The Last Word: Enterprise Architects, Leaders in Innovation
Innovation is a driving force for business change and Enterprise Architects must prepare for it and, preferably, lead the charge. Unfortunately, for many EA groups, most discussions of innovation are limited to debates on the latest, greatest technology advances. This should not come as a surprise, based on the background of most Enterprise Architects and the demands placed on them. The Enterprise Architect must provide coherent guidance to the enterprise through principles, standards and models while also providing project enablement, engineering support and value delivery. While many Enterprise Architects succeed in satisfying short-term needs, little time or incentive remains to pursue impactful enterprise-wide innovation. Complicating matters, many EAs lack the experience to be conversant enough in business and technology trends to lead innovation, but lead they must.
Why does EA need to lead? One simple reason is perhaps the most obvious, yet not often recognized: because EA is in the perfect place to lead. Today's prototypical IT organization has a centralized Shared Services group and multiple, business-unit-aligned delivery groups. Because most business requests flow to IT, the Shared Services group is often the first to have visibility into opportunities for cross-business integration, consolidation and innovation. With EA chartered as the principal cross-domain group, it is the logical choice to drive cross-enterprise analyses.
EA also often has the most complete information about the hierarchy of abstractions defining the layers of the business. Beginning with an environmental scan of business and technology trends, they can relate the implications of those trends against the logical and physical models that define the business. Using scenario analysis techniques, they can test “what-if” scenarios and judge the impact of innovation ideas on the strategy, tactics and models of the business.
How should EA lead innovation? Enterprise Architects lead through influence, not authority, identifying meaningful opportunities, driving discussion and informing the analysis. They do this armed with an EA process that is driven by the business and logically structured from the top down, using a knowledge base that spans all domains across a planning horizon ranging from current to future state.
With time at a premium and the demands on the EA group high, how can innovation fit into the schedule? The EA group must budget time for innovation as one of many important EA process tasks. Identifying innovation opportunities should occur on a regular schedule, typically twice a year, as part of a routine business and technology environmental trends scan. In each cycle, known trends are re-examined, new ones identified and their implications analyzed for discussion with the senior leadership team. While this process phase is difficult the first time, subsequent cycles become easier and more time-efficient. The body of knowledge accumulated through repeated EA iterations makes postulating alternate future states more objective and less subjective. By applying this knowledge, the EA team can take steps today to increase corporate agility by constructing a future state that allows for a wide range of possible innovation paths.
Who leads the innovation process? Developing a skilled EA group and leadership team to perform and debate innovation analyses is essential. The key is to find an EA lead that has either the practical experience or the latent skills to map trends to implications and lead the discussion. If those skills are not apparent, an external jumpstart can help. Surprisingly, after one or two cycles, it is common for an individual with latent skills to emerge and for those skills to improve with practice.
The Last Word? EA must become the engine driving innovation. Prepare the EA group and leadership team to identify and address innovation opportunities by becoming trend-aware, and capable of leveraging the EA process and knowledge base for visibility and impact analyses.
by George Paras, the editor-in-chief of Architecture & Governance Magazine. He is a former Meta Group analyst and Vice President of Strategy for Troux Technologies. He is now doing independent consulting and research in Enterprise Architecture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.