Does anyone ever ask you to justify what you do?  I’ve worked in most roles in technical development and management.  Only in Enterprise Architecture do I get that question.  So I’m posing an open question to the EA community: how do you demonstrate value?

There’s no question what a tester is for.  You can point to the consequences of poor testing by demonstrating a large number of defects making it to production.  Poor development practices produce a more complex answer, but the system quality attributes provide measurements for the software development profession.

So what is the measurement for EA?  What is the proof that we are needed?

What fact or problem or number can you point to that says “this company needs EA?” 


Getting folks organized around the concept of Enterprise Architecture is tough.  You have to show that there is a problem that the company is unable to solve without EA.

The thing is: the problems that EA can solve are really not that many.  Yes, we can drive strategic alignment, but we aren’t the only ones that do that.  In fact, if IT does align with the business, there is no way that EA gets credit for it.  Making IT align with the business usually means making people very angry.  The folks will will benefit are NOT the same as the folks who are hurt.  If IT doesn’t align with the business, then it’s business as usual.  Either way, EA looks like a waste of money.

We can “model the enterprise” until the cows come home, but if we do that, we need to answer the question “Why would anyone want a model of the enterprise?”  I work in the Seattle area, where the Boeing company builds most of their commercial airliners.  When Boeing creates a model of a new airplane, it is for a purpose… often they want to test the model, but sometimes it helps to create a visual representation of a new design for other purposes as well.

So it comes back to the purpose.  What is the purpose for EA in your company? How do you answer the question: “This is the measurement that we are paid to improve?”

If we have a clear measurable… a clear consequence that occurs when we are NOT here… then EA gets a lot easier to maintain.

I have ideas for what I think it should be, but I’d be interested in what you have to say.  How do you go about demonstrating that EA is a good investment?

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".

14 thoughts on “Enterprise Architecture: Earning our keep”
  1. EA project should be linked with the company problem. For example, company has a problem in sales growth and profits. Then it survey the root causes according to a well proved category or BSC estabished. In order to remove and improve the root causes of the specific problems, it introduce the EA concept company wide. A average company used to achieve more or less performance in solving the company problem and have good results in the sales growth and profits. Once company proves itself that EA is the goodness, then you can explain that EA is good investment.  

  2. Hi Hong,

    Interesting.  There’s a saying from where I grew up.  Someone would tell me that something was good for me to eat or drink by saying "It’s good for what ails you."  

    It means "healthy things are healthy."  It doesn’t say how something is healthy, or what makes it healthy.  

    What I hear you saying is that EA "is good for what ails you."  In other words, I’m supposed to go in, find out what hurts, and apply EA, and fix it, and then EA gets the credit.

    The assumption there is that we can actually solve any problem with EA.

    I don’t believe that is true.

    — Nick

  3. I think you’re missing the point: EA solves problems of visibility, relationships, and addresses the impact of change before a change is made.  Without EA, when you want to know "what is the impact if we consolidate these applications", the common approach is to get all of the application guys and all of the liaison’s to the business in the room and ask them.  The answer isn’t we affect 1,000 people with login IDs on servers running the apps; the answer is we impact 50 people performing a step in a process that uses these apps to do a job.  EA is designed to assist with assessing the impact of change – without having to get every expert in a room and debate the impact without facts.  Want to it in Visio?  Greast idea – we’ll hang 30 diagrams on the wall and "walk the room", with the experts in tow, asking questions. It requires discipline and communication, sure, like anything in business.  But it has a clear value proposition: visibility into relationships between people, technology, and processes.  

  4. Hi TPL,

    I’m not missing the point at all.  I agree that reducing the cost of change is one reason for EA.  However, you have failed to understand my question.

    Visibility to what end?

    Visibility for the sake of visibility?

    If it is more efficient to ask 50 people instead of 1000, you have to answer two questions: (1) you asked a question… why did you ask?  What strategy were you fulfilling by asking the question?  Many IT shops do not ask.  So why did you?  (2) Why does it matter if that process is efficient?  Are there other ways to make it efficient besides creating EA?

    I’m not being stupid.  Process improvement means looking at the outputs and finding efficiency.  If we want to survive the changes we are making, we need to understand that connection.  

    In the parlance of the Six Sigma guys, I’m looking for the business measure that we influence… the "Big Y".  Looks like you think it is "the cost of IT" or "the efficiency of IT spend."  Would that be right?

    — Nick

  5. Nick,

    I would approach it from the effectiveness rather than efficiency point of view. Without modeling proposed processes, applications, etc. there is no way to make any cost/effect argument with any credibility. How do we know that we plan to do a Right Thing? What is a cost of opportunity? Howard Schneiderman ( wrote:

       "When you turn down a request for funding an R&D project, you are right 90% of the time. That’s a far higher rate of decision accuracy than you get anywhere else, so you do it.

       And that’s fine. Except for the 10% of the time you’re wrong. When you’re wrong, you lose the company."

    There are too many IT projects around which have never delivered any ROI at all and there is a lot of doubt in business management community whenever another IT expenditure, they don’t understand, is being proposed.  

  6. Gregory,

    You hit on one benefit that no one else has mentioned in a long time to me: better decision making.  Businesses need a team of experts to review the proposed R&D projects to offer independent advice about the benefits and risks associated with proceeding with it.  With this data, we can lower that "rate of killing good projects" so that we benefit from promising ideas without having to fund quite so many crackpot ideas.

    In effect, we want to find our Prince Charming by kissing a lot fewer toads.  

  7. I have struggled with coming up with specific measures for the effects of the EA process rather than for the EA proces itself (eg the US FEAF has measures about the process not about its effects).

    It is a bit like being "healthy" – measures on an individual doing "good" activities vs "bad" activities are very long term and must be compared to community averages e.g. if you smoke you will live 5 years less on average.

    So if we see EA as being a "healthy" thing to do for an enterprise what measures are effected and can be compared to other organisations in the same community/industry –

    – lifetime

    – profit / share value

    – growth / market share

    Of course this is much easier in private enterprise than in government (where I work). It leads to the question – How do you know if a government department/organisation is doing a good job? User surveys? Some sort of audit across similar departments around the world?

    Most of us just fall back on the perception of our executives!

  8. Hi Peter,

    And I thought I had it bad.  😉

    I got some really good answers sent to me directly.  I’ll blog them.  There’s some good stuff here.

    — N

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