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How EA teams can communicate their value in the language of business

(Image credit: Image Credit: Ra2Studio / Shutterstock)

The quality of an enterprise's IT architecture can have a major impact on its business performance. Since the 1950s, commercial and government organizations have become increasingly dependent on IT for the conduct of their everyday operations. In an increasingly competitive environment where successfully innovating can make or break a company, and as businesses accelerate to become digital-first amid the global pandemic, this trend will inevitably continue. As such, the relationship between Enterprise Architecture (EA) teams and business leaders has never been more imperative to the success of digital transformation projects.

Naturally, some EA functions are already adding value to businesses by acting as a trusted advisor. In fact, McKinsey research suggests that “digital leaders” are companies in which EA teams regularly engage with senior executives and boards in discussions surrounding business strategy. For example, 60 percent of Enterprise Architects at companies considered to be “digital leaders” named C-suite executives and strategy departments as the stakeholders they interact with most.

Yet, by comparison, just 24 percent of respondents from other companies – which are those lagging behind in digital transformation – said they interact most with C-suite executives and strategy departments. Misaligned priorities, pressure to meet incredibly tight deadlines, and a lack of communication are often the root cause of friction between both parties. Whilst business execs face the financial consequences of project delays, the EA community feel their technical advice is not always taken into account. The irony in this situation is that both parties have common goals – but unfortunately this can easily get lost in translation.

To fully address this issue, it is important to understand why the relationship is so strained, and explore how Enterprise Architects can transform this into a relationship built on trust and open collaboration.

Lost in translation

Many companies have fallen into the trap of transforming everything at once, internalizing the Agile perception that “the most important thing to measure is the cost of delay.” However, when an Enterprise Architect suggests a more tangible path to digitization based on their technical insights, they can be seen as a progress “blocker” as opposed to a progress “enabler”. We have also seen many EA projects struggle to keep pace with the speed of decision-making that is required within modern organizations. A continuously evolving digital landscape leaves limited time and headspace to apply, manage, and update architecture models accordingly.

In addition, when it comes to evaluating processes and opportunities within their organization, Enterprise Architects have a tendency to implement a model which business minds are not accustomed to. Essentially, Enterprise Architects and business leaders are speaking to each other in completely different languages and adopting different thought processes to reach conclusions about what is best for the company – often losing sight of the common goals they share.

Key to changing this is for Enterprise Architects to learn about service delivery, which involves looking at projects from the perspective of a customer and becoming acquainted with their language. By transitioning to a service orientated approach, rather than focusing solely on architecture product delivery, Enterprise Architects can deliver instant decision support which is centered around proven knowledge and analysis, alongside just enough architecting to execute these decisions.

Demonstrating business value

With EA shifting towards a service delivery model, we can expect services to be built exclusively to cater for customer needs. Also known as ‘Micro Architecture Services’, this refers to services that have been named and tailored to provide value in relation to specific use cases.

As ‘Micro Architecture Services’ come to the fore, a company acquisition is just one practical example of this in action. Turning to EA professionals during the acquisition decision-making process would not typically be front of mind for execs, but here they are missing a trick. For example, no company would think of undertaking the development of a major building without engaging a building’s architect with a proven record of competency.

Similarly, companies undertaking major business developments should look to professional Enterprise Architects for guidance. In the case of an acquisition, EA teams can provide consultation on the current state of the organization’s structure and operations – encompassing both the perspective of the “service provider” and that of “industry use” – to help evaluate the advantages and disadvantages for the acquisition.

Demonstrating value will ultimately depend on the ability of Enterprise Architects to align processes with the objectives of the business – and ensuring that all work feeds into these. Alternatively, if goals are not in place already, Enterprise Architects should work closely with business leaders to create them. Only when EA teams become familiar with service delivery, put in place knowledge management to account for on-demand delivery, and work towards the goals of the company will they showcase true business value in commercial environments.

Putting this into practice

It has never been more important for EA teams to speak the language of the business. This requires teams to demonstrate their ability to apply a service-orientated delivery model. Teams also need to ensure this approach is closely aligned with organizational objectives to achieve the desired manner of everyday business operations. 

More than ever before, Enterprise Architects are recognizing the importance of certifications for building trusted relationships with business leaders and, in turn, progressing in their careers. To help navigate this process, The Open Group TOGAF® framework provides ongoing learning through access to a variety of tools, including a constantly updated ecosystem of knowledge and best practices. Enterprise Architects can also attain a peer-reviewed and vendor-neutral credential through The Open Group Open CA program, to help demonstrate their skills and experience against a set of conformance requirements to current and future employers.

By taking these fundamental steps to progress the role and demonstrate value, EA teams will ensure that they not only remain relevant but thrive in a continually evolving business environment. This way, Enterprise Architects will be seen as highly sought after advisers within their organizations – and continue to deliver value both now and in the future.

Terry Blevins, Fellow of The Open Group and Enterprise Architect, Enterprise Wise LLC

Terry Blevins is Fellow of vendor - and technology - neutral - standards consortium, The Open Group, and Enterprise Architect at Enterprise Wise LLC.