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Is your approach to enterprise architecture relevant in today’s world?

The term “enterprise architecture” is often interpreted differently across the technology industry. Similarly, its perceived purpose and value can vary greatly from company to company, and person to person.

Is your approach to enterprise architecture relevant in today’s world?

Enterprise architecture is primarily a business strategy and planning tool that is used to interpret and solve business problems. These solutions are often, but not always, enabled by technology.

As the nature of business problems has changed over time with the evolution of technology, so too must Enterprise Architecture approaches evolve. Often there is a lack of understanding of the evolution of enterprise architecture and this can lead to confusion around what it is and what value it provides.

Organisations that understand the true nature of enterprise architecture are finding it an essential element for managing the transition required to operate in an agile, customer experience-driven world.

The evolution of enterprise architecture

Enterprise architecture was first introduced in the 1970s to describe business functions within the enterprise, often in the form of large function decomposition documents. This approach was well-suited to the technology development occurring at that time, which largely involved back-office data processing and transaction processing systems running on centralised mainframe computers.

When distributed computing models emerged in the 1980s, enterprise architecture approaches needed to move away from pure functional decomposition to also consider the relationship between discrete applications, and the relationship between applications and databases.  

The Zachman framework introduced the concept of multiple architecture domains, giving enterprise architecture momentum and a sense of legitimacy. At this point, architecture specialisation also began to appear across various domains (business, applications, data, infrastructure) and the concept of a solution architect role emerged, focusing on how to design an application that executed across multiple client and server platforms.

The need to work in ‘Internet time’

The introduction of the Internet as a business tool in the 1990s caused a shift in perceived value of enterprise architecture. Traditional enterprise architecture approaches struggled for relevance as working in ‘Internet time’ became the new standard.

Without the benefits of a holistic view and driven by speed to market, there was a proliferation in the number of point solutions implemented which led to an explosion in the number of servers deployed and considerable duplication of functionality and data.

The desire to do things quickly often meant that these solutions were typically not well architected, leading to increased complexity, cost and, ultimately, technical debt.

The run up to year 2000 also saw a shift towards large enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions with proprietary architecture models (such as SAP). This further challenged the relevance of enterprise architecture. Many organisations that implemented these solutions viewed the ERP architecture as their de facto enterprise architecture, ignoring how it interacted with other parts of the technology landscape. Supporting this, the solution architect role expanded to include package specialisation.

A new purpose for enterprise architecture

In the early 2000s, enterprise architecture found a new purpose; to help businesses understand the complexities created in previous decade and to develop strategies to simplify the environment, reduce cost, improve time to value, and modernise business capabilities.

The concept of mapping applications, data and infrastructure to business capability models became a key tool for aligning IT to business strategies and capabilities, providing insights into how the technology worked together and managing the impact of planned changes.  

The focus of enterprise architects specialising in applications moved to application consolidation and integration, while those enterprise architects that specialised in infrastructure focused on addressing the problem of ballooning IT costs and excess capacity through server virtualisation and improved service management.

The rise of apps

The birth of the digital era in the late 2000s led to an increase in the rapid and tactical development of apps. Enterprise architecture once again struggled for relevance as it was considered too slow and too high-level to meet the needs of digital solutions. The need to build and deploy apps quickly often led to data and integration becoming an afterthought, as the primary focus was around the design of the user experience (UX).  

The late 2000s also saw two other changes:

  1. The growing use of agile methods further challenged the value of enterprise and solution architecture with the focus often being only on the next sprints rather than the end-to-end solution and its ongoing maintenance and support.  
  2. The use of cloud for production systems began to increase, the role of the solution architect evolved and, for the first time, the role of network architects moved from the back office to become part of the solution design process.

Remaining relevant in an agile, CX-driven world

While the basic principles of enterprise architecture have not changed throughout the decades, what has changed is the way it is represented and the way it is executed to solve business problems.

In today’s fast-changing market, the role of enterprise architecture is more important than ever to prevent organisations from creating barriers to future change or expensive technical debt. To remain relevant, modern enterprise architecture approaches must be customer experience (CX)-driven, agile, and deliver the right level of detail just in time for when it needs to be consumed.

Static business capabilities are no longer the only anchor point for architecting enterprise technology environments. CX is now a dominant driver of strategy and so businesses need to understand how stakeholders (customers, employees, partners, etc.) consume services and how they can be enabled by technology and platforms. The importance of capturing, managing, analysing and exposing data grows each year. Therefore, enterprise architecture needs to reinvent itself again to incorporate the needs of a rapidly evolving digital world.

In a CX-driven planning approach, customer journeys are used to define the services and channels of engagement.

The role of enterprise architecture is to interpret these journeys and describe how they will be facilitated using the right mixture of platform and point solutions in a way that will not only deliver the desired customer experience, but also retain the ability to rapidly reconfigure or extend these the services if the desired experience is not met.  

At Empired, we achieve this by using outside-in enterprise architecture approaches that use the customer journey and business service definitions as the anchor point for enterprise architecture development.

Additionally, the way that enterprise architecture services are delivered needs to adapt to ensure the right information is being delivered to the right level of detail just in time to meet business priorities.

Businesses can no longer afford to spend months of work to define the enterprise architecture before starting to deliver components of their transformation journey.

This is particularly important in organisations that are undertaking agile development. Such organisations need an enterprise architecture approach that will adapt to changing priorities over time.

Empired’s approach

At Empired, we achieve this through the adoption of agile principles and methods as part of the enterprise architecture development method. This includes the development of the architecture epic to define the vision and then apply iterative development of the detail through time-boxed architecture sprints.

This is executed using multi-disciplinary teams to ensure that the enterprise architecture design is continuously expanded and aligned to the needs of the solutions that will use it. Further, by integrating this approach into the overall sprint planning process, we can ensure that our enterprise architecture effort is specifically targeted to where it will deliver the most value for the organisation throughout the solution lifecycle, not just in the initial program planning phase.

Empired are experts in enterprise architecture and applying a new approach to help organisations realise their business and transformation goals. To find out how Empired can help your business, contact us today.

Posted by: Brendon Tresize, Practice Director, Digital Advisory ANZ | 27 November 2019

Tags: Enterprise Architecture, Agile, Methodology, Solution design

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