketplace these days, companies have increasingly less room for error, which places the onus on executives to deliver stellar results all the while avoiding an increasing number of pitfalls. In other words, high-ranking stakeholders covet business intelligence artifacts that can help them make better decisions.

All you need to do is summon the courage to let them know the range of help you can provide, preferably in business terms, and you are bound to have their attention. Once you deliver successfully on a project, you will undoubtedly be consulted for many other projects, with a general view to actually establish the EA function as a permanent business enabler and program/strategy adviser.

Thanks for making it to the end. If you are interested in listening to BiZZdesign podcast episode that I attended recently you can find it here. Or, if you’d like to get in touch, don’t hesitate to email us.


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