While organizations have handled the immediate response to the Covid-19 pandemic to the best of their capability, they are now looking forward to how they can successfully recover. Likewise, enterprises of all types are taking it one step further, using this as an opportunity to discover how their digital transformation initiatives can both adapt and evolve within these tumultuous times.
That’s where enterprise architects play a vital role, as key enablers of strategic decisions to guide successful digital transformation. According to Gartner, 76 percent of organizations are either starting, restarting, or renewing their enterprise architecture practices in response to the past year. Yet for enterprise architects, it is this chaos that has also created a unique opportunity for restructuring and establishing a technology-centric strategy. So, as we look ahead, how will enterprise architects provide the building blocks for a better and more prosperous future?
Crisis as a catalyst for change
It’s highly unlikely that the majority of businesses had any specific plan of action on file in the case of a global pandemic. In spring of 2020, organizations had to quickly pivot to adapt business continuity planning and ensure they were not unprepared for this type of disruption again, and here is where enterprise architecture was one of the most – if not the most – important strategic disciplines.
Almost overnight, the pandemic forced a shift to remote working, and companies across industries had to grapple with the question of how they would be able to continue to deliver with 60-90 percent of staff now decentralized. This shift accelerated the use of various cloud plans such as cloud collaboration and productivity tools, namely Microsoft 365 incorporating tools such as Teams and SharePoint. All the while, enterprises had to rethink their normal processes entirely, especially when it came to accessing vital systems.
New security threats also appeared with concerns over data security, legislation and regulatory obligations, amplified by the virtual workforce. However, within an organization, enterprise architects' key purpose is to proactively identify possible disruptive trends (whether its technology, economic, societal, political and environmental), evaluate them to determine the impact on the business, and provide innovative solutions.
By being at the junction of both business and IT, they’re perfectly situated to understand the landscape across people, process, information and technology. Therefore, when the pandemic struck, they were able to instantly help business leaders understand the impacts to firms, any areas of risk and consequently, deliver changes that realize strategic objectives within the current and future landscape. It will be this focus on building adaptability and resilience that will continue to drive business recovery.
Whatever form recovery takes, there’s a chance it’s not going to be smooth sailing. However, specific approaches by enterprise architects can soften the blow caused by the economic decline felt globally. The process of rationalization, for example, limits the use of unnecessary applications and can significantly reduce costs otherwise overlooked.
Meanwhile, their ability to deal with risk is naturally beneficial, even if the damage has already been done. Whether it's traditional dangers such as cash flow or public relations issues, or the continuation of the pandemic due to new variants or vaccine problems - having a team that can create a blueprint that is in line with risk preparation and mitigation is going to remain vital.
The two most significant concepts in creating such a blueprint, however, are insight and intelligence. Enterprise architects, by being uniquely placed within a company, possess broad understandings of both business and IT while working across departments - this makes them invaluable when fitting disparate ideas together, solving potential challenges and accelerating organizational change.
Equally, by drawing information across an entire organization, they can provide the modelling and analysis tools necessary to turn raw data into actionable intelligence. With these two essential characteristics, enterprise architects can effectively guide, mature and build an effective roadmap out of the recovery phase and into a transformative one.
Respond, recover and renew
By 2021, Gartner expects that 40 percent of organizations will use enterprise architects to help ideate new business innovations made possible by emerging technologies. This is because an essential part of recovery is, logically, to plan and strategize beyond it. As firms overcome short term concerns, they will look to medium and long term growth, aiming to come out of the recovery period in a much stronger position.
This will demand new services and experiences, not only due to natural competition but also due to the impact on consumer behavior triggered by the pandemic. For example, ecommerce is unlikely to lose the gains it has made during lockdown; people may continue to be more cautious and adverse to gathering in large crowds, and of course, businesses themselves will realize the advantages that the work from home model offers.
All of these trends will significantly skew the roadmap ahead and place heavy emphasis on digital capabilities, meaning that emerging technologies will need to be further explored. In the post-pandemic era, will business meetings take place via holographic technology, merging the physical and virtual world? As we witness the potential of ecommerce, will self-driving or delivery drones become the way forward for retail?
According to McKinsey & Company, Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation by a shocking seven years and that many of these changes will be around in the long run. As the digital landscape quickly evolves, it will be the enterprise architects who will be behind the scenes, predicting the potential friction points and pivoting the inevitable challenges ahead.
A brighter future
No doubt, whatever a company’s vision for the future, it must now include a digital transformation strategy in order to build a strong foundation and stay ahead of the innovation curve. The damage and economic pain ignited by the pandemic has only accelerated the need to harness the potential of such digital initiatives.
Enterprise architects, however, provide the strategic handrail to guide successful digital transformation journeys and they can be channeled to deliver long term value creation for organizations. This will not only safeguard any potential disruption but also leave a lasting legacy for opportunity.
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Rupert Colbourne, CTO, Orbus Software