How an agile focus for Enterprise Architects builds competitive advantage for digital transformation

SpiralThe next BriefingsDirect business trends discussion explores the reinforcing nature of Enterprise Architecture (EA) and agile methods.

We’ll now learn how Enterprise Architects can embrace agile approaches to build competitive advantages for their companies.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about retraining and rethinking for EA in the Digital Transformation (DT) era, we are joined by Ryan Schmierer, Director of Operations at Sparx Services North America, and Chris Armstrong, President at Sparx Services North America. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Ryan, what’s happening in business now that’s forcing a new emphasis for Enterprise Architects? Why should Enterprise Architects do things any differently than they have in the past?

Ryan Schmierer

Schmierer

Schmierer: The biggest thing happening in the industry right now is around DT. We been hearing about DT for the last couple of years and most companies have embarked on some sort of a DT initiative, modernizing their business processes.

But now companies are looking beyond the initial transformation and asking, “What’s next?” We are seeing them focus on real-time, data-driven decision-making, with the ultimate goal of enterprise business agility — the capability for the enterprise to be aware of its environments, respond to changes, and adapt quickly.

For Enterprise Architects, that means learning how to be agile both in the work they do as individuals and how they approach architecture for their organizations. It’s not about making architectures that will last forever, but architectures that are nimble, agile, and adapt to change.

Gardner: Ryan, we have heard the word, agile, used in a structured way when it comes to software development — Agile methodologies, for example. Are we talking about the same thing? How are they related?

Agile, adaptive enterprise advances 

Schmierer: It’s the same concept. The idea is that you want to deliver results quickly, learn from what works, adapt, change, and evolve. It’s the same approach used in software development over the last few years. Look at how you develop software that delivers value quickly. We are now applying those same concepts in other contexts.

First is at the enterprise level. We look at how the business evolves quickly, learn from mistakes, and adapt the changes back into the environment.

Second, in the architecture domain, instead of waiting months or quarters to develop an architecture, vision, and roadmap, how do we start small, iterate, deliver quickly, accelerate time-to-value, and refine it as we go?

Gardner: Many businesses want DT, but far fewer of them seem to know how to get there. How does the role of the Enterprise Architect fit into helping companies attain DT?

The core job responsibility for Enterprise Architects is to be an extension of the company leadership and its executives. They need to look at where a company is trying to go … and develop a roadmap on how to get there.

Schmierer: The core job responsibility for Enterprise Architects is to be an extension of company leadership and its executives. They need to look at where a company is trying to go, all the different pieces that need to be addressed to get there, establish a future-state vision, and then develop a roadmap on how to get there.

This is what company leadership is trying to do. The EA is there to help them figure out how to do that. As the executives look outward and forward, the Enterprise Architect figures out how to deliver on the vision.

Gardner: Chris, tools and frameworks are only part of the solution. It’s also about the people and the process. There’s the need for training and best practices. How should people attain this emphasis for EA in that holistic definition?

Change is good 

Chris Armstrong

Armstrong

Armstrong: We want to take a step back and look at how Ryan was describing the elevation of value propositions and best practices that seem to be working for agile solution delivery. How might that work for delivering continual, regular value? One of the major attributes, in our experience, of the goodness of any architecture, is based on how well it responds to change.

In some ways, agile and EA are synonyms. If you’re doing good Enterprise Architecture, you must be agile because responding to change is one of those quality attributes. That’s a part of the traditional approach of architecture – to be concerned with the interoperability and integration.

As it relates to the techniques, tools, and frameworks we want to exploit — the experiences that we have had in the past – we try to push those forward into more of an operating model for Enterprise Architects and how they engage with the rest of the organization.

Learn About Agile Architecture

At The Open Group July Denver Event 

So not starting from scratch, but trying to embrace the concept of reuse, particularly reuse of knowledge and information. It’s a good best practice, obviously. That’s why in 2019 you certainly don’t want to be inventing your own architecture method or your own architecture framework, even though there may be various reasons to adapt them to your environment.

Starting with things like the TOGAF® Framework, particularly its Architecture Development Method (ADM) and reference models — those are there for individuals or vertical industries to accelerate the adding of value.

The challenge I’ve seen for a lot of architecture teams is they get sucked into the methodology and the framework, the semantics and concepts, and spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to do things with the tools. What we want to think about is how to enable the architecture profession in the same way we enable other people do their jobs — with instant-on service offerings, using modern common platforms, and the industry frameworks that are already out there.

We are seeing people more focused on not just what the framework is but helping to apply it to close that feedback loop. The TOGAF standard, a standard of The Open Group, makes perfect sense, but people often struggle with, “Well, how do I make this real in my organization?”

