Just came back from an all-day offsite with the EA team in Microsoft IT.  It occurs to me, in speaking with my collegues and in side conversations, that we have a good idea of what Enterprise Architecture is, and how it benefits the company, but many of our stakeholders do not.

That’s not to say that we are perfect, or that other people should just “guess” our value.  The Value of EA needs to be carefully tailored to fit the actual needs of the organization and we have to do a good job of making that value visible and sharing it with others.

On the other hand, I know that some good folks in both business and the rest of IT have different impressions of what “enterprise architecture” is and what it does for an enterprise.  Some may feel that the value of architecture is to design the solutions that the company needs to consume (build the solutions right!).  The real value, in my mind, is to help make sure that the money spent on IT is building agility and not complexity (build the right solutions).

I cannot emphasize this enough, and as we share the message with our friends and collegues, we need to be clear about this point.

Enterprise Architecture is not about “building solutions right”

Enterprise Architecture is about “building the right solutions”

There is a misimpression in IT: the business knows what they want, let them pick the projects.  That works if you believe that the value of IT is to take orders.  However, if that is the value of IT in your company, you should toss out your entire infrastructure and outsource the IT function to India or China… they can take the same orders for a lot less money.  That is the commodity view, and it is a dead-end for IT development.  It is also a huge lost opportunity.  The folks in IT often understand the business much better than the policy teams in the business itself.  We not only had to learn the business needs to build the systems, but long after the sponsors of those projects have moved on, we’ve been the shephard of those needs through multiple revisions of the code.  That knowledge has built up in IT.  Failing to leverage that knowledge is an invitation to your competition to stomp you.

The real value for IT is in providing strategic information, opportunities, and success to the company as a whole.  That means that IT figures out what projects need to be worked on, in partnership with the business.  IT works not as a servant but as a knowledgable and capable business partner, suggesting business opportunities that the business may not have thought of, and taking it to the business and executive management for funding. 

Ideas need to come from both sides, and both sides need to respect the ideas that come from the other.

The business already has an idea mill.  It is new only in IT.  And where does this “new” IT capability lie?  In an IT Strategy and Planning function that includes Enterprise Architecture.

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".

8 thoughts on “Understanding Enterprise Architecture”
  1. I agree.

    In the ideal world the EA team is a peer to the business areas and the IT department. It should report to the strategy & planning team or the CIO.

    Most EA teams are seen as part of IT, and the business managers think that they are just there as jumped up technical design authorities.

    I use a military analogy to communicate about EA. The EA team is the equivalent of the intelligence and planning teams. The politicians and generals are the bsiness users and business managers who need the intelligence group to provide intel, make decisions and plan the future target vision and guide the execution by the troops on the ground which are like the delivery project teams.

    Building the solutions right is like using the best equipment and tactics.

    Building the right solutions is like having the right strategy, and being in the right place with  the right equipment in order to actually win the war and beat the enemy.

  2. Great article and a few good one liners.  I have written many articles about the aligning IT with the business and totally agree with every last word in this article.

  3. Thank God, its Friday. Even after a full 32 ounces of strong Starbucks coffee, I still fell asleep on the train on the way in. Entity Framework/OR/M/LINQ The excellent Entity Framework discussions continue with Scott Bellware’s fine Entity Framework Challenges

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