Enterprise Architecture: Best and Worst Practices

By Dr. Gopala Krishna Behara, Lead Enterprise Architect & DMTS, Wipro Ltd

Organizations as usual are always ready to take on challenges and start a journey in defining / refining their IT strategies and aligning with business strategies. During this journey, enterprises adopt a framework / methodology / best practice / pattern / process called “Enterprise Architecture,” which will help them to structure their processes and address growth together.

The effective management and exploitation of information through IT is a key factor to business success, and an indispensable means to achieving competitive advantage. Enterprise architecture addresses this need by providing a strategic context for the evolution of the IT system in response to the constantly changing needs of the business environment.

Properly planned enterprise architecture  helps business leaders to achieve their goals, enabling the organization to become more responsive, efficient, and competitive.

As part of the Enterprise Architecture set up, the definition of Enterprise Architecture Target Operating Model, architecture requirement specification covering Business, Data, Application and Technology (BDAT) are established.

The constituents of Enterprise Architecture is depicted below,

EA Worst Practices

Before embarking on the best practices, below are the list of worst EA practices that I have come across based on my experience,

  • No Link to Strategic Planning and Budget Process
  • Strict Following of EA Frameworks
  • Over Standardization
  • Analysis Paralysis
  • Lack of Business Focus
  • Ivory Tower Approach, Technology and EA in silos
  • Lack of Open Communication
  • Lack of a Feedback Loop
  • Technology Driving the Architecture
  • Weak Technical Talent and Skill Set
  • Weak EA Governance, no metrics
  • No central repository of EA repository
  • Tools Driving EA
  • Focusing on the Current State First or Primarily

EA Best Practices

Organizations will carry out Enterprise Architecture for one of the following reasons,

  • Leverage organization’s strategy to gain a competitive advantage
  • Rationalize and Modernize information technology that is out of control
  • Comply with state and federal regulations

The following are the brief summary of the activities that need to be performed to successfully establish and run the EA across the Organization.

EA Charter, it represents the agreement between the EA team and the stakeholders. Development of an EA charter makes explicit the benefits that the organization expects to achieve with its program and defines how those benefits achieved. At a high level, EA charter covers the following,

  • Identify stakeholders and details of their obligations to the EA process
  • Defines the value proposition scope, team organization, vision and risk for the EA
  • Describes the authority of the EA team and explains how decisions made
  • Timelines for delivery of architecture artifacts and explains how those developed

Start with Business Strategy, Business strategy is an articulation of organization goals, things the organization is going to do to achieve those goals. The business strategy addresses the following,

  • What does the Organization want to do?
  • Who is (are) the target market(s) for the goods and services that the Organization provides?
  • What is the geographic scope of the strategy?
  • What is the Timeframe in which goals accomplished?
  • How to accomplish these goals?

Iteration Approach, EA is not a project with a defined beginning and end. EA teams often neglect project discipline, resulting in an unfocused effort that does not deliver a coherent stream of deliverables. It is difficult, if not impossible, to develop an open ended project plan for an entire EA initiative, but it is both possible and desirable to develop project plans for each iteration of the architecture process. This way, tasks planned and resourced, timelines and milestones identified, and interdependencies coordinated.

Delivering architecture in short cycles can provide timely results and long term guidance. This enables fast feedback loops with solution development teams, business and customers. The iterative delivery enhances business value and improves the value to market cycle.

Fail fast is the approach that architects need to adopt, which helps in verifying different possibilities and different opportunities as early as possible both at the enterprise level and at project level.

Communication Plan, Communication is a critical issue for most EA teams of an organization. For EA to be effective across the organization, establish the effective communication of the scope and objectives of the architecture, the decisions that made (with justifications) and the benefits that derived from the EA processes. The communication plan covers,

  • Key Messages to stakeholders
  • Each stakeholder group must be analysed to ensure that its specific value proposition is being addressed, and the communication is executed in a way that is effective for that group
  • Messages must be crafted for specific audiences
  • Communications media to be used should be identified
  • Action plan with timelines and responsibilities should be identified
  • Feedback process should be put in place to ensure that the communications plan is effective

Agile Adoption, Agile Enterprise Architecture is collaborative, lean and adoptable. In the collaboration process, the participants work together in a meaningful way to generate a workable product to satisfy the customer early.  It leverages the concept of iteration from the EA standard to create, deliver and implement useful architecture. It supports innovative and adoption of digital technologies by an agile enterprises. It can handle changes quickly, efficiently and effectively.

EA Governance is a process of making decisions and setting the chain of commands. The most effective architecture programs are the ones that ensure a wide range of participants in governance. Best practices of EA Governance are,

  • Define a lean governance process which is driven by metrics
  • Give governance team adequate authority so that they can enforce compliancy where needed
  • Leverage already existing governance strengths; if IT governance (ITG)  is strong, then adopt best practices from ITG to EA
  • Bring IT, Data, and Business Architecture Governance under one umbrella – if they already exist
  • Architecture Board should not try to impose itself like police, rather it should work with people to achieve its goal

Measuring Value delivered by EA, Value proposition of EA will be different in organizations with different business strategies, different industries, different cultures and different levels of maturity. To ensure that Enterprise Architecture is progressing well and is adding value to the organization, there is a need to define metrics for measuring the progress and performance of EA.

Measuring EA effectiveness helps in,

  • Determine how effectively and efficiently a process or service satisfies the customer
  • Improve the organization’s ability to seize new business opportunities
  • Make decisions based on data
  • Improve agility
  • Extend systems to meet increasing demand
  • It provides opportunity for Innovation

Measurement should,

  • Translate customer expectations into goals
  • Evaluate the quality of processes
  • Track improvements
  • Support enterprise strategies

Track EA Maturity, One of the interesting phenomena is the architecture programs that start out being very effective, become less effective over time. Evaluate the current level of maturity on a regular basis setting realistic goals for the next evaluation cycle, analyzing the critical constraints that prevent the program from being as effective as it should be, and developing concrete action plans to address those constraints are done as part of Maturity assessment.  EA progresses in maturity will benefit the organization in the following ways,

  • Promote Strategic Initiatives
  • Reduced software and data redundancy
  • Enhanced enterprise information sharing
  • Reduced information systems complexity
  • Better alignment of business strategy and system development
  • Greater reliability at implementations & updates
  • Reduced dependency on key resources
  • Improved accuracy in scheduling software development / implementation
  • More accurate forecasting of development and support costs
  • More efficient deployment of technology solutions
  • Greater ability to set realistic goals
  • Increased traceability

Measure EA program maturity regularly (once a year) as part of a program of continuous improvement. Set realistic targets for improvement and carefully analyze the constraints that impede organization effectiveness.

Summary

Enterprise Architecture is not a time bound project or initiative. It’s scientific way of managing and running an enterprise efficiently. To maintain, monitor and control the Enterprise Architecture, it’s important to have

  • Architecture Review Board (ARB)
  • Architecture Repository
  • Metrics and measurements
  • Track the EA Maturity
  • Effective communication plan

When an EA program is performing well, the benefits are apparent to a wide range of stakeholders. The business gains better alignment of IT and business strategy, bringing with it a host of benefits, including decreased time to market and cost, business agility, a better return on technology investments, and better all-around information for decision making.