Partnering with organizations that have had that kind of experience helps close that gap and accelerates the use in a valuable fashion. It’s pretty important.

Gardner: It’s ironic that I’ve heard of recent instances where Enterprise Architects are being laid off. But it sounds increasingly like the role is a keystone to DT. What’s the mismatch there, Chris? Why do we see in some cases the EA position being undervalued, even though it seems critical?

EA here to stay 

Armstrong: You have identified something that has happened multiple times. Pendulum swings happen in our industry, particularly when there is a lot of change going on. People are getting a little conservative. We’ve seen this before in the context of fiscal downturns in economic climates.

But to me, it really points to the irony of what we perceive in the architecture profession based on successes that we have had. Enterprise Architecture is an essential part of running your business. But if executives don’t believe that and have not experienced that then it’s not surprising when there’s an opportunity to make changes in investment priorities that Enterprise Architecture might not be at the top of the list.

We need to be mindful of where we are in time with the architecture profession. A lot of organizations struggle with the glass ceiling of Enterprise Architecture. It’s something we have encountered pretty regularly, where executives are, “I really don’t get what this EA thing is, and what’s in it for me? Why should I give you my support and resources?”

Learn About Agile Architecture

At The Open Group July Denver Event 

But what’s interesting about that, of course, is if you take a step back you don’t see executives saying the same thing about human resources or accounting. Not to suggest that they aren’t thinking about ways to optimize those as a core competency or as strategic. We still do have an issue with acceptance of enterprise architecture based on the educational and developmental experiences a lot of executives have had.

We’re very hopeful that that trend is going to be moving in a different direction, particularly as relates to new master’s programs and doctorate programs, for example, in the Enterprise Architecture field. Those elevate and legitimize Enterprise Architecture as a profession. When people are going through an MBA program, they will have heard of enterprise architecture as an essential part of delivering upon strategy.

Pieces of jigsaw puzzle and global network concept.Gardner: Ryan, looking at what prevents companies from attaining DT, what are the major challenges? What’s holding up enterprises from getting used to real-time data, gaining agility, and using intelligence about how they do things?

Schmierer: There are a couple of things going on. One of them ties back to what Chris was just talking about — the role of Enterprise Architects, and the role of architects in general. DT requires a shift in the relationship between business and IT. With DT, business functions and IT functions become entirely and holistically integrated and inseparable.

When there are no separate IT processes and no businesses process — there are just processes because the two are intertwined. As we use more real-time data and as we leverage Enterprise Architecture, how do we move beyond the traditional relationship between business and IT? How do we look at such functions as data management and data architecture? How do we bring them into an integrated conversation with the folks who were part of the business and IT teams of the past?

A good example of how companies can do this comes in a recent release from The Open Group, the Digital Practitioner Body of Knowledge™ (DPBoK™). It says that there’s a core skill set that is general and describes what it means to be such a practitioner in the digital era, regardless of your job role or focus. It says we need to classify job roles more holistically and that everyone needs to have both a business mindset and a set of technical skills. We need to bring those together, and that’s really important.

As we look at what’s holding up DT we need to take functions that were once considered centralized assets like EA and data management and bring them into the forefront. … Enterprise Architects need to be living in the present.

As we look at what’s holding up DT — taking the next step to real-time data, broadening the scope of DT – we need to take functions that were once considered centralized assets, like EA and data management, and bring them into the forefront, and say, “You know what? You’re part of the digital transmission story as well. You’re key to bringing us along to the next stage of this journey, which is looking at how to optimize, bring in the data, and use it more effectively. How do we leverage technology in new ways?”

The second thing we need to improve is the mindset. It’s particularly an issue with Enterprise Architects right now. And it is that Enterprise Architects — and everyone in digital professions — need to be living in the present.

You asked why some EAs are getting laid off. Why is that? Think about how they approach their job in terms of the questions that would be asked in a performance review.

Those might be, “What have you done for me over the years?” If your answer focuses on what you did in the past, you are probably going to get laid off. What you did in the past is great, but the company is operating in the present.

What’s your grand idea for the future? Some ideal situation? Well, that’s probably going to get you shoved in a corner some place and probably eventually laid off because companies don’t know what the future is going to bring. They may have some idea of where they want to get to, but they can’t articulate a 5- to 10-year vision because the environment changes so quickly.

TOG BugWhat have you done for me lately? That’s a favorite thing to ask in performance-review discussions. You got your paycheck because you did your job over the last six months. That’s what companies care about, and yet that’s not what Enterprise Architects should be supporting.

Instead, the EA emphasis should be what can you do for the business over the next few months? Focus on the present and the near-term future.

That’s what gets Enterprise Architects a seat at the table. That’s what gets the entire organization, and all the job functions, contributing to DT. It helps them become aligned to delivering near-term value. If you are entirely focused on delivering near-term value, you’ve achieved business agility.

