What is Enterprise Architecture and How Can it Give My Business Competitive Advantage?

When we teach Enterprise Architecture, we always ask our students, “What problems do you have that make you want to do Enterprise Architecture?”

The answers tend to have a few themes…

“We have a lot of systems that don’t talk to each other.”

“Our applications have grown to the point that we can’t maintain them.”

“It seems really hard to get new systems done.”

Enterprise Architecture (EA) means different things to different people.  It can mean a description of the IT systems that support a business, including their interactions and plans for long-term evolution.  It can describe the organizational group responsible for developing that architecture.

Or (and this is where competitive advantage comes in), EA can describe a methodology that moves the organization towards a “to-be” state where well-functioning business processes are supported by appropriate and well-functioning technological systems.  An interesting thing happens when you work through the EA methodology – you start to build the capability to converge systems and business processes.  Which gives you the ability to innovate and then execute.

The problems mentioned above are symptoms of a disconnection between business and technology.  Perhaps in the past, a business could limp along without technological support.  Today, we know that manual processes don’t scale, so “everything is in the system”.  That’s good, because the technology brings us repeatability and consistency in our business processes, but very bad if the technology isn’t flexible.  If the technology isn’t flexible, the business isn’t flexible, so it isn’t able to innovate and respond to customer needs.

So how does EA help?  At Web Age, when we teach EA, we emphasize the fact that technology exists to support business, and that EA is about coherence between business and technology.   Understanding the business is a critical step in Enterprise Architecture.  What’s the business context?  What does the firm do?  How does the firm deliver value for customers and other stakeholders?  How is that likely to change in the future?  Only after you answer these questions are you in a position to design the technological underpinnings of the firm’s business.  It won’t take long to realize that these answers often include “I don’t know”, and that’s where you can design-in the capability to adapt to the business environment as it changes.  That’s where you get the capability to innovate and then execute.  So when someone asks “Does IT matter?” you’ll know the answer:  IT on it’s own doesn’t matter – You can buy technology, and so can your competitors.  But can you buy the right technology that will support your business as it changes?  Or can you build technology that can’t (yet) be bought?

The process of Enterprise Architecture is all about driving coherence between business and Information Technology.  The capability to drive that coherence is a critical competitive advantage that lets you innovate and adapt.  We’ll help you build that capability.

  1. #1 by Adrian on March 25, 2014 - 1:53 pm

    I think another issue I see all the time is where an EA (or EA group) believes their role is to generate endless “best practices” and “guidelines” and “meta-models” but then not in any way concern themselves with the application of these concepts to the task of business process improvement. EA is not about documentation for its own sake; it is about moving the organization towards business-IT alignment and providing value to it. This requires more than just “armchair sermonizing”.

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