Should enterprise architects intervene early in corporate digital initiatives?

A modest proposal to realign enterprise architecture resources back to the enterprise.

As everyone is probably aware by now, going digital is all the rage. Whether it's interacting with everyone via social network platforms, or using cloud resources and web APIs, or going mobile, or all of the above, every enterprise worth its salt is pursuing -- or thinks it's pursuing -- some kind of "digital" strategy.

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Photo: HubSpot

To some degree, IT departments have taken on a peripheral role in the march to digital. Many digital activities tend to be one-off projects, instigated within a shadow IT realm, or overseen by marketing types. Of course, IT gets called in later on to clean up the mess, be it security leakages, interfaces that don't deliver, or duplicated and wasteful technology investments.

Enterprise architecture emerged as a way to keep such messes from happening in the first place, and keep technology investments focused on the business. Marketing departments need EA just as much as their IT counterparts. Which begs the question: should enterprise architects intervene earlier in the digital process to tame the madness?

Jason Bloomberg, for one, suggests that it's high