Alex Cullen of Forrester posted an interesting blog regarding the “inevitable trend” of business empowerment. At the recent Forrester EA Forum, they invited attendees to rate on a 1-5 scale, whether or not “the EA function has close ties with business management” and whether or not the “technology strategy and standards allow for rapidly changing technologies.” Not surprisingly, in my opinion, only 33% of respondents answered positively on the first question, and only 27% answered positively on the second question.
The combination of these two questions is very interesting. I’m very pragmatic when it comes to discussions about standards. Arbitrary standards may allow someone to fill out a compliance dashboard or meet their personal or team objectives, but the majority of those standards may not have any positive impact on the company’s strategy and goals, and in fact, may be an inhibitor. At the same time, this same linkage to strategy and goals must also apply to the use of new technologies. Someone needs to be the enterprise parent that asks the question, “do you really need that?” It may be a shiny new thing, but does it make a difference in the ability to accomplish the strategy and goals?
This is by no means an easy problem. Yes, sometimes there are very clear cost-cutting initiatives that make it easy to drive certain standards decisions. Sometimes, things are not so clear. For example, I have had conversations with people in the financial services industry who told me that the technology available to the financial consultants was important for recruiting. A company with slow technology adoption processes could be at risk of losing their top consultants, or failing to attract new ones, which winds up having a direct impact on company revenues.
The end result of all of this is that work on these two items must go hand in hand. You can’t hope to establish standards in the right areas if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of the business strategy and goals. You can’t have that intimate knowledge unless you have strong ties with business management. If the enterprise architecture team does not have these strong ties, they’re going to have to balance second-hand explanations against the potentially disconnected goals of the department to which they report (e.g. IT).
The right model for EA has to be that of the trusted advisor. I’ve commented about this previously in “Enterprise Architect: Advisor versus Gatekeeper” and “IT Needs To Be More Advisory”. When EA is being grown from within IT, a big challenge may be to establish that trust. Like it or not, the EA team may be carrying the baggage of the entire IT department with you. Trust is earned, so we need to find a way to establish one or more strong relationships with key business leaders, and then use those relationships to scale from there.