Gardner: Chris, because nothing stays the same for very long, we are seeing a lot more use of cloud services. We’re seeing composability and automation. It seems like we are shifting from building to assembly.
Doesn’t that fit in well with what EAs do, focusing on the assembly and the structure around automation? That’s an abstraction above putting in IT systems and configuring them.

Reuse to remain competitive 

Armstrong: It’s ironic that the profession that’s often been coming up with the concepts and thought-leadership around reuse struggles a with how to internalize that within their organizations. EAs have been pretty successful at the implementation of reuse on an operating level, with code libraries, open-source, cloud, and SaaS.

There is no reason to invent a new method or framework. There are plenty of them out there. Better to figure out how to exploit those to competitive advantage and focus on understanding the business organization, strategy, culture, and vision — and deliver value in the context of those.

For example, one of the common best practices in Enterprise Architecture is to create things called reference architectures, basically patterns that represent best practices, many of which can be created from existing content. If you are doing cloud or microservices, elevate that up to different types of business models. There’s a lot of good content out there from standards organizations that give organizations a good place to start.

Learn About Agile Architecture

At The Open Group July Denver Event 

But one of the things that we’ve observed is a lot of architecture communities tend to focus on building — as you were saying — those reference architectures, and don’t focus as much on making sure the organization knows that content exists, has been used, and has made a difference.

We have a great opportunity to connect the dots among different communities that are often not working together. We can provide that architectural leadership to pull it together and deliver great results and positive behaviors.

Gardner: Chris, tell us about Sparx Services North America. What do you all do, and how you are related to and work in conjunction with The Open Group?

Armstrong: Sparx Services is focused on helping end-user organizations be successful with Enterprise Architecture and related professions such as solution architecture and solution delivery, and systems engineering. We do that by taking advantage of the frameworks and best practices that standards organizations like The Open Group create, helping make those standards real, practical, and pragmatic for end-user organizations. We provide guidance on how to adapt and tailor them and provide support while they use those frameworks for doing real work.

And we provide a feedback loop to The Open Group to help understand what kinds of questions end-user organizations are asking. We look for opportunities for improving existing standards, areas where we might want to invest in new standards, and to accelerate the use of Enterprise Architecture best practices.

Gardner: Ryan, moving onto what’s working and what’s helping foster better DT, tell us what’s working. In a practical sense, how is EA making those shorter-term business benefits happen?

One day at a time 

Schmierer: That’s a great question. We have talked about some of the challenges. It’s important to focus on the right path as well. So, what’s working that an enterprise architect can do today in order to foster DT?

Number one, embrace agile approaches and an agile mindset in both architecture development (how you do your job) and the solutions you develop for your organizations. A good way to test whether you are approaching architecture in an agile way is the first iteration in the architecture. Can you go through the entire process of the Architecture Development Method (ADM) on a cocktail napkin in the time it takes you to have a drink with your boss? If so, great. It means you are focused on that first simple iteration and then able to build from there.

Number two, solve problems today with the components you have today. Don’t just look to the future. Look at what you have now and how you can create the most value possible out of those. Tomorrow the environment is going to change, and you can focus on tomorrow’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges tomorrow. So today’s problems today.

Third, look beyond your current DT initiative and what’s going on today, and talk to your leaders. Talk to your business clients about where they need to go in the future. That goal is enterprise business agility, which is helping the company become more nimble. DT is the first step, then start looking at steps two and three.

Architects need to understand technology better, such things as new cloud services, IoT, edge computing, ML, and AI. These are going to have disruptive effects on your businesses. You need to understand them to be a trusted advisor to your organization.

Fourth, Architects need to understand technology better, such things as fast-moving, emerging technology like new cloud services, Internet of Things (IoT), edge computingmachine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI) — these are more than just buzz words and initiatives. They are real technology advancements. They are going to have disruptive effects on your businesses and the solutions to support those businesses. You need to understand the technologies; you need to start playing with them so you can truly be a trusted advisor to your organization about how to apply those technologies in business context.

Gardner: Chris, we hear a lot about AI and ML these days. How do you expect Enterprise Architects to help organizations leverage AI and ML to get to that DT? It seems really essential to me to become more data driven and analytics driven and then to re-purpose to reuse those analytics over and over again to attain an ongoing journey of efficiency and automation.

Better business outcomes 

Armstrong: We are now working with our partners to figure out how to best use AI and ML to help run the business, to do better product development, to gain a 360-degree view of the customer, and so forth.

Architecture_frameworkIt’s one of those weird things where we see the shoemaker’s children not having any shoes because they are so busy making shoes for everybody else. There is a real opportunity, when we look at some of the infrastructure that’s required to support the agile enterprise, to exploit those same technologies to help us do our jobs in enterprise architecture.

