Enterprise architecture (EA) projects have a bad rap among business leaders because they traditionally do not solve an immediate business problem. Instead, enterprise architects are trying to get a handle on the current – and ultimate future – state of the company’s technology architecture.
By Leon Hendricks, CEO of DLK Group
This puts technologists and department leaders at unnecessary odds. Ideally, they should be working together to deliver a better future for the company or government department.
Is EA obsolete?
Although EA by its very nature brings insight into organisational design and the logical model in an organisation, the end customer doesn’t speak the same language as the architect. Customers want solutions to their problems and aren’t interested in why a new technology might be hard for an organisation to deploy on ageing infrastructure.
At the same time, while an enterprise architect’s insights should be solving customer and business challenges, they are often too inwardly focused and don’t engage with the business problems.
Very few EA practitioners have been to the frontline and spoken to end customers. This is where methodologies such as Agile and Lean, Design Thinking and Product Thinking offer traditional EA projects an opportunity to innovate and adopt a customer- and product-centred approach.
Has logic flown out of the (Agile) window?
EA practitioners bring necessary structure and bigger picture thinking to existing Agile environments. The latter have often been hastily implemented, with little consideration for the type of regulatory concerns EA solves, like data security, domain issues and country borders.
Agile by its very nature is an iterative process with projects divided into sprints. The traditional EA approach focuses on a project office with much upfront planning and prioritisation. Agile is more flexible, which makes it easier to drive change quickly.
Agile enables earlier and iterative delivery of products, more predictable costs, better schedules, and provides for a bigger, more cohesive team (including EA) working on the problem. This improves the quality of the product and delivers more transparency and customer engagement.
Yes, Covid complicated things
Be aware, though, that adopting an Agile approach to delivering new products requires the business’s architecture itself to be Agile if it is to remain usable. This is a particular headache for companies that swiftly adopted new ways of working in response to the pandemic but now find that they are lagging in regulatory compliance.
Essential components that are traditionally managed by EA – such as Know Your Customer or a Cradle-to-Grave view of customers – may have fallen by the wayside.
Also, many companies’ conventional architecture is struggling to cope with the additional load of hastily implemented applications and solutions.
Annual budgets don’t sprint
This is compounded by the fact that most project budgets are approved annually, but Agile needs to happen in much shorter time frames. It may take months to approve budget for one additional team member, scuppering any progress gained from adopting an Agile approach.
One way around this is to assign budgets to portfolios rather than to projects. This allows for the portfolio as a whole to adopt Agile practices – such as backlog refinement and an iterative approach to product development – without having money tied up in a project-specific budget.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to maintaining the balance between the need to move fast – Agile – and the need to retain strong regulatory and forward planning – EA – within an organisation.
However, very few companies in the South African context have the teams in place to do this on their own. The solution is to find a partner that can assess both the full enterprise architecture stack and the Agile approach and find ways to make them work together in the company’s very specific context.