Most of us agree that we are operating our businesses in a mobile-first, always-on, customer-centric environment. Constant disruption is affecting virtually every aspect of our business and forcing us all to rethink our approach to how we deliver products and services to our customers.
Further, research firms such as Gartner, Forrester, and others say that enterprise architecture will be expected to lead the way through these disruptive digital business transformations. Certainly EA teams are well positioned to take on this role—most EA teams are closely aligned or a direct part of the information technology team. This gives the EA team a view of the entire organization and how it works, and, of course, they are generally experts in the technology that runs their business and its opportunities and limitations.
Still, there are no guarantees. Even though EA teams have desired a “seat at the strategy table” for years and are arguably the most qualified internal team in terms of pure knowledge, it is probably more accurate to say that someone will lead the business through its digital transformations, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the EA team. What could prevent EA from leading the way? The perception of the EA team by business stakeholders could be one cause.
EA PERCEPTIONS SURVEY
IDG recently conducted a survey on the perception of enterprise architecture among IT and business leaders in large organizations. The results have interesting implications for EA teams across all industries, especially industries experiencing high levels of disruption. Since the focus of the survey was on perceptions of the value that EA teams bring to their non-architect business stakeholders, it provides some unique insights into what EA teams need to do to be recognized as a valuable partner to their businesses during digital disruption.
The survey was conducted in December 2015 and involved large organizations (greater than 5000 employees) across the public sector, banking, healthcare, and technology industries. In the survey respondents were asked to rank various statements about how EA teams were perceived by different stakeholder groups, and what kind of value the EA team brought to those groups.
There are three perception results that are interesting for our discussion.
Perception #1: Awareness of EA
In one question about perception of EA, respondents were asked to rank how aware different stakeholder groups were of EA and whether those groups considered EA critical to their own strategy development and execution. Technology delivery-focused stakeholder groups like network operations, project management, and development all perceived EA as critical to the development and execution of their own strategies. Conversely, business and customer-facing stakeholder groups like sales, marketing, and product development did not see EA as critical to their strategy. Indeed, the survey shows that in most cases customer-facing stakeholder groups don’t know what the EA team does at all.
Perception #2: EA Challenges
In another question, the respondents were asked what they perceived as the most challenging objectives of their EA team. The biggest perceived challenges were improving processes, making business model changes, and improving the customer experience. The least challenging objectives were tasks like standardization/project governance and solution architecture. These are not surprising results given that “EA” in most organizations is a technology management function.
Perception #3: The Value EA Provides
When respondents were asked to rank what value their EA teams were able to deliver, “solution design,” “technical subject matter expertise,” and “technical strategy” were the highest ranked value statements. “Business acumen,” “apply lean/agile methods,” and “willingness to take risks” were the lowest ranked. These answers point to the view that EA is primarily a technology management organization.
THE PERCEPTION GAP
We’ve heard from analysts that businesses addressing disruption must put the customer at the center of every decision and that they do this by driving changes in their business model that will improve the customer experience. However, we see that these particular capabilities are perceived as challenges by the majority of respondents in this survey. Further, we see that customer-facing groups within a majority of respondents’ businesses don’t perceive EA as adding value for them directly, and the value they do perceive is focused only on technology delivery.
If EA teams are going to be selected by their businesses to lead digital transformations, they will need to close the awareness gap between themselves and stakeholders that are the closest to customers and change the perception of them from being software/technology delivery experts to digital business strategy experts.
There is no reason to believe that the EA team’s knowledge of the business is actually lacking, nor is their ability to apply their expertise in meaningful ways. So what is happening? Digging further in to the survey hints at an answer.
HABITS OF EA LEADERS
Not all respondents in the survey showed a perception gap. Using perception #1 as a guide, we selected the roughly 15% of respondents that perceived their EA organization as critical to customer-facing stakeholders (like lines of business, sales, marketing) to create a Customer Facing (outside of IT) cohort group to see if some of their unique behaviors can be discerned.
When we look at the Customer Facing group of respondents, we see that they rank additional capabilities above and beyond the traditional EA capabilities as being critical to their success. EA capabilities like “Business acumen,” “Promotion of collaboration and communication,” and “Willingness to take risks” have the highest criticality. Also, we see that Customer Facing stakeholders tend to receive deliverables from EA in standard productivity tool formats (e.g., PowerPoint diagrams or Word documents) rather than through specialized tools.
While there is not enough data to make hard conclusions, there is an indication that leading EA teams are able to close the perception gap through better communication and an ability to deliver information in forms that are easier to consume by the business. This should be an area for EA to research further.