It is an emerging part of the profession. We and others are beginning to do some research on that, but when I think of how much time we and our clients have spent on the nuts and bolts collection of data and normalization of data, it sure seems like there is a real opportunity to leverage these emerging technologies for the benefit of the architecture practice. Then, again, the architects can be more focused on building relationships with people, understanding the strategy in less time, and figuring out where the data is and what the data means.

Obviously humans still need to be involved, but I think there is a great opportunity to eat your own dog food, as it were, and see if we can exploit those learning tools for the benefit of the architecture community and its consumers.

Gardner: Chris, do we have concrete examples of this at work, where EAs have elevated themselves and exposed their value for business outcomes? What’s possible when you do this right?

Armstrong: A lot of organizations are working things from the bottoms up, and that often starts in IT operations and then moves to solution delivery. That’s where there has been a lot of good progress, in improved methods and techniques such as scaled agile and DevOps.

But a lot of organizations struggle to elevate it higher. The DPBoK™  from The Open Group provides a lot of guidance to help organizations navigate that journey, particularly getting to the fourth level of the learning progression, which is at the enterprise level. That’s where Enterprise Architecture becomes essential. It’s great to develop software fast, but that’s not the whole point of agile solution delivery. It should be about building the right software the right way to meet the right kind of requirements — and do that as rapidly as possible.

We need an umbrella over different release trains, for example, to make sure the organization as a whole is marching forward. We have been working with a number of Fortune 100 companies that have made good progress at the operational implementation levels. They nonetheless now are finding that particularly trying, to connect to business architecture.

There have been some great advancements from the Business Architecture Guild and that’s been influencing the TOGAF framework, to connect the dots across those agile communities so that the learnings of a particular release train or the strategy of the enterprise is clearly understood and delivered to all of those different communities.

Gardner: Ryan, looking to the future, what should organizations be doing with the Enterprise Architect role and function?

EA evolution across environments 

Schmierer: The next steps don’t just apply to Enterprise Architects but really to all types of architects. So look at the job role and how your job role needs to evolve over the next few years. How do you need to approach it differently than you have in the past?

For example, we are seeing Enterprise Architects increasingly focus on issues like security, risk, reuse, and integration with partner ecosystems. How do you integrate with other companies and work in the broader environments?

We are seeing Business Architects who have been deeply engaged in DT discussions over the last couple of years start looking forward and shifting the role to focus on how we light up real-time decision-making capabilities. Solution Architects are shifting from building and designing components to designing assembly and designing the end systems that are often built out of third-party components instead of things that were built in-house.

Look at the job role and understand that the core need hasn’t changed. Companies need Enterprise Architects and Business Architects and Solution Architects more than ever right now to get them where they need to be. But the people serving those roles need to do that in a new way — and that’s focused on the future, what the business needs are over the next 6 to 18 months, and that’s different than what they have done in past.

Gardner: Where can organizations and individuals go to learn more about Agile Architecture as well as what The Open Group and Sparx Services are offering?

Schmierer: The Open Group has some great resources available. We have a July event in Denver focused on Agile Architecture, where they will discuss some of the latest thoughts coming out of The Open Group Architecture ForumDigital Practitioners Work Group, and more. It’s a great opportunity to learn about those things, network with others, and discuss how other companies are approaching these problems. I definitely point them there.

Learn About Agile Architecture 

At The Open Group July Denver Event 

I mentioned the DPBoK™. This is a recent release from The Open Group, looking at the future of IT and the roles for architects. There’s some great, forward-looking thinking in there. I encourage folks to take a look at that, provide feedback, and get involved in that discussion.

And then Sparx Services North America, we are here to help architects be more effective and add value to their organizations, be it through tools, training, consulting, best practices, and standards. We are here to help, so feel free to reach out at our website. We are happy to talk with you and see how we might be able to help.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: The Open Group.

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About Dana Gardner

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, an enterprise IT analysis, market research, and consulting firm. Gardner, a leading identifier of software and cloud productivity trends and new IT business growth opportunities, honed his skills and refined his insights as an industry analyst, pundit, and news editor covering the emerging software development and enterprise infrastructure arenas for the last 18 years. Gardner tracks and analyzes a critical set of enterprise software technologies and business development issues: Cloud computing, hybrid IT, software-defined data center, IT productivity, multicloud, AI, ML, and intelligent enterprise. His specific interests include social media, cloud standards and security, as well as integrated marketing technologies and techniques. Gardner is a former senior analyst at Yankee Group and Aberdeen Group, and a former editor-at-large and founding online news editor at InfoWorld. He is a former news editor at IDG News Service, Digital News & Review, and Design News.
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