Blog • 07.07.2022

Enterprise Architecture thinking – not just the architects’ concern!

Enterprise Architecture thinking – not just the architects’ concern!

In the previous blog post of the Enterprise Architecture series, I discussed the origins of Enterprise Architecture thinking as seen by the research. In this post, we’ll expand on the role of architecture-oriented thinking as an embedded part of management. Specifically, we’ll argue that Enterprise Architecture should not only be a concern of Enterprise Architects explicitly associated with organisations’ Enterprise Architecture work, but a concern of almost any manager in an organisation.

The idea of Enterprise Architecture as some detached practice, which an organisation either does or does not engage in, has been an outdated one for a while now. Not actively managing Enterprise Architecture does not mean that no “enterprise” and no “architecture” exist. They most certainly do, despite not always being managed through an Enterprise Architecture lens. Not having personnel in explicit Enterprise Architect roles does not mean that there is no one dealing with Enterprise Architecture management issues, either. Instead, this often occurs implicitly as a part of other managerial processes, not necessarily identifying themselves as Enterprise Architecture per se. On the other hand, having dedicated Enterprise Architect roles in place does not mean they are or ever should be the only ones responsible for dealing with Enterprise Architecture issues within the organisation.

Enterprise Architecture is still something that seems to be hard to grasp, which is manifested by the problems organisations continue to report in implementing Enterprise Architecture management practices or realising value from Enterprise Architecture work. This can sometimes lead to the term Enterprise Architecture being intentionally faded away in the organisations’ use of language. We’ve even seen this being done intentionally by Enterprise Architecture practitioners themselves as to avoid the stigma that has developed around the term.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, implying Enterprise Architecture as some separate entity and outsourcing Enterprise Architecture management to Enterprise Architects is not likely to be feasible or lead to good results in the first place. Studies have shown time after time that management buy-in and support for the Enterprise Architecture practice constitute critical success factors in terms of Enterprise Architecture adoption and value realisation. A seamless integration of Enterprise Architecture processes with other managerial practices, which are actually responsible for manipulating the organisation’s Enterprise Architecture on a daily basis, is crucial in terms of success. While the notion of an Enterprise Architecture management practice can be useful to a point, putting an excessive emphasis on the practice itself instead of its end goals carries the risk of becoming counterproductive.

Here, we are actually moving from the idea of Enterprise Architecture as a distinct practice towards the idea of Enterprise Architecture as an underlying, architecture-oriented way of thinking [1] about an enterprise – providing management with a certain mindset, concepts, methods and tools for approaching complex organisational issues in a systematic manner by utilizing systems thinking.

How are Enterprise Architecture issues intertwined in various levels of management?

The classical management theories recognise that management is all about organising the resources available so that they function together in an optimal manner in order to produce capabilities needed to achieve shared goals. Here, we immediately face two questions – first, what are the resources we are talking about and second, how they should be connected through various relationships in order to work together optimally. Wait a minute, isn’t that what Enterprise Architecture is all about, as well?

In many ways, management is essentially about creating the best possible embodiment of an enterprise’s architecture by using the resources available at a certain time. Enterprise Architecture management as a practice does not carry any intrinsic value. The added value only emerges from enabling the management to perform better, which in turn should lead to improved organisational performance. Enterprise Architecture thinking facilitates this by providing a systems approach for understanding the components that management needs to deal with, and how they work together as a holistic entity. This is fundamentally about ensuring the existence of the required operational capabilities of an organisation (the ability to do what needs to be done currently and do it well) as well as enhancing the dynamic capabilities of an organisation (the ability to sense, seize and execute on future opportunities effectively) [2].

Thus, Enterprise Architecture concerns of various levels of detail can be found intertwined in almost all levels of management. Think about the following:

Strategic management is responsible for dealing with the organisation’s strategy. They need to understand the environment in which their organisation operates as well as their organisation’s specific resources and capabilities. They need to understand the various possibilities their organisation has and the organisation’s feasibility of seizing these possibilities. They need to identify, evaluate and select the most appropriate strategic choices for the future of their organisation and ensure that the high-level building blocks are in place to successfully enable the execution of the strategy. In many ways, they are involved in concerns related to their organisation’s strategic architecture.

Tactical management is responsible for guiding the organisation’s strategy execution. They need to understand what is actually needed to transform their organisation towards the selected strategic direction – where are they now, where do they need to be and what needs to be done in order to get there. They need to identify, evaluate and select the appropriate tactical actions as well as prioritize and sequence them in an appropriate order. They need to change the various configurations within their organisation in order to respond to the strategic goals. In many ways, they are involved in concerns related to their organisation’s tactical architecture.

Operational management (people managers, development managers, portfolio managers, program and project managers, service managers, you name it) is responsible for implementing the organisation’s tactics. They need to understand what is expected of them and how what they are doing is aligned with the organisation’s bigger picture. They need to create operational solutions that respond to the tactical needs. They need to understand how the decisions they are making affect other components of the organisation and organise their work so that it is in sync with other activities happening around them. In many ways, they are involved in concerns related to their organisation’s operational architecture.

What about the Enterprise Architect then?

The view of Enterprise Architecture as a distinct practice may unintentionally carry the notion of Enterprise Architects as the sole managers of an organisation’s Enterprise Architecture, and Enterprise Architecture as something that is mostly the realm of the Enterprise Archtiecture practitioners – just like a building’s architecture is a sole responsibility of the architect. This analogy does not translate well to the context of an enterprise. Needless to say, as Enterprise Architecture concerns are deeply embedded in all management activities, this approach is not very realistic or likely to result in success. Instead, Enterprise Architecture issues belong to the agenda of all levels of organisational management, be it explicit or not. The need for a tighter coupling between architectural and managerial concerns gets even more highlighted as the scope of the Enterprise Architecture practice is moving from its technical origins towards increasingly holistic socio-technical and ecosystemic stances.

The above also has implications towards the skillset required of Enterprise Architecture practitioners [3]. A traditional view of an Enterprise Architect is a senior professional with deep knowledge of the domain substance in addition to the competence in the Enterprise Architecture discipline. While these characteristics are still undoubtedly important, a modern Enterprise Architect can be seen as having even more crucial responsibilities as an advocate of architecture-oriented thinking across the various levels of organisational management or a provider of means needed to tackle complex organisational issues. Soft skills – such as communication, facilitation, training, coaching and providing hands-on support – become increasingly valuable as Enterprise Architecture practitioners shift from a subject matter expert role to a more of an enabler role.

References

  1. Winter, R. (2014). Architectural thinking. Wirtschaftsinformatik, 56(6), 395-398.
  2. Van de Wetering, R. (2019,). Enterprise architecture resources, dynamic capabilities, and their pathways to operational value. In International Conference on Information Systems. AIS Electronic Library.
  3. Ylinen, M., & Pekkola, S. (2020). Jack-of-all-trades torn apart: Skills and competences of an enterprise architect. In Proceedings of the 28th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS). Association for Information Systems.

We at Gofore are happy to discuss how Enterprise Architecture practices could support the management of your individual organisation. Please read more about our architecture consulting capabilities and feel free to contact us for more! Or, if you’re as passionate about architecture as we are, maybe you’ll wish to join us at Gofore.

Vladislav Ivanov

Vladislav is a Business Process Management, Process Architecture and Enterprise Architecture professional passionate about architecture-oriented thinking. He has several years of experience in method development and supporting organisational practices in these areas. He is currently researching the state of Enterprise Architecture thinking in Finnish organisations at the University of Jyväskylä.

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