Enterprise architecture is often perceived as an abstract, conceptual, and somewhat esoteric discipline practiced by ‘high priests’ who provide guidance with their lofty ‘architecture principles.’ It’s true that architects are often concerned with overarching, cross-cutting concerns that are not always visible to the people ‘in the trenches,’ but this view of enterprise architecture is misguided at best and increasingly misses the mark.
Coherence between top-down and bottom-up change
The task of enterprise architecture is to coherently design and improve the way an enterprise operates, in accordance with company strategy, the enterprise ecosystem, and the needs and desires of various stakeholder groups. That should be something that everyone in the organization is concerned with, each in their own scope and from their own perspective. Mintzberg and Waters1 already distinguished deliberate (top-down) and emergent (bottom-up) strategy in the 1980’s and Ciborra2 argued that local ‘tinkering’ may result in strategic advantage that is difficult to copy by competitors.
In modern organizations that employ, for example, Agile, DevOps, and Lean methods, innovation and improvement are equally a bottom-up affair. To be successful in today’s volatile business environment, however, you need a way of coordinating and aligning these top-down and bottom-up changes along a shared vision. This is where enterprise architecture can help. In a previous blog on the relationship between Agile/DevOps and EA, my colleague Fabian and I addressed some of this, outlining how enterprise architecture can add value to the Agile and DevOps ways of working. Accounting for this relationship helps you analyze the impact of various events and changes, prioritize change based on business value, coordinate work across different disciplines, and provide context for innovation.
Making everyone an architect
In the longer term, we are seeing a more profound shift in the role of architecture: positioning enterprise architecture not as a high-level, top-down operating discipline, but as the connective fabric between different types of change. Within the enterprise, this means that everyone will have a role in the development and evolution of the architecture in some way. Essentially, everyone becomes an architect!
Of course that doesn’t mean that every employee should go on a TOGAF course. Rather, you should provide everyone with the instruments that let them see what the options and effects of local or global changes might be and act accordingly. All these changes can then align with the shared enterprise vision and work together in concert, ranging from the result of a local process improvement or the priority of some agile user story to the impact of a merger or the effect of new regulatory requirements on your business model.
The architect: from ‘über-designer’ to steward of change
The main driver for this shift in emphasis is the need for speed in an enterprise. To survive and compete, organizations need to adapt to an ever more quickly changing environment. This is a strategic concern that increasingly trumps traditional cost or revenue, particularly in the ‘winner takes all’ markets we often see in the digital domain. Previously, we have written about our vision of the Adaptive Enterprise and the capabilities you need to support that. Any larger enterprise needs coordination mechanisms beyond local teams making local changes: if you only have a bunch of agile teams building agile silos, you may end up with ‘instant legacy’ and your enterprise may become less – not more – adaptive to its environment.
The figure below, from BiZZdesign’s EA Maturity Model, shows how we see this evolution, from disjointed informal efforts to a collaborative focus on adaptivity and innovation. This applies both to the evolution of the discipline itself and to the way in which it is employed in individual enterprises.
Maturity stages of Enterprise Architecture
Now this shift doesn’t mean that enterprise architects will disappear. Rather, their role will change from ‘über-designers’ to stewards of change within an enterprise. Instead of conceiving it all themselves, they will increasingly provide assistance to others involved in change and ensure the quality and enterprise-wide coherence of architecture as the connective tissue of the organization.
Consumerization of EA
Involving everyone in the architecture of the enterprise requires a new approach to the instruments used. In the not-so-distant past, architects, process designers, software developers, portfolio managers, and other ‘change experts’ used their special-purpose modeling and analysis tools, each in their own domain. Collaboration across these domains, let alone with ‘non-experts,’ was difficult. We therefore need to augment this with collaboration instruments accessible to anyone within the organization, where architecture information is shared in a readily consumable manner, tailored to the needs of different stakeholder groups. This also means using regular, consumer-market tools and integrating those in your collaboration environment – thus establishing the consumerization of EA.
The functionality of such a collaborative platform includes:
- Various views and dashboards for different user communities
- Interactive analysis instruments to create both comprehensive overviews and detailed drill-downs
- Team support to organize the work within and across teams
- Social features to let people easily work together, learn from each other, provide feedback and stay informed
- Workflow support to implement the requisite collaboration and governance processes
- Data integration with all kinds of internal and external information sources
- A solid access control mechanism that ensures information security without impeding collaboration
The good news is that this is not science fiction!
Since you are reading the BiZZdesign blog, you will have guessed that this is exactly what our collaboration platform offers. Enterprise Studio is the modeling and analysis environment used by the experts. HoriZZon is the visualization and collaboration portal for non-expert users, and both are underpinned by the Team Platform that provides model management, workflow, security, data integration, and much more. We are rapidly evolving this functionality to accommodate this shift in focus towards the consumerization of EA. In future blogs, I will address some of these features in more detail.