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Experts predict hot enterprise architecture trends for 2021

IT architecture trends to watch in 2021 include organizing business around components and expanding tools to focus on business outcomes, automation and analytics.

Experts predict the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to exert an impact on enterprise architecture in 2021, as businesses scrutinize their IT investments, application portfolios and processes in the face of budget cuts.

But the crystal balls of top analysts, consultants and executives in the field of enterprise architecture (EA) also reflect trends they've witnessed taking shape for several years and predict will escalate as organizations expand their business transformation efforts.

For instance, many experts see automation, analytics, data governance, IT compliance and business outcomes taking on added importance in enterprise architecture tools. One consultant envisions guilds becoming ubiquitous in data, infrastructure and application architecture to facilitate a more formal way of sharing ideas and artifacts and approving decisions.

Below is a sampling of the EA predictions SearchCIO collected for 2021 and beyond.

Trends in enterprise architecture, tools

Luca de Risi, COO, Mega International: 2020 was the year of COVID, and of course, some budgets have been cut. One trend I see continuing in the next six months is enterprise architecture to manage resiliency. It's going back to the basics really, gaining control of your IT by viewing and evaluating the application portfolio to save costs, rationalize, evaluate the criticality of your applications and avoid redundancies. There are also requests on the risk management side of EA. Usually that translates into business continuity planning, both with process management and analysis as well as IT.

Luca de RisiLuca de Risi

Outcome-driven EA will increase. We see people asking to do less description and more action. They don't want to spend time drawing a ton of models. They want more automation, and they want to focus on designing their future states. People are asking for automatic discovery. That can be process mining, task mining or data discovery.

I see a shift from pure IT-based enterprise architecture to business-oriented enterprise architecture, with architects not focusing just on EA frameworks but on how they can provide real value to the business in terms of data governance, IT compliance and customer journey. We're receiving more requests from existing customers who want to go further with enterprise architecture to support business transformation. They say, 'We've done the application inventory. We mastered portfolio management. What do we do next?' Data is being seen as a strategic asset, so they want to govern the data. Data governance is a domain that has existed for a while, but the connection with EA is a growing trend. Enterprise architects can also provide full visibility on the IT landscape to help the CISO demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements. We are also starting to see customer journey as a mandatory item in many RFPs [requests for proposals]. That involves key performance indicators and the balanced scorecard.

Erik BakstadErik Bakstad

Erik Bakstad, co-founder and interim CEO, Ardoq: There is increasing competition in enterprise architecture tools, with a lot of new players. There's going to be more investing in R&D. Hopefully, that means customers will get better tools for their EA initiatives. We'll see tools going in different directions and having different focuses. The newer generation of tools is typically data-driven. You don't draw your architecture. It is basically derived from the data you put into the tools. That opens up different uses for data analytics to create future-state scenarios, quantify the benefits to the business and use that to make strategic decisions. You can do organizational modeling. It's difficult to do that unless you have a data-driven approach, because you would have to create every single future-state scenario. The entire delivery vehicle for the newer tools is cloud only, so you can deploy more rapidly. Companies that have moved to the cloud over the last couple of years realize that you can't be in one cloud anymore. You have to be in multiple clouds in order to ensure redundancy. That's another area where EA tools are focusing, creating native integration with these modern-day cloud environments and using enterprise architecture practices to manage and model them.

Bernd GrossBernd Gross

Bernd Gross, CTO, Software AG: Multi-cloud has become a new strategic importance for many software architects because of business requests to serve the global market and the political uncertainty between China and the United States. Architectural demand in the past used to be that I, as an enterprise, could move my data from Cloud A to Cloud B, be independent and retain ownership of the data. Multi-cloud today means that you can sit, for example, on Azure in the United States, on AWS in Europe and on Alibaba in China. These kinds of multi-cloud capabilities are becoming extremely important for many companies going forward because you are not allowed to run applications or services from Europe or from the U.S. if you serve the Chinese market. Chinese customers require you to deploy in Chinese clouds. So, if you, as an enterprise, want to serve your products globally with digital services -- which is happening almost as a standard nowadays -- you have to be able to support your customers regardless of the cloud platform.

