Staying Agile: Five Trends for Enterprise Architecture

By Jason Baragry, Chief Enterprise Architect of Ardoq

Like today’s business environment, enterprise architecture (EA) is not immune to change and challenges. Luckily, taking uncomfortable steps towards new and shifting strategies can only make your EA team more agile, adaptable and resilient. I’ve compiled this list of five digital business design trends that EAs must deal with to enable companies to achieve continuous digital business design to deliver their strategic plans in an agile way.

Continuous Way-of-Working Improvement

Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of agile digital business design. Organizations want to deliver more change, with higher quality results, simultaneously. Progressive, mature EAs are now designing the system that builds the system, redesigning and refactoring the enterprise’s way-of-working. This goal is a fundamental driver for many of these trends.

In the pursuit of this trend, it’s important to remember that the perfect business design isn’t easily achievable. Trying one approach, learning through continuous feedback and making adjustments is a rinse and repeat process. For example, a business might use the Team Topologies technique to analyze the types of work that teams are performing and then reorganize those teams to in order to minimize cognitive loads – for instance by assigning one set of teams to focus on a particular value stream while others focus solely on enabling technical capabilities. These adjustments might need to happen multiple times until the right balance is found to ensure optimal delivery of customer value and team autonomy.

Opening up the conversation with socio-technical architecture

Successfully implementing way-of-working improvement requires a fundamental rethink of how that work is done and how the organization’s design can complement that process. Socio-technical architecture (STA) answers this dynamic challenge by providing a comprehensive view of an organization’s social and technical interaction. It analyzes how teams are organized, how information flows between them and how collaboration happens to both build and operate the IT solutions through which the business executes.

STA augments existing EA models with organizational information. This might include interaction mapping between departments or individuals, catching hindrances or delays as information passes from person to person or cataloging the number of handoffs between teammates. The result of STA is often a shift in organization design towards distributed decision-making. It gives teams more autonomy and moves away from a traditional command-and-control hierarchy. Organizations that are successful with this shift realize faster, continuous way-of-working improvement and increased throughput and quality of change initiatives.

Transitioning from Project to Product

The result of this principle of distributed shift from project to product organization. Other names for this might be value-stream alignment, agile organizations, continuous value delivery or BizDevOps. In essence, restructuring from a project focus to product focus allows an organization to have continuous value delivery, rather than delivery that is segmented by budget, time allocation or function.

In the past, organizations have used a Plan-Build-Run or project-focused approach to handle change. However, the new trend of reorganizing the enterprise by product eliminates the inefficiencies of this approach, such as the need for creating and disbanding teams for projects, delivering results over large swaths of time and measuring success in terms of time and budget rather than value. Product-based work defines success by business value delivered continuously over time. With the focus shifted to products or value-streams, teams have greater longevity and, because they have more time to accomplish objectives, can become better acquainted with long-term goals, making for higher rates of success. Like STA, this is an investment in team independence, allowing team members to learn as part of stable teams with clear expectations.

The Decentralization and Democratization of EA

The consequence of these previous trends is the need for a democratic, modern approach to EA. This impacts how enterprise architects interact with and support their organizations, as well as their relationships with stakeholders, models and processes. This burgeoning trend lies in contrast with traditional business design, in which the organization’s decision making is held in centralized architecture governance. In the past, this meant that EAs had to take a highly structured, authoritarian approach to strategic design and approval processes. An organization’s digital design was essentially decided from the “inside-out,” in which the EA team creates the architecture for the wider organization to consume.

EA is shifting to the opposite approach, an “outside-in” view that allows anyone to make or view business processes and artifacts. This democratization of company design mirrors the changing patterns of organization design mentioned so far – allowing teams to be responsible for the design, operation, realization and future-state direction of their own semi-autonomous business area. EA must adapt to navigate this shifting need by defining the domains within which these areas of autonomy can operate and the boundaries where they need to collaborate. This requires EAs to become more of a facilitator, broker or influencer to mediate multiple intersecting virtual communities-of-interest. By becoming more democratized, digital business design can be derived from all those involved – from key stakeholders to administrators. It’s the goal of the EA to be a facilitator for these changes, rather than sole executioner.

Linking EA and Business Outcomes using the Digital Twin of the Organization

The Digital Twin of the Organization (DTO) combines conventional enterprise architecture models with real-time business information to support improved decision-making. Using DTO, business leaders are provided with a view of the enterprise that combines structural architecture information with dynamic, behavior events to provide a more thorough representation of how the company is operating.

This combination of operational data with business design improves decision-making and directly connects EA to business outcomes. This growing EA trend allows leaders to better track cost, benefits and time when it comes to projects and delivery. Combining this information streamlines time-to-market and identifies aspects of the business that need to be reprioritized. Enterprise architecture can provide a basis to compare proposed benefits of change initiatives with actual measured business benefits after the change is made. It can even be used for modeling, letting architects create simulated sandboxes to run various outcomes and scenarios. Regardless, the feedback loop is continuous, providing a birds-eye-view of how a business is operating and expanding the functionality and interoperability of an EA platform.

These five trends give leaders a glimpse into how innovative companies apply new concepts from the EA domain into their digital business execution. These trends will help EAs plan for future outcomes and help their organizations improve.