Before we answer that, let’s first pretend we have a choice. Which may be a valid assumption, or there may be much work to do before the big reveal. Underpants on the inside to get us started – this isn’t the place for Superman saving the corporate world. At least not yet.
After my last post, a colleague of mine coined an interesting distinction on the outliers of an EA practice; I’ve paraphrased it below:
Our EA function is striving to be genuinely Architects of the Enterprise because we have a wide remit and a large and experienced team. I believe we have an opportunity to fundamentally transform our organisation, rather than just optimising the status quo.
It’s the difference between a business-outcome approach and an academic approach. EA needs to be brave and confident and prepared to be disruptive.
It also must first understand what the organisation needs right now, in the future and all the points in between. EA in a business maintaining a steady state can deliver assurance and alignment (good) or blocking standards-bodies and worthless artifact creation (bad).
The other extreme would be genuine inside to out transformation plotting a line of sight between corporate objectives value chain, organisational design, business processes, information assets so informing the programme(s) of change. Or, as inevitably happens in the read world – somewhere in between.
The problem with the steady state is it anchors the business floating precariously in the choppy and shark infested waters of the digital seas. Success yesterday is no guarantee of success tomorrow with everything from customer expectations to data analytics and social demographics – to name but a few external factors – changing with ever increasing velocity.
The issue with the genuine transformation idea is everyone – exec management particularly – is understandably passionate and excited about these new and exciting disruptive business models. Which tends to fade rather quickly under the harsh light of a three year long change programme.
In my experience the two main reasons a business doesn’t follow through on transformation is firstly it requires a huge and relentless investment of time, capital, communication, training and trust and secondly it advocates abandoning a model that has served the organisation well under the current management team. Hence generally transformation agendas are analogous to new CEO appointments.
Anyway all this is only peripherally relevant to where we came in. It is extremely important, early in an EA definition or reboot, to take the pulse of the organisation. Discover its heartbeat and what makes the blood pump. Some businesses want to dive right in, pretty much ignore the as-is and focus on potential future disruptive models. Others are more cautious, with split and often conflicting objectives around preserving the now, and building the future. Others still are not even at that tipping point, looking only at cost reduction and process optimisation.
EA operates well in all these spheres. But it offers most value to a transformational organisation. Not only as this is where the skills, models, frameworks and tools are genuinely game changing, but because it’s almost always driven by a top level executive sponsor who will deliver the mandate, focus and prioritisation to make it happen. It’s pretty hard – if not impossible – to drive that kind of agenda bottom up.
I have heard EA be called a ‘agenda free trusted advisor’, and there is definitely something in that. But it must be much more – taking the organisation on a journey to what future enterprise states may look like, evaluating the benefits and risks of each, and aligning the functions to make it happen. The key word here is ‘trust‘ and you must earn that first.
So what type of EA you want to do is largely governed by the aspirations of the organisation, the constraints it operates within, and the risks it is prepared to take. Hence whenever I hear of an opportunity to spin up or reboot an EA practice, the first question I need an answer to is ‘what’s it going to do right now that’ll make a difference?’
I try not to voice that out loud. That sort of thing tends to worry the client