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> Misconceptions of Enterprise Architecture (EA)

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According to Gartner, “76% of organisations are either starting, restarting or renewing their Enterprise Architecture efforts.” Gartner, (Sept 2020). In rapidly evolving business ecosystems, it is vital to have clear visibility of your organisations’ path ahead; understanding your own purpose, strategy, and positioning alongside challenges, limitations, and potential risks that could impact your ability to successfully navigate business change.  

“By 2023, 60% of organisations will depend on EA’s role to lead the business approach to digital innovation.” Gartner, 2021.  

There is often however a misunderstanding of what or who Enterprise Architecture (EA) is for? Some organisations will have the right intentions and adopt EA early, other organisations may not even be aware that they already use elements of EA in their business process. And then there are organisations that feel EA is not applicable for them; they are not yet at the stage or scale where Enterprise Architecture is for them a requirement. However, we can reassure the latter that EA is of great value to all organisations; irrespective of scale, budget, industry/sector, discipline, etc. 

As a definition, Enterprise Architecture is “a conceptual blueprint that defines the structure and operation of organisations. The intent of enterprise architecture is to determine how an organisation can effectively achieve its current and future objectives. Enterprise architecture involves the practice of analysing, planning, designing, and eventually implementing analysis on an enterprise. 

Enterprise architecture helps businesses going through a digital transformation since EA focuses on bringing both legacy applications and processes together in an attempt to form a seamless environment.” SearchCIO TechTarget. 

We spoke with Damian Hagger, Lead Architect at Perform Partners on 5 Misconceptions of Enterprise Architecture he has most frequently experienced when working with SME’s.

1. Enterprise Architecture is Expensive

“Misconceptions 1 and 2 almost consistently seem to go hand-in-hand; enterprise architecture is expensive and only for large organisations.  

In reality, it’s like any practice, you can apply EA to any small or large enterprise; as long as you apply your business values, the practices, and you’re able to apply principles in a way that suits the situation, you can scale it up or you can scale it down depending upon the nature of what’s needed. Fundamentally, your Enterprise Architecture capability can be as big or as small, or as expensive or inexpensive as you need it to be. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. EA as a concept is an ‘art’ (not a science), it is bespoke to the business; its ecosystem, its people, and its situation. 

The thinking behind EA being expensive is an understandable one – the source of this misconception comes from the discipline or the cost to hire a quality Enterprise Architect; it is expensive. However, if you employ a consultancy, where you’re getting a ‘slice’ of a highly qualified and experienced Architect, that architect can focus on the specifics of what your start-up or SME is trying to do. The outcome, in this case, is insightful and reliable knowledge from a highly experienced Architect for only the duration your business needs it, at the level and cost attainable for your organisation. This is where the perceived expensive resource stops being expensive and can be priced as to what the SME actually needs.” 

2. Enterprise Architecture is only for large organisations; not for Start-ups or SME’s.

“This particular misconception can be a dangerous one for all organisations as it often leads to a blind spot or weak foundations that later down the line require resolving. By ignoring the fundamentals of EA at the earliest stage possible, the outcome most often is losing time, inefficient resource investment, and a sunk cost fallacy. In some scenarios, the business may even encounter an opportunity cost – the cost of their decision. Without being aware of multiple strategies or paths available to them, an organisation may only see and opt for one path – Path A. By doing this, they can actually lose the opportunity to go down the alternative paths – Path B or C – to their business change or delivery. If EA is introduced at the earliest stage, all the available opportunities can be set out for the business to choose what is truly the best opportunity for progression, change, and strategic growth. However, by progressing down Path A without full visibility, you may lose the opportunity to go down Path B or C altogether, meaning you then have no choice but to keep on going down Path A, requiring a further investment of time and resources. 

The source of this misconception again is obvious. Start-ups and SME’s are very early in their lifecycles where the growth and evolution of the business is fast-paced so to set structure, governance, protocol or processes, and policies feel counter-productive and as if it will slow you down. In reality, it’s creating a strategic path that you can keep reviewing and checking that you are consistently on the path towards the business vision. It allows clarity and focus, avoid hold-ups or blockers, and gives sight of larger issues you are likely to encounter and what options you have to overcome and keep moving forward.” 

