How can organisations afford the luxury of enterprise architecture in the middle of a global recession?

EAS General

The current downturn is forcing companies and government agencies across the world to prune their IT budgets and shelve major business change projects. In this adverse economic climate enterprise architecture will often be regarded by management as an overhead activity of little relevance to the cost-cutting challenges they face. There are two main reasons why this attitude can prevail:

  1. Enterprise architecture is frequently associated with the design of the future operating model that will result from planned major changes in business processes. When times are hard, such long-term interests usually take a back seat and quick-fix initiatives take priority.
  2. By its very name ‘enterprise architecture’ implies building a comprehensive view of the entire business operating model. Organisations in survival mode will be more interested in surgical measures focused on selected areas of the business, than in the contemplation of elegant, all-embracing business models.

As a consequence, enterprise architecture activities may be seen as unimportant and easily expendable. Skills and knowledge built up over many years may then be lost as expert practitioners are laid off or else redeployed to take on work seen as having greater urgency.

The Essential Project Team believes such an outcome can be counterproductive, as enterprise architecture has a potentially vital role to play in enabling organisations to handle the challenges of an economic downturn. The key to this is to ensure that enterprise architecture activities are focused on what the business regards as high priority.

To address adverse trading conditions, the enterprise architect first needs to concentrate on the current state, rather than the future business operating model. Then the focus should be specifically on those areas where rationalisation of existing assets and business process simplification are likely to pay dividends in the short term. The Essential Architecture Manager has been designed to enable promising areas to be selected and modelled without the need to cover the entire spectrum of business and IT capabilities. And that modelling should be carried out only to the level of detail that is necessary to enable appropriate management decisions to be made.

We know that many organisations could make significant short-term savings simply by rationalising their technology platforms – for example, by eliminating redundant servers. The media company that provided the original beta test site for the Essential Architecture Manager during 2008 opted to use the package in the first instance to model and record its current technology assets. This exercise revealed inefficiency, duplication and obsolescence in a number of areas, and it highlighted possibilities for early savings to be made.
A similar case can be made for organisations using tools such as the Essential Architecture Manager to record details of current IT applications and the business activities they support. This can reveal scope for rationalisation and simplification, which can lead in turn to significant benefits – for example, savings in licence fees and software maintenance charges. While working with a financial services company, one member of the Essential project Team used such a targeted architectural approach to demonstrate that a range of new financial products could be supported by the firm’s existing systems: this obviated the need for a proposed new suite of applications.

In short, now is the time for smart enterprise architects to lift up the drain covers, rather than scan the distant horizons. Those who are sensitive to current business priorities will hopefully then still be around to contribute to and support a more strategic agenda when better times return.

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