Heading up Vanguard EA as Founder and Principle Consultant is Nick Malik, with over a decade in enterprise architecture and more than thirty years in high tech, he has a wealth of experience and advice to offer. Ahead of giving a presentation at the Building Business Capabilities (BBC) conference in Las Vegas, Nick explains why his presentation ‘Building Demand for Strategy for Non-Strategy Organizations’ should be on your list of presentations to attend.

How did you decide on a topic and stance for the BBC conference?

As my practice develops, I find that many enterprise architecture (EA) teams struggle with the ability to become strategic to their business stakeholders.  Most enterprise architects develop out of highly technical roles where conversations with the CEO are not considered core skills.  For this reason, EA teams are often populated with very talented technologists that struggle with some of core concepts of strategic alignment.  I wanted to find a topic that was useful for enterprise and business architects to help fill in that gap.

At the end of the day, if a strategic architecture team cannot connect the portfolio and roadmap to a business strategy, that team is self-limited. Architects tend to be some of the most technically talented individuals in the company and to place them into a role that is ineffective is frustrating for the architect and inefficient for their employer.  Ineffective strategic architecture teams get disbanded.  By filling in gaps like these, I hope to take a struggling team and make them more likely to succeed.

Why do you think some companies fail to create a corporate strategy?

There are some common and legitimate issues that top executives describe when it comes to sharing strategy.  Here are some that I have heard (there are probably more):

First off, the thinking goes, “I want my employees to worry about their job, not mine.  I don’t want to have to train them on how to read and understand a corporate strategy.”  Many executives feels that communication is a burden on their time and cost and adds no value.  After all, they have no intention of listening to feedback from the folks doing the work, so why tell employees what the strategy is.  This attitude can be self defeating, and the challenge comes in explaining why.

Secondly, there is a notion that strategy should be secret.  Yes, some strategy should be secret but there is a benefit to sharing the broad outlines of strategy with your staff.  While some areas should remain secret, for instance, if you’re company is in talks to acquire a start-up or a competitor, however, members of staff need to be able to plan and prepare.  The challenge here is to differentiate between the “secret” and the “non-secret”.  If it is not a secret to your shareholders that the company will grow through acquisition, then it is not a secret to your internal staff to prepare for acquisition, even if you cannot tell them when, or what size, that acquisition will be.

One variation on this idea (keeping strategy secret) emerges in very large organizations where one division will keep their strategy secret from other divisions.  (Let that sink in).  There are many political reasons for this:  Competition for resources, personal advantage, bonus and incentive structures, and many more.  This kind of dysfunction requires analysis and care.  Business Architects beware.  Your company future can be crushed by fighting upstream against internal politics when they are created by either structural issues or strong willed senior leaders.

Lastly, and this is the most interesting, senior executives may not actually have a plan for what they want the company to become in the next year. Some may not even have a broad outline.  This is a strength in some companies, but not many, and it is usually wasteful of investments. Companies with no plan can make up for that lack of plan with senior managers who are versatile and quick to respond.  Those same managers often hate the question “Where do you want to be next year?”

In each of these situations, senior management believes that they, as individuals, have a strategy and an approach, at least for the next quarter or two.  What they don’t have is consensus. Without consensus, they are trying to manage by force of will, rather than be shared agreement.

When working with an organisation to develop a strategy what are the biggest challenges business architects face?

The biggest challenge is helping senior executives to learn what a strategy is for, and how to use it to guide their company.  Companies that have survived without a strategy do so by sheer force of will of their senior staff.  That’s a power trip that they have to be willing to walk away from. So your biggest challenge is to let them learn another way.  It’s the challenge of any real change and it’s tough to pull off.

How does the fact that some businesses fail to create or hide strategies present opportunities for business architects?

Business architects often struggle in anonymity.  Building a strategy in an organization that lacks one is a huge change and can have real consequences.  It’s a risk but if you pull it off, you are not struggling in anonymity any more you are visible at the highest level.  The benefits for the business architect, and their team, are dramatic.

Are there any trends within business architecture and strategy that those working in the industry should be aware of?

Absolutely. But the trends will vary depending on the sector the organization is in. It’s key for business architects to have an awareness of the trends and strategies that are influencing their competitors and their partners, from simply seeing how competitors are faring to assessing if anyone is poised to disrupt.

One overreaching trend is that we have seen, finally, the acceptance of the notion of business capability modelling in the methods, tools and techniques of business architecture.  It took a decade of fighting to get the method broadly accepted. Now, the challenge takes place industry by industry, to create a common set of capabilities applicable for the most frequently referenced business models.  We’ve started to see those shared models emerge and this is a trend we should support and encourage.

What other aspects of the BBC conference are you looking forward to? Are their any speakers in particular you’re keen to hear?

Many of my friends are presenting, so I’ll be attending their talks.  Ron Ross, Roger Burlton, Martin Sykes, Mike Rosen and Michael zur Muehlen should offer some great insights and all are great speakers

That said, I go to learn, so I’ll be attending sessions from people that I do not know, to hear about innovations, ideas and techniques that are emerging in business architecture and analysis.  I’ll also be spending a good bit of time on the vendor floor at the Vanguard EA booth to share insights with anyone who wants to stop by and say hello.  We will be giving away a clever t-shirt to anyone who signs up for us to provide a free web presentation to his or her team.

Why should other enterprise architects attend the conference?

Many enterprise architects have acquired business architecture skills as the last of their skill sets and, as a result, these are the least developed of their skills. When you do work, focus on your strengths but when you get training, focus on your weaknesses.  I encourage all enterprise architects to attend the BBC conference to polish and improve their business architecture skills.

The BBC conference will take place from October 31 to November 4 2016 at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.  To find out more, click here or visit http://buildingbusinesscapability.com. Those interested can use discount code “SPKLVNMAL” until the end of September to receive 10% off their attendance fee.

Register now for BBC 2016

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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