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.