Five Paradigm Shifts for Business Architecture Success

business architecture success


Enterprise architects sit at a crossroads. Infrastructure technology is moving to outsourcers and into the cloud. For applications, buy before build is the norm. Endpoint technologies, user interface development, and business process automation are moving into the business domain. Where do enterprise architects go from here? Transitioning from enterprise technology architecture to business architecture is the next big opportunity for EAs, but there is substantial competition. Business analysts, project managers, consultants—and even business managers—are all vying for the increasingly important role of the business architect.


EAs argue about almost everything, but here are five, rarely articulated, “truths” that the majority of EAs can agree with:

  • Enterprise architects are among the best and brightest members of IT. After working with thousands of architects and hundreds of EA organizations, I am confident making this statement. CIOs and others chartering EA initiatives pick truly bright and motivated individuals. Are there new skills to learn? Sure. However, there is no lack of ability, enthusiasm, raw brainpower, or tenacity in enterprise architecture teams.
  • Architects have creative control over defining their role. It is the rare CIO who has a strong vision for EA. While they get it conceptually, CIOs expect the EA team to define the specifics of how their practice will work and what deliverables it will produce. While other IT professionals have well-defined, often rigidly defined, roles, EAs have the unique (or at least rare) opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and define who they want to be.
  • Architects have fewer time dependent deliverables than most organizations, giving them the time they need to develop a high-quality product. Most of the IT organization’s work is tied to specific delivery dates, such as the ones that exist for application development projects, systems conversions, and hardware upgrades. While this is also true for architects attached to these projects, the EA team as a whole has much more latitude in the delivery time frame of EA products and services.
  • Organizations are in desperate need of good architectural design at both the technology and business level. As corporations acquire, merge, and partner with others, they become larger, geographically distributed, and operationally complex. Organizational silos develop, and corporate strategies become more difficult to execute. Frustrated business executives look to IT to reduce, or at least mask, the growing business complexity while the technology itself is becoming more complex to manage.
  • Architecture teams struggle for impact. Both Gartner and Forrester have data that show a year-after-year EA organizational failure rate of around 40 percent, and this is only part of the story. The majority of “successful” EA teams report struggling to have an impact and gain recognition.

By most standards, enterprise architects have had ample opportunity over the past 20 years to create a wildly successful practice model. Why haven’t they? A large part of the problem is our decades’ old paradigms that encourage more engineering than design thinking. These frameworks and models have served EA poorly in the business technology space and will be devastating as EAs seek to move into business architecture.

It is time for some serious rethinking of the core EA paradigm.


So, where do we go from here? What do we need to do? How do we create a successful business architecture practice? We might start with acknowledging the realities of the past and creating a view of business architecture that can seize the opportunities of the future. There are five thinking shifts necessary to make this transition:

1. Move from principle-centered to strategy-inspired decisioning. The most consistently developed and promoted artifact across EA teams is a set of guiding principles. But do organizations live by them? Rarely! Most organizations treat guiding principles as a set of good intentions—like New Year’s resolutions, they are the things we know would be good for us if only we had the discipline to actually do them. This sets up an unhealthy dynamic that reduces EA’s credibility. Principles are rules that people expect us to live by. We build credibility by demonstrating our adherence to our principles in the face of adversity. No adherence means no credibility.

Architects can easily solve this problem by converting their guiding principles to a set of strategies. No one expects stringent adherence to a strategy. It is a much more flexible construct than a principle with the added benefit of aligning better with the way business leaders think.

2. Move from future state targets to continuous evolution. Enterprise architects put a lot of energy into developing and promoting an architectural future-state view. This made sense in the early days of EA when technology change was relatively slow. Today, with the increasing integration of business and technology, the pace of change has accelerated to a point where this model makes little sense. Executives often have a vision, but it is never as detailed as an architecture future state. Customer acceptance, competitor reaction, regulatory change, and dozens of other unknowns affect the final outcome. Business change is driven by a future vision that is shaped, molded, and modified in small ways every day as the situation changes and the organization learns to adapt. The goal of the business architect is not to methodologically drive the organization to some specified future state. It is to ensure that the organization is one step closer to getting where it wants to be every day.

3. Move from governance to collaboration. Enterprise architects and industry pundits continue to promote architectural governance as a best practice even though it often has the opposite effect. The vast majority of EAs employ a governance process—but they also express frustration with its lack of effectiveness. EAs’ clients are also frustrated, perceiving EA governance as an impediment—something that might be better termed a worst practice. Businesses run on relationships, collaboration, and influence. Architects who transition to an approach guided by influence will be much more successful than those who stick with an authority-based governance model.

4. Move from frameworks to toolboxes. Frameworks can provide a useful structure for solving problems and organizing solutions. If your business architecture is predominately focused on modeling business processes, then a modeling framework might help. But if you see business architecture more broadly as the process of managing business change, frameworks may be more limiting than helpful. Business architecture cannot be as structured or as neatly organized as technology architecture. Business architects need a variety of tools at their disposal to address the wide assortment of problems they encounter. For architects, thinking “outside the box” should become thinking “outside the framework.”

5. Move from IT- to business-centric thinking. The biggest problem with EA being part of IT is not a lack of connection to the business—it is the way the IT context shapes architects’ thinking. IT is largely an operational support function. IT leaders focus on stability, risk reduction, budgets, and efficiency. Business leaders are the opposite. They focus on growth, risk management, investments, and effectiveness. Enterprise architects have little understanding of the challenges most business managers face. They have zero control over their customers, competitors, government regulators, or the economy yet are expected to produce results each and every quarter. To gain an appreciation for the challenge, architects should spend a few days designing an EA function that has to operate like a business, demonstrating customer satisfaction and quarterly growth.


Transitioning from enterprise to business architecture is the next big opportunity for enterprise architects, but competition for the role is heating up. Success in this domain requires business leadership collaboration. To gain that collaboration, architects must change their thinking to resonate with business priorities. Successful architects in the future will be those who can shift their thinking away from the traditional architectural models of the past to create a more business aligned point of view.

About Jeff Scott 1 Article
Jeff Scott is vice president of business and technology strategy at Accelare, Inc. He works with Fortune 1000 companies on strategy execution effectiveness and organizational change. Scott is an internationally recognized thought leader in the areas of business architecture, strategy design, and organizational innovation. He frequently speaks, writes, and consults on these topics. He currently writes the blog: The Business Architect.

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