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Effective Enterprise Architecture depends on powerful Governance

Why Organisations set up an EA function?

An organisation’s decision to set up an Enterprise Architecture function is often driven by the need to impose discipline and control over a chaotic proliferation of IT projects and solutions. This tends to happen either when a new CIO takes charge or when adverse trading conditions call for drastic cost-savings. The newly established EA function may be qualified and equipped with the right tools to handle the job, but all too often it will struggle to gain acceptance and then fail to meet management expectations.

How to ensure the new EA function meets expectations

In such situations, the main barriers to success are cultural. Prior to the introduction of EA, business change and IT project managers would have been used to calling the shots. To meet the demands of the business, they would have simply focused on delivering their individual projects against tight timetables with little regard for what was going on outside their own remits. Over time, of course, this lack of coordination would have resulted in the proliferation issues.

If EA is managed primarily as a policing function, holding projects rigidly to design rules and standards widely perceived as arbitrary, it will be seen as unnecessarily delaying or blocking the change projects’ progress. As change project managers will have the ear of senior business executives, the EA function can easily find itself politically outmanoeuvred and its recommendations ignored or overridden.

Dealing with this cultural rejection problem requires action at two levels. First, Enterprise Architecture should position itself with change projects not as a policing function, but as an enabling function. And second, it needs to rely on effective top management governance mechanisms to drive through decisions that will inevitably not please everyone.

Engagement with Change Projects is key

We believe that the best way for the EA function to handle the project-level issues is to engage directly with change projects, starting with the initial project definition phase before lines in the sand have been drawn. By appreciating project requirements, the enterprise architects should be well positioned to recommend appropriate solutions, often plucked from an in-house catalogue, that are aligned with corporate standards. (We all know of examples where adequate solutions already implemented within an organisation have been overlooked by project teams)

The EA staff can also help resolve systems design problems, either by answering them or by facilitating the answers to speed the project delivery. In this way they should be seen as adding value, rather than impeding progress, and this will boost the credibility of the EA function.

Building strong relationships with the change function and the project teams is critical to this. Where we see successful EA teams, one common characteristic is the good relationship they have with change teams. Often it begins with a hesitant relationship as they construct a working pattern, but as the value is experienced, the EA influence builds over time to the point where the EAs become the go to team for most change.

Gain Senior Management alignment and support

At the higher level, an organisation’s enterprise architecture should be derived directly from its business and IT strategies. Governance structures that include top-level business and IT executives should ideally be established to ensure that this linkage is maintained and that the business change portfolio aligns with both the strategies and the architecture. However, this often depends on maturity, and low-maturity EA teams will find it harder to engage with broader senior management. Instead, this engagement has to develop over time, as the EA team builds understanding and credibility regarding what value they can provide.

Effective governance ensures that enterprise-level architectural principles are developed and observed. It also provides an escalation process for handling challenges to these principles. Senior-level institutional backing is necessary to provide air cover for an EA function tasked with promoting and supporting organisation-wide interests. Initially, this backing may come from the CIO or CDO, but over time, as the EA team delivers value, this support can expand. For instance, we experienced a situation at one organisation where the COO became the biggest advocate of the EA function, based on its ability to communicate business issues and risks in a business-friendly way.

Effective governance is essential for successful enterprise architecture. While gaining senior executive buy-in is crucial, it may take time to achieve the ideal level of support. On the journey towards this goal, you should focus on winning allies, on helping others perform their tasks more efficiently, while consistently demonstrating the value of your efforts.

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