George Paras Talks EA – Part One

enterprise architecture strategy

George Paras has made a living being unconventional. Need proof? Take a look at his bio  on the website of his company, EAdirections. Paras, whose stature as a thought leader in the enterprise architecture space is unquestioned, waxes on in the bio about the similarities between music and physics, and what each has to do with enterprise architecture. As strange as his narrative may seem, there’s nothing odd about Paras’ career and his role as editor-in-chief of Architecture & Governance Magazine, where he has influenced thousands of enterprise architects through the years. It’s for that reason that we interviewed Paras. Part one of the two-part interview appears below.

Question: When and where did you first hear the term enterprise architecture?

Answer: I have always been a strong believer that it is vital to understand the “big picture” as a context for making narrower decisions. I have no doubt that it was due to my fascination with and eventual studies in physics and mathematics.  I wrote about the affinity between EA and science in the “About Me” section of our website, if you are curious. My EA story began in the early 1990’s. I was working with the application of massively parallel computing to scientific and business problems. As the problems and data sets grew larger and more complex, there always seemed to be a material set of related business issues just beyond the horizon of whatever problem we were working on, distinct from the engineering challenges.  In my quest to understand the connections between the big picture view (enterprise) and the small view (the problem) I began studying strategy and enterprise decision-making.  It wasn’t long before I discovered a paper on Principles-based Enterprise Architecture in MIS Quarterly.  It clicked. I realized that there was this “thing” that sits between strategy and the engineering of solutions.  It was called “Enterprise Architecture” and it coordinates the orderly transition from the big to the small.

Q: How do you define enterprise architecture?

A: EA exists to help coordinate the orderly representation of strategy, core beliefs, philosophies, and directions across orchestrated views of the enterprise, including business, information, solutions portfolios, segments, and technologies, to prepare the organization for ongoing and constant change.  Since everyone has to have a Powerpoint definition, ours is “Enterprise Architecture is a set of artifacts/methods that help business leaders make decisions about direction and communicate the changes that need to occur in their enterprise to achieve their vision.”  To me it is all about the relationships between the “parts” and the “motivations” in the enterprise, not details about specific parts.

Q: Which was more influential in your career, the enterprise architect position at United or analyst position at Meta, and why?

A: I’d add EAdirections into the mix and I’d have to say “all of them” for different reasons.  First United: They say you learn more from failures than successes.  It is there that I learned the lessons of culture, people and timing.  Cultures are hard to change, people come to the table with agendas, and timing is everything.  META Group provided insight into many diverse organizations.  While my partner Tim Westbrock, the team, and I developed many of the core ideas and the rigor of EA, it was a double-edged sword.  It was misapplied in far too many cases.  From this we learned that one size does not fit all.  That was a hard lesson gleaned from the many well-intended organizations that failed while executing EA.  Now EAdirections: we carried forward the one size does not fit all philosophy, with appreciation for cultural change, people, process, tools, and timing, and put them into practice.  With the availability of generic EA information on the internet, and many organizations carrying baggage from prior failed attempts, EA leaders now realize they need an experienced filter to guide them through the noise and to choose the right techniques, in the right order, and to the right degree.

Q: How has enterprise architecture changed over the last 10 years?

A: There is much more general information on EA available, as well as better frameworks, tools, and certifications.  The hot areas over the last few years are business and information architecture, more active participation from business leaders, strategists and planners, and increasing maturity of project portfolio management as an enabler. We also stress to all of our clients that EA is an inclusive activity, a team sport.  We’ve seen a much higher desire for integration between EA and many of the surrounding, and formerly isolated, management disciplines. Sadly, there is still a lot that hasn’t changed: confusion between the roles of solution and enterprise architect, and IT centricity, are foremost.  We actually wrote an analysis of the last 10 years on our website.  See “EAdirections Tenth Anniversary Observations” for much more detail.

Q: What does EAdirections do?

A: We are a highly experienced and insightful filter helping our clients figure out how much EA to do, when to do it, in what order, and to what level of detail.  We find the best approach for them to adopt EA concepts focused on seamless integration that will ingrain EA into the decision-making psyche of leadership.  We employ a mentoring model to help leadership, their teams, and individual members to understand and apply specific techniques and approaches to increase influence.  We use a very intimate and personal approach, complete with nearly constant interaction, reviews, assessments and refinements, all finely tuned to adapt to the cultural cross-currents and raise awareness in leadership.  Unlike a traditional consulting approach, we “teach you to fish.”  Unlike traditional EA framework training, it isn’t classroom work but learning timed to the exact scenarios our clients are facing.

Q: Why have you committed so much time to A&G Magazine as its editor-in-chief through the years?

A: I have always believed that EA needs a place for practitioners and their leaders to read about ideas that inspire and help them think; not academic, not formulaic, and easily approachable.  My role on the editorial board has been to seek out and help deliver something different.  We look for specific real-world examples, unique angles to think about problems, emerging ideas, and topics that while narrow in focus are actually expansive.  By expansive I hope that our readers ask themselves questions like: Might this apply to me? Where does this topic fit into the larger perspective of EA? Even if this doesn’t apply to me what insights might I gain about the impact on EA, strategy, governance and portfolio views?  I hope we get it right most of the time.