THE MANY POSSIBLE VALUE PROPOSITIONS OF ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE
Like beauty, a value proposition lies in the eye of the beholder, but the value proposition for enterprise architecture (EA) is, like love, a many-splendored thing. The key thing to understand is that there is no single universal answer to the question of why an organization should undertake an enterprise architecture initiative.
If you survey what’s been written about why we do architecture in the enterprise context, you’ll find there are many reasons offered. If you look at the various maturity models for an enterprise architecture capability that have been proposed, you’ll see that the value proposition for enterprise architecture within a single organization may change over time.
Architectural thinking is not a panacea, but it can be applied in many different ways to deliver many different kinds of benefits. I have heard convincing arguments that architecture can:
- Provide a complete, detailed plan for implementation and subsequent modification.
- Optimally align a solution with its requirements.
- Ensure all the pieces of a system work together (by looking at the “big picture”) and thus ensure structural integrity.
- Provide “conceptual integrity.”
- Ensure that “nonfunctional requirements” (“-ities” and “-ilities”) are addressed.
- Recognize and reuse patterns and styles that are acknowledged to represent best practices.
- Define a product family.
- Create interoperability between independent implementations from different parties or using different technologies.
- Help us master complexity.
- Facilitate change via adaptability and agility.
- Facilitate shared understanding and commitment.
Similarly, I have heard convincing arguments that architectural thinking applied specifically to a business enterprise can:
- Eliminate unnecessary diversity and replication (often specifically with respect to IT infrastructure).
- Facilitate application integration.
- Ensure “business/IT alignment.”
- Ensure adaptability and agility.
- Bridge the gap between strategy and execution.
DON’T SELL ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE, SELL BUSINESS RESULTS
But it’s the organization’s people who are going to evaluate what you show and tell them about EA, so you have to tailor your marketing campaign to the people who are going to make the decisions, and to the people who they go to for advice. This means abandoning generalities and getting to specifics, without getting lost in the details.
There is no universal solution to this challenge, but for architects this should be something they are used to dealing with. How can architects use their skills as architects to formulate the custom marketing strategy for enterprise architecture that is right for their organization?
Enterprise architects often assume that explaining how they do their job, or what enterprise architecture artifacts look like, will provide compelling evidence of their ability to deliver on their promises. But this assumption is contrary to what we, as architects, constantly remind ourselves—talk to your audience in the language they understand.
Talking to an audience in the language they understand is a domain of marketing. It’s too easy for architects to be dismissive of the subject as just fluff and hype, and assume that “the facts will speak for themselves.” And even if you acknowledge the value of the discipline, don’t assume that you understand marketing. It’s worth taking a look at some of what’s been written about marketing to get a real understanding of what talking to an audience in their own language really entails.
Don’t try to sell enterprise architecture. Sell business results. And don’t try to sell enterprise architecture as a general capability. Start by selling a specific solution to a specific problem. Once you’ve successfully delivered that solution, you can use it as an example of how an architectural approach increases the likelihood of success. With several such solutions on your track record, you can argue for the value of the capability itself. You’ll know the time is ripe to do so when people start asking you what your secret to success is.
So, the first step to selling enterprise architecture to your organization is to figure out what it is that EA can provide that your organization needs and, more importantly, knows that it needs. This entails a strategy something like the following:
- Identify the decision makers.
- Understand what matters to them.
- Identify a specific problem they need solved.
- Scope a useful set of benefits, realistically achievable in a useful time frame, and describe them in a manner consistent with what matters to the decision makers.
- Identify similar initiatives that were successful.
- Use these initiatives as evidence that your approach not only can, but likely will, be successful.
Don’t sell the “direct benefits” of enterprise architecture. Instead, sell the “secondary benefits,” the business outcomes that result from the direct benefits of EA. These business outcomes include things like:
- Lower product and service development costs
- Shorter time to market
- Lower manufacturing and delivery costs
- Increased demand and higher volume
- Higher profit margin
- Lower support costs
- Lower customer need for support
- Lower operational costs
- Higher customer satisfaction
- Consistent brand image
- Smaller environmental “footprint”
For enterprises that are not businesses (e.g., academic, governmental, military, medical, or religious enterprises), these would be analogous outcomes expressed in the terms of the enterprise’s mission.
Hold the “direct benefits” of enterprise architecture in reserve in case you are asked to justify your promised outcomes. Then you can “argue backwards” from the relevant benefits to the EA results to EA artifacts to EA processes. You don’t have to be able to prove anything; you just have to be able to make a convincing case that you know what you’re doing, and here is where the ability to cite the success of similar efforts has significant value.
When you’ve shown, successful project by successful project, that you can deliver these business outcomes, then you can argue the general case for enterprise architecture as a capability.
It’s worth repeating the elements of this strategy, because they differ fundamentally from what a literal interpretation of “marketing enterprise architecture” might imply.
- Don’t try to sell enterprise architecture as a monolithic capability. Instead, sell a succession of projects that use enterprise architecture thinking as an underlying approach and that you are confident you can deliver successfully. Sell these projects one by one.
- Express the value of these successes in terms of business results, not the reasons architects value architectural thinking.
- Know your stakeholders and choose your arguments to address their specific concerns.
Always bear in mind that enterprise architecture is not an end in itself. It is a means to the end of achieving an enterprise’s mission in a manner consistent with its vision and strategy.