In Step With: Gregg Garrett, Volkswagen of America

Meetings are a necessary staple of Dr. Warren Ritchie's work life as Leader of Business Integration Services at Volkswagen of America.

He's had thousands of them in a distinguished career at the automaker. Amid them all, however, there have been a few meetings that truly stand out.

On a brisk fall day several years ago, Ritchie had one of those extraordinary meetings, which ultimately—in the years since—guided the wholly owned subsidiary of VW along a strategic path that should be the envy of its peers.

That day, Ritchie and a director were discussing IT project budgets, when the future came careening around the corner.

“It was very serendipitous,” said Ritchie. “We were sitting in a meeting, and everything fell together about what to do next.”

The “next” in this case was an appreciation for the concept of Enterprise Architecture, which can loosely be defined as the ability to fully comprehend all the technical resources of a company so that they can be used to make good corporate decisions.

Ritchie was wise enough to see that introducing this capability would take a Visionary, someone who could see the immediate project - a 5-year corporate strategy deployment plan - through to a successful conclusion and set the stage for future successes.

Enter Gregg Garrett. Then a consultant with Ernst and Young, Garrett had a passion for IT, and understood the real-world business issues that corporate executives must address.

Garrett took the job and today he is works for a part of VW called gedas, Inc., which has not only been successful at helping VWoA execute its corporate strategy, but also at helping other enterprises in its capacity as an IT consulting firm.

The relationship between gedas and VW and the private sector makes for an interesting set of challenges for Garrett, especially when his role as executive committee chairman of the Enterprise Architecture Interest Group (EAIG) is added to the mix.

Garrett, somehow, keeps the roles separate. With gedas, he notes, that he is not trying “to sell EA services to the private sector. Why? We don't think there is a broad enough market for it, yet. What we are selling is an architected approach to solving problems.”

The entity's “mission” on its web site backs that up, making no mention of EA. But rather: “gedas will work with its customers worldwide to achieve their business goals through the innovative and efficient use of Information Technology.”

Garrett hopes that statement resonates, helping gedas increase its business mix to 40 percent in the private sector and only 60 percent to VWoA. After it was initially spun out from VWoA, gedas has “repositioned itself” for such a run. “A lot of people that originally came over from VW to gedas are now back at VW,” Garrett says. “Most of the people now at gedas have an entrepreneurial spirit.”

The same can be said of the EAIG, a trade group bent on expressing the value proposition of EA.

“More and more companies are paying attention, but in the wrong space,” says Garrett. “They are only focused on the technology space. They understand investments as related to technology. Where we find more value is when it can be applied to the entire enterprise.”

Garrett can certainly point to first-hand experience. In addition to his roles at EAIG and gedas, he is also currently a staff member of VWoA's Business Process Technology Organization (BPT&O), which has given him a birds-eye view of an ongoing successful deployment there.

Part of the VWoA project's success can be attributed to the strong need the automaker had to redefine its global automotive strategy as well as to define its intention to change from being a producer of small cars to a full range automotive OEM.

With that goal in mind, a team was formed, comprised of employees from gedas, BPTO and VWoA's corporate strategy department. “The team took inventory of all the pieces that made the company tick,” said Garrett.

Achieving that objective was easier said then done. “Change was the biggest challenge,” said Garrett, noting that whole departments were forced to define themselves at an unprecedented level of detail. He adds that there was some resistance to the level of precision required by the methodology within each department. Garrett called the resistance “minor,” however, attributing the relatively smooth exercise to the support that the CEO and the Executive Director of Corporate Strategy provided.

In the aftermath of the initial project, Garrett says that EA “is becoming more infused. The current CIO has said his No. 1 mission is to link business strategies to processes, creating a strategic roadmap. He is really architecting a vision.”

And yet the team has created nary a ripple in terms of its existence. “If you went in and spoke to the senior executives, they probably wouldn't know much about EA. That's by design. However, if you ask them about the next round of growth projects, they're all going to recognize what EA is.”

Garrett says the BPTO's biggest success within VWoA is reducing the cost of the service level agreement. It was a challenge because “We had to protect some profitability, while at the same time reducing overall costs,” says Garrett.

It will take a complete effort to raise the profile of EA in the right way. To that end, Garrett promotes what he believes are “Seven Keys to EA Success:”

  • To build a complete Enterprise Architecture, the effort must be a true partnership between IT and the Business Leadership.
  • Perform EA effort to solve business problems, not to just architect. (This does not need to be a BIG problem.)
  • VWoA's business success hinged on the CEO becoming the “face” for the results of the effort.
  • Business Unit buy-in requires leaders to support the program by allocating resources to the effort.
  • Build goal models first and assign “Champions” for the highest level goals to ensure value is recognized by business.
  • Stop selling EA (EA frameworks, Tools, etc.) - sell the transformation EA enables.
  • Business executives must believe that EA is a methodology to implement strategic change.

Garrett says that if there is one key he would emphasize it is “to sell EA as a way to solve problems.”

Ritchie concurs, noting that EA professionals must focus on “configuring an organization to produce the goods and services. Questions must be answered, such as 'What part should be kept in place? What part should be reconfigured?' Strategists can talk about it,” said Ritchie, “but they don't have an agreed upon strategy for implementing technology. They don't answer the question of how are we going to actually do it?

The marriage between the EA professional and the corporate strategist makes total sense in Ritchie's mind, since they truly need each other.

“As long as EA stays trapped in IT, it can't do great things,” Ritchie says. To escape, “EA must describe all the methodology, without the geekiness. It must frame the benefit of EA, which is relevant to the strategy, and nothing more.”


by Holt Hackney is a Managing Editor to Architecture and Governance Magazine. He can be reached at 'hhackney@hackneypublications.com