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Small to medium-sized businesses can benefit from EA – here’s how

Enterprise architecture often seems to be something large corporates do, but for small and medium businesses it has value, and it should be a discipline we all do. The challenge is how to deliver enterprise architecture when you have either a small (<4 people) or no EA team.

Enterprise architecture helps bring clarity and order to an organization by defining where it is, where it is going and how it will get there. That may sound simple enough on paper, but in practice it can be challenging because organisations are complex things, a mix of people, processes and systems that all have interdependencies. For small and medium-sized organisations those complexities still exist, just on a lesser scale than major corporates, and EA can play a role in helping expose those interdependencies and reduce complexity.

The benefits can be significant with focus

Small and Medium-sized businesses may not be able to invest in a dedicated Enterprise Architecture team or, in our experience, often have teams of a couple of architects or analysts, playing the role of enterprise architect, business architect, technical architect, etc. EA for these teams is really about identifying where the best value can be delivered and not trying to answer every organisational question EA could answer. If successful, delivery of the EA leads to:

  • Increased visibility into the current status of the organization’s key concerns allows management to make more informed decisions about investments they should take in processes or systems
  • Reduced risk, both in terms of the identifying EA risks that are often missed, but also reduced risk in investment decisions

There are challenges

Small and medium-sized businesses may have many of the same challenges as larger companies, but they also face unique difficulties:

  • If people are splitting roles, they can’t dedicate lots of time to EA
  • They often have little to no budget to support delivery of an enterprise architecture
  • EA is sometime perceived as a luxury reserved for larger organisations

How do you succeed?

Success for small to medium-sized organisations is really about focus. With limited architects (or people playing the architect role) then trying to cover the whole EA stack is not going to work. So what should you do:

  • Follow the discipline of EA, you don’t need to be a trained, certified EA to be successful – we come across of a lot of business analysts who do EA. One of the best data capture examples we’ve seen was done by an intern at a US retailer. She had no prior EA experience but knew what she wanted to see and was able to highlight application duplication. She just followed the pattern of creating a capability model, then for key areas mapping processes, then finding out which applications supported which processes – A thin slice into the architecture to deliver value to a key business area
  • Don’t worry about learning EA frameworks – frameworks have a place, but people can often fall into the trap of dogmatically following them to the detriment of the EA effort. So don’t worry too much, cherrypick some useful elements you can make use of if you want
  • You don’t need to capture a lot of data to get value – one of the most frustrating things we sometimes hear when we talk about the management of EA is, ‘it’s a lot of data’. Of course it is if you are trying to capture every detail about the organisation, but you’d have to be some fool to attempt that. Instead, focus on the data you need for your problem and ignore everything else, so if it’s technology risk you want to track then get your technologies and your vendor lifecycles, to see technology product risk. Later map the technology to your applications and you’ll see your applications at risk.
    (See more on this in our blog here)
  • Communicate with your sponsors – find out what is keeping them up at night and make sure you are answering their burning questions. Typically, it will be a small area of the architecture which you can map and show them the implications and options. We have one client, with a team of two, who focuses their EA effort on value streams and processes only, they ignore everything else.  Often just having an available, consolidated application list is a great start.


So, we’ve covered the benefits of enterprise architecture for small to medium-sized businesses and offered some advice on how to approach it. If you’re thinking about implementing it in your company or if you already have, we hope this article helped clarify some of those questions people have about enterprise architecture.

If you want help in how to approach your EA then take a look at Playbook here, which gives different starting points and a route to follow depending on your key need.

If you want to look at a tool then you can download our open source EA Tool, it is a little technical to set-up but is a good little tool, see here, or if you want to try our Cloud version, it’s easier to use and is priced so small to medium-sized organisation can afford a proper EA tool, drop us an email here.


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