Why Digital Transformation Requires Getting Enterprise Architecture Right

Jan 24, 2019
Enterprise Architecture (EA) is hard. In fact, studies have shown that up to two-thirds of EA initiatives fail. While EA frameworks have advanced the maturity of the discipline, they have not been the panacea that many practitioners had hoped. Even the organizations that have successfully leveraged EA programs to provide value for their business can struggle to shift from traditional waterfall (command and control) processes to the increasing pace and agility needed in today’s fast-changing business environments.

At the same time, the digital transformation pressures in our industry have made EA more indispensable than ever before. Significant investments are being made to transform and modernize the technical landscape of almost every enterprise. We are building out tomorrow’s legacy every day. 

How can we make sure that the technical debt we’re taking on won’t crush the business once it comes due? How can we ensure that the solutions that emerge from the transformation will meet customers’ needs? And how can we leverage emerging technologies in a way that’s scalable and integrated, both today and tomorrow? Done right, enterprise architecture can help ensure that the investments being made will meet these goals and expectations. 

So, how can IT leaders leverage an enterprise architecture approach to ensure a successful digital transformation?

I would recommend starting with the following:

1. Engage architects in the day-to-day throughout the transformation program
In many of today’s transformation projects, things move too fast for a top-down, “big architecture up front” approach. Architects must be engaged early, and stay engaged throughout delivery, seamlessly transitioning from planning to execution in order to guide the architecture.

2. Focus on those elements that most affect the target architecture
Understand which elements are key and which are not is critical to the transformation. Many elements of enterprise architecture standards and models tend to be skewed towards engineering, operations, and even procurement. And while these elements can be important, enterprise architects should concentrate primarily on those that affect integration, interoperability, and adaptability.

3. Ensure that all deliverables are tethered to the overall business capability model
It is crucial to maintain traceability and focus on overall business value. These business capabilities should form the vocabulary for how the transformation is described and communicated. 

4. Staff the EA program with the right people
To ensure success, it’s important to have architects with the right mix of business acumen, technology, and communication skills. Architects have the heavy burden of influencing the rest of the organization so some persuasiveness and business-savvy will go a long way. 

With these practices in place, a strong enterprise architecture program can be a key piece of delivering a digital transformation initiative. Without it, the transformation is at risk in terms of delivery and long-term sustainability. As enterprise architecture practitioners, it is up to us to adjust and focus our approach to make EA a key capability in helping the organization achieve its transformation objectives.

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