Moving to an Agile Enterprise Architecture

One of the most common complaints of the traditional enterprise architecture function is that it does not keep pace with change. It does not facilitate agility.

The development and adoption of Agile methodology has done more to force the enterprise architecture to change its focus than any other force in the business.

Companies must be able to quickly change course, account for technology disruption, develop new capabilities, or improve the customer experience of existing capabilities. Fortunately, recent technological advances have enabled automation of architectural processes.

Architects can now spend time doing the things they always wanted to do, but never had the time. They can focus on exploring emerging technologies and innovation, building reference architectures for them, and helping to set and achieve strategic business objectives.

To do this, however, architects must understand more than technology. They must understand the business and how technology enables it.

The role of enterprise architecture is evolving: more business oriented

In today’s transformational environment, companies are experiencing disruptions and modernization not only in product offerings, but also in management and organization. Employees now operate in a company filled with complex systems, horizontal and matrix communication channels and stakeholders that do not work with traditional mechanisms of hierarchical authority.

Decentralization of the enterprise architecture function

The command and control management adopted by Taylorism has been challenged by new methods of problem solving that have manifested themselves in new organizational and management structures.

These methods have led to the transformation or elimination of traditional roles as business analyst and project manager. The shift toward greater design thinking has led to a growing interest by business unit employees in the concepts of enterprise architecture. This has contributed to the decentralization of the enterprise architecture function and the relegation of the enterprise architect to a coaching role in the art and/or science of enterprise architecture.

Expanding the Enterprise Architecture Beyond IT

Another transformation of the enterprise architecture is already underway, the expansion of the enterprise architecture beyond the boundaries of IT. Enterprise Architecture is permeating the business. This expansion comes from entrepreneurs who know that, for all intents and purposes, their companies are technology companies.

This also means that for enterprises to function at a high level, architects need to have a deep understanding of technologies, know how these technologies are applied to business capabilities and functions, provide a master repository of architectural components and relationships, and maintain a common architectural methodology.

The problem with agile methods

Agile methods solved some very specific problems. The projects had very high failure rates. Either the stakeholders were not getting what they expected, or the time to value was not keeping up with the rapid pace of change in the market. In addition, many projects experienced high technical debt, which caused huge costs later when the technologies were no longer viable and had to be upgraded. The results were inevitable immobility.

By changing the organizational structure by breaking down pyramidal hierarchies and focusing on interactions between individuals rather than on processes and tools, changes could be implemented more quickly, allowing rapid changes in direction and the development of user-friendly functionality. This organizational revolution did not come without risk.

Small, agile teams can make rapid changes and adjust to meet changing requirements, but the absence of the traditional pyramid structure means that the big picture is no longer visible. The collection of teams loses sight of a common goal and simply repeats the details that no longer contribute to the value of the original effort.

Does this mean the end of traditional enterprise architecture frameworks?

Businesses will always need enterprise architecture, but enterprise architecture will have to adapt to new models of organization, management, and especially product development. Customer-oriented modular design is accelerating time to value, and enterprise architecture frameworks must be able to facilitate this type of approach.

Enterprise architecture frameworks must also be extensible. New advances in the integration or layering of risk and compliance in enterprise architecture have proven to be catalysts for the evolution of EA frameworks.

Companies want to be able to assign risk to the components where the risk exists. These risks must be aggregated by system, process, organization, capacity, product, etc. The same is true for regulatory requirements.

With the advent of privacy law, companies must understand where data begins, moves, processes, consumes, and stores. The application of risk and compliance extends the comprehensive scope of enterprise architecture.

The traditional architectural frameworks of the company must be renewed

So yes, traditional enterprise architecture frameworks need to be revamped to accommodate agility in scale, risk, compliance, innovation, etc. Enterprise architecture frameworks must enable the development of MVPs (minimum viable products). Most importantly, the enterprise architecture frameworks should provide for such convergence of all aspects of the enterprise.