Enterprise architecture strategy experts offer pandemic tips

Enterprise architecture experts offer up advice and tips for organizations coping with budget constraints and staffing pressures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enterprise architecture teams coping with IT budget constraints and staff cuts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic should seize the moment to provide strategic leadership to their businesses, experts advise.

"Now is the opportunity for them to approach how they architect their business and their technology in a much more strategic way," said Betsy Burton, vice president of research and a fellow at Aragon Research Inc. "It's not time to just brush up your old business strategy. Doing business the same way is not going to address long-term issues."

Burton paraphrased an oft-cited quote attributed to Winston Churchill in urging enterprise architects not to "waste" the crisis.

TechTarget reached out to analysts and consultants to offer up advice and tips on enterprise architecture (EA) strategy, as practitioners try to help their businesses and IT departments navigate through precarious economic times in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Here's what five experts had to say:

Figure out future-state business strategy

Aragon's Betsy BurtonBetsy Burton

Burton, Aragon Research: First and foremost, you have got to figure out what your future-state business strategy is going forward from today. That's a big task. A lot of organizations really struggle defining what their business strategy is -- and I mean an actionable business strategy. No. 2, they need to figure out what future business models and capabilities they need to support that strategy. And No. 3, they need to figure out their technology strategy and the technology solutions and architecture needed to support that business strategy and those new business models.

COVID is driving them to say that more loudly and more clearly than ever before. People have been able to muddle through with their ill-defined business strategies for quite some time, operationally fixing and evolving things for years and years. But we are not going to come out of this pandemic with the same business landscape. So, the urgency is to take this time to really look at your world, look at the scenarios that are affecting the world and think about it in new and different ways.

Focus on most important data needed to achieve goals

Jeanne Ross, MIT CISRJeanne Ross

Jeanne Ross, retired principal research scientist, MIT Center for Information Systems Research: Stay focused on the single most important data the company needs to achieve its goals -- and map out incremental progress based on who can leverage that data. I don't think the coronavirus pandemic affects architects' priorities. Rather, the pressures will create urgency on the part of others in the company that may provide an opportunity for architects to provide leadership. For many companies, this is a time to deliver incremental but important improvements to operational data. Eventually, many will require major investments, but architects should be creative in identifying ways to make smaller improvements that demonstrate impact. That should help win bigger investments in the future, when the company is ready to commit to bigger organizational changes.

It's important to get accountability right. Somebody needs to be in charge of each category of critical data and accept accountability for meeting the needs of stakeholders according to the company's strategic needs. We've learned that decision-making committees are not a good way to get things done. But a team responsible for delivering on a business mission can make a big difference. Architects can lead this kind of thinking in the company.

Keep EA relevant

Consultant David TorreDavid Torre

David Torre, owner and principal consultant, Center Mast LLC: Obviously COVID turned the world upside down overnight. You have to think about your audience and recalibrate the EA practice in how we communicate with stakeholders. They're concerned about their jobs, their families, and their focus has constricted way down to what's in front of them -- which is a bit counterintuitive to the enterprise architecture approach of thinking about the big picture and the long term.

We need to continue to have our strategic view, of course, but we really need to be delivering tactical value as well, given all the crises and disasters and challenges of today. EA is already information rich. We have a lot of information that executives need. We're sitting on a goldmine, so to speak, and we hold the keys to enabling decision-making. We can answer complex questions. But the bad news is how we tend to present information to executives. We have lots of minutiae. We have extremely verbose presentations and lots and lots of options.

Right now, the information needs to be sharper, and it needs to be opinionated. Don't reinvent the wheel. Use the existing artifacts you have. Insert yourself as the epicenter of actionable information and sharpen the insights. You really want to drive the needle and come to the table opinionated. Don't overwhelm your stakeholders with options. Your business model canvases and capability maps are great in EA but far too detailed for the distracted executive of today. So, we're pivoting into executive onboarding dossiers. When new executives come on board, we give them almost a CliffsNotes version, and it saves them hours. Many other examples of your application portfolios can be turned into run books, succession plans and flex workforce plans. The key takeaway is we want to keep EA relevant. It's about adapting to the times, sharpening your narrative with the business and not being afraid to step on some toes.

Use smart KPIs to demonstrate value

Info-Tech's Andy NeillAndy Neill

Andy Neill, chief enterprise architect and senior director of data and analytics, Info-Tech Research Group: Use smart KPIs [key performance indicators] and measurements to show the effectiveness and value of enterprise architecture, such as the number of business capabilities defined by enterprise architecture that the business has been satisfied with. You might have to submit surveys, diagnostics or questionnaires to the business and ask, 'Have you been pleased with the iterative developments that we've been delivering to you?' Tie those back to architecture support. Break down regulations like GDPR and CCPA and trace parts of the compliance to the architecture. If you develop a reusable pattern and set of artifacts, every new project that has that requirement can reuse the artifact and save money.

There are architects out there now worried about their jobs because they're an expensive resource. In order to show how effective they are and the value that they bring to their company, they need some way to measure or visualize that. Having a dashboard that lives across your repository of enterprise architecture is becoming very important to show the effectiveness of enterprise architecture.

Lots of organizations are realizing that business capability models are the most powerful areas they can attack as they struggle with COVID. They're identifying and focusing on the most important capabilities to help them survive through the pandemic and then throwing in a couple of capabilities that differentiate the organization when we come to the other side of COVID. Previous to COVID, being a business architect was quite a niche skill, but during COVID, business architecture has become a more prevalent form of architecture. It's the capability modeling, the business process modeling, the business collaborations, the business interactions. Business architecture is completely agnostic of the application landscape, the data and the technology.

Align enterprise IT architecture to the business

Consultant James McGovernJames McGovern

James McGovern, independent consultant; former enterprise architect, The Hartford; former enterprise architect, Hewlett Packard; former enterprise architecture research director, Gartner: There are lots of ineffective enterprise architecture practices out there that need to be revisited in terms of their mission and charter. Unfortunately, organizations have been misguided into thinking that enterprise architecture is only about technology planning. We have to figure out how to make enterprise architecture a lot more business aligned and, especially nowadays, help our organizations successfully transform, look at new business models, and provide value in an ecosystem context. Right now, most organizations think of business strategy and IT strategy as two separate things. We have to blur those lines. It takes a lot of effort and thought process to be more business-outcome-driven. It's not simple or straightforward. You've got to really put on your creative thinking hat.

In this particular space, I don't think you can read about best practices. There's not a single book that is prescriptive enough. It's got to follow the apprenticeship model. You need to have some hand holding going on. An independent consultant can help get them on the right track in a three-month engagement, so the investment is not that big. This is not where I would recommend calling up your friendly neighborhood big X firm, [such as] Accenture, KPMG or Cognizant, to help with your enterprise architecture. More often than not, they're using that as an opportunity to study your systems and figure out how to sell you more outsourcing.

COVID has forced many organizations to adopt a work-from-home model. Many executives still believe that control is the best way to drive productivity, and they fear losing it. Less controlling executives believe a lot of creative, effective work happens via in-person relationships. What remains unexplored are the ways to enhance relationships and productivity when working virtually. Nowadays in a war for talent, an organization in, say, Virginia can attract talent from all of the USA. Too many organizations are holding onto legacy management approaches that hinder their approach to enterprise architecture and miss opportunities to strengthen their business strategy.

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