André ChristAndré Christ

André Christ, CEO, LeanIX: Continuous transformation is going to become much more important for companies and for enterprise architects, who can play a big role in it. Instead of a one-time, big digital transformation, you'll have a number of transformation programs going on in parallel. One reason is mergers and acquisitions. Looking at the economy now, with COVID, we see companies at a stage where they will acquire other businesses to create a bigger footprint and accelerate their own innovation. We've seen that in the pharma industry in the past, and we're going to see it accelerating this year, especially in tech, travel and retail. So, the ability of an organization to do multiple transformations will become an ongoing theme.

Learning to componentize business

Jeanne RossJeanne Ross

Jeanne Ross, retired principal research scientist, MIT Center for Information Systems Research: Companies will start learning how to componentize their business. In the past, they organized around business lines and functions, relying on hierarchies and matrices to coordinate the two. But as businesses become more technology-dependent, and technology is more often delivered as services and microservices, businesses will need to be organized around components. Designing a business around services involves identifying key outcomes and assigning accountability for those outcomes. By assigning accountability rather than structures or standardized processes, businesses become more responsive. This is a dramatic shift for businesses and people. It will be a long journey.

Marcus BloschMarcus Blosch

Marcus Blosch, vice president of research, Gartner, Inc.: In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic and resulting economic fallout, many organizations have shifted their focus to building adaptability and resilience. Building adaptable and resilient organizations through composability has to be done simultaneously across multiple levels -- business architecture, working practices, leveraging information and building the supporting technology platforms. Creating a truly composable organization also means breaking down the silos that effectively limit the organization's ability to adapt. Enterprise architects must use composability as a primary design consideration when working with business and technology executives on new business and operating models.

John MayallJohn Mayall

John Mayall, managing director, Enterprise Architecture Solutions: COVID has slashed budgets and changed business models, and we're seeing massive disruption in product and service delivery. For companies to stay profitable, or even continue to exist, changes that typically would have been planned and implemented over a number of years are now being targeted to happen in months, with IT most often at the heart of the majority of these initiatives. Under these pressures, companies will compromise quality for speed in the short term even though they understand that this will lead to increased costs and complexity in the medium to long term, as well as increased risk. EA teams will be given the responsibility for tracking the technical debt incurred and providing visibility of the potential risks associated with tactical decisions that are being made. However, they will also be left exposed to be the fall guys if the business becomes constrained.

Gordon BarnettGordon Barnett

Gordon Barnett, principal analyst, Forrester Research: The events of 2020 highlighted that the enterprise architectures of many firms could not adapt to the environmental change at the rate customers, partners and executives demanded. This led to many reactive and tactical projects that often bypassed EA. In 2021 and 2022, EA leaders will be redesigning their approach to EA to focus on three design principles: adaptive architecture, to reallocate resources and assets to support the dynamic configuration of business and operating models; creative, to adopt best practices in innovation; and resilient, to maintain operational effectiveness in times of disruption, growth, rightsizing and downsizing.

Impact to enterprise architects

Andy Neill, chief enterprise architect, Info-Tech Research Group: Architecture guilds are going to become ubiquitous. This will start with data architecture guilds, infrastructure architecture guilds and application architecture guilds but will quickly expand to security, business and integration. This can only happen if the domain architects are given the authority to make good architecture decisions in the moment on behalf of enterprise architecture.

Andy NeillAndy Neill

Architecture review boards are going to disappear. When organizations start to instill more trust in their domain architects to make the right decisions and to impart architecture knowledge at the team level, there will be less and less need for an enterprise architecture review board. Organizations will work to a point where standards, patterns and architecture decisions are left to the teams and informed up the chain. This very much aligns to the agile mentality, which is also becoming a standard development and delivery model.

David TorreDavid Torre

David Torre, owner and principal consultant, Center Mast, LLC: More EAs will be automating artifact production, creating and updating application portfolios, capability maps and cloud infrastructure footprints. Among clients I've worked with who have some semblance of an EA practice, about 40% are automating, and 60% are not. I would hope that at least half of enterprises with an EA practice are conducting some form of EA automation. It's imperative in order to deliver EA value faster with tighter budgets and fewer human resources.

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