Taking It Back to Simple

simplifying enterprise architecture

Today’s ever changing businesses cannot wait until next year’s planning cycle to implement projects that impact revenue bottom lines. Large entities, such as the Air Force, are taking an exorbitant amount of time to change direction of their business units. According to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, “We currently average 17 months to award a contract where we already know there’s only one supplier.” In both business and government, 17 months to start anything is too long, and competition will prevail where opportunities are apparent. These type of organizational change issues leak into our decision-making processes and bound entities from growing, optimizing, and effectively managing risks.

HOW DID WE GET TOO COMPLEX?

There is an often bemusing adage that proclaims: “I’m from corporate, and I’m here to help.” As organizations grow over time and break into business units, they tend to develop their own culture and processes while ignoring enterprise strategy and focus, but growth does not have to lead to a loss of focus. Why not plan in advance for growth, and strategize ways your future culture will operate? Yes, growth leads to the challenge of more rules and regulations, but it is necessary to take the time to plan for the changes needed to create a simplistic solution to solving these issues. As we look at the overall strategy and focus, enterprise architects (EA) should be considering the overall approach to accomplishing the goals put in place by executive management. Here are some signs that entities might be becoming overly complex:

  • Nobody actually knows what the business does.
  • It takes a long time to start a certain project.
  • Change processes are overcontrolled and have too much red tape.
  • There is no single person responsible for each business function capability within a system.
  • Infrastructure and applications are out of date with current market trends.

Executives, political leaders, and military leaders are looking for more efficient ways to manage their portfolios. They want to link the strategic foresight with future projects and existing operational activities. At an industry event in Dayton, OH, an Air Force general stated, “These reports are 300 pages long. You know what I do with a 300-page report filled with words? A trash can might be a good place for something like that.”

WHO’S MAKING A DIFFERENCE?

Big business is learning from small business ways to be disruptive. They are studying recent small-business trends like agile, lean start up, and other easy and cheap ways to fail or succeed. By studying these willing to fail start-ups, larger organizations have developed processes to think differently as they make the transformation into a connected world.

General Electric (GE) developed the program FastWorks to create more value with fewer resources. It is not easy for a large company with 300,000 employees and more than $147 billion in annual revenue to just change the way it has done business for more than 100 years. FastWorks has challenged how people normally think about business in a big organization and has armed these small groups with a new set of protocols such as a problem statement, fewer processes, half the normal budget, and an accelerated development cycle.

Google recently announced the creation of Alphabet, a parent organization that will look at managing Google and its sister companies as a conglomerate of entities and products. This new strategy is being deployed to allow Google to focus on Google. With a diverse set of products ranging from Google Apps, Google Search, YouTube, self-driving cars, all the way to Android products, Google felt it had become lost inside its own strategy. The business strategy becomes difficult to manage, and investments trend toward failing products. The launch of Alphabet allows Google to spin out technology as investments and allows those investments to succeed or fail on their own.

CAN IT BE APPLIED ACROSS THE ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE?

EAs can study what is providing positive results within these start-ups and accomplish such feats with half the time and budget previously required. We can demonstrate outcomes such as simple modeling, failing fast, and providing actionable data to senior leaders to better guide large entities through faster project implementations.

  • Simple modeling. Start-up communities are not worried about documenting their future “to-be” state because they know changes will come. Instead, they have voted to apply the “Keep It Simple” methodology of applying good-enough modeling. A plain old whiteboard can be the most effective tool in assisting the launch of a project while not wasting time having teams wait for perfect modeling diagrams that will change.
  • Do What Is Needed and Fail Fast. EAs need to look at working incrementally. Yes, diagrams are important to understand the system and business functionality, but modeling should be a just-in-time (JIT) approach to allow for decreased development time and increased client feedback. EAs will be able test their ideas with clients and receive instant feedback. Architecture output products, such as TOGAF, DoDAF, and FEA, will evolve and the solutions will become clearer as we move into later iterations. (See figure 1.)simplifying enterprise architecture

 

  • Actionable Data. EAs can apply these simple processes by looking at data for ways to become smarter, leaner, cheaper, and faster at accomplishing our goals. Seventeen months is a long time to start the development cycle, but too much process can make things move slowly. Using tools that pull disparate data together precisely into predesigned models and tools can assist teams in making quick actionable decisions. By introducing a common business language, a large entity can begin to share processes and strategy to better define strategy, financials, systems, applications, capabilities, technology, risk, and compliances.

Albert Einstein once said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.” It is a perfect summation for the value of simplifying enterprise architecture.

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About David Baldwin 1 Article
David Baldwin has more than 10 years of leadership specializing in merging customer vision, business strategy, and systems engineering. David holds an MBA from Florida Tech.