 3. It’s too early to introduce Enterprise Architecture.

 “The best way I can explain the benefits of bringing Architecture into a Start-up or SME early on, or even into a change program early on, is to look at it as the equivalent of saying we’re going to build a house. We’re going to build the house but what we’re going to do is we’re going to put the foundations in ourselves as we can sort that quickly and we’ll start building the house. We know where to buy bricks and windows are simple enough to order as we know what size windows we want. Then once you’ve set the foundations and started to build the walls, the window delivery arrives and somehow the windows don’t actually fit – the builders had their own process meaning the planned window recess is slightly different to account for the bricks used, so now you have a costly problem and the whole project stopes! You then invite an Architect to offer their support and insight. I see it done in business time and time again, waiting to engage with an Architect until a project has started, which leads to big headaches and problems, where time and money are lost. Architects know the terrain, they know the ecosystems, have the knowledge and experience of the task in hand that needs to be done for a successful change delivery. They also know constraints that will likely arise later down the line, limitations, or even compliance and regulations that require careful navigation. It’s an age-old saying but it’s correct; with experience comes knowledge.  

Invite the architect into your organisation as early as possible to support with planning and allow you and the organisation full visibility of your path ahead before you move forward with your build. 

I don’t think this misconception actually stems from anywhere, in particular, it’s more than the business and the individuals leading it are trying their best to prioritise the tasks at hand that need to be done to sustain their growth plan while also creating motion within the business. What they often don’t see is that the initial time investment upfront can help progress the business substantially later on. 

 

Architecture is the set of values, practices, and principles for capable delivery. An example that springs to mind when considering the difference between principles and practices is Ghostbusters and the big Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Early on in the film, Egon say’s, “don’t cross the streams... it would be bad” And then at the end of the film, he says “We're going to have to cross the streams” knowing full well the risk they were taking. 

4. Enterprise Architecture is just a load of red tape governance, let’s just get on with it instead!

I hear it time and time again, ‘it’s governance we don’t need. We need to be agile and able to just make decisions.’ Yes, traditional Enterprise Architecture can feel like red-tape bureaucracy if you permit it to be. But actually, if instead, you focus on supporting decision-making, rather than bogging down the decision-making process, EA can help speed the decision-making process up. 

Architecture is the set of values, practices, and principles for capable delivery. An example that springs to mind when considering the difference between principles and practices is Ghostbusters and the big Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Early on in the film, Egon say’s, “don’t cross the streams… it would be bad” And then at the end of the film, he says “We’re going to have to cross the streams” knowing full well the risk they were taking. So the principle is ‘Don’t cross the streams,’ but in practice, you can still cross the steams in a particular situation. Your principle remains consistent, crossing the streams for your organisation is bad however in practice you may encounter a situation where crossing the streams is in fact your best solution to the challenge.  

A good Architect will understand and know the value of principles, but always be able to challenge the principles and know when to apply a waiver. They will be experienced enough to know that in a particular situation we are going to have to ignore our principle for now and just go with it.  

Enterprise Architecture shouldn’t ever restrict an organisation to make decisions or cause delay. Governance is an aspect of EA, offering experienced foresight and considerations that maybe ahead. That same governance can create a structured path that will help overcome barriers or challenges on your growth or change journey. The scale of the governance is depicted by the business and should in no way be asserted upon a business; EA should not be a bureaucratic function. 

Culture around work ethos and technology has created a shift in the ways of working where functions like EA have adapted to external forces, such as the digital transformation, and the pandemic. 

5. We are too busy for Enterprise Architecture right now.

Similarly to point 3, being too busy for Enterprise Architecture early on will almost certainly result in time lost later on. The usual comments I hear when considering EA is: ‘it doesn’t bring the customers in quickly, where’s my ROI, I don’t see any immediate results’….EA is a hard sell!  

As a business, you need to do healthy activities in order to be able to sustain yourself and grow. As an individual, if you were to go for a run, what’s your return on investment, what’s the point in going for a run, why do it when you can do something else like sleep-in instead? In fact, going for that morning run is an investment for sustaining your energy levels later on in the day. That initial time investment early in the day will result in your ability to sustain mental focus and energy levels longer into your day with a positive mindset. But you will not come back as a professional athlete ready to run a marathon. The same concept applies to Enterprise Architecture, the return on investment isn’t necessarily visible immediately. 

If you say you’re too busy for Enterprise Architecture, then what you’re really saying is ‘I’m too busy to apply disciplined thinking to the decisions I’m making,’ and if that’s the case, you likely don’t have a clear goal or a clear vision. The risks to your future business success are numerous. What we should be able to do is create a playbook that supports your progression path and the strategic journey ahead.  

Without the initial planning and foresight, projects or organisations can find themselves unstitching things set in the initial stages of their journey. At Perform Partners, we’ve found that a company’s time is less costly early on in their lifecycle; be it their business growth lifecycle or project life cycle. When you have multiple customers or stakeholders needing your time and attention, that cost factor increases substantially along with the value of your time. Our advice is to make time for Enterprise Architecture at the start or as early as you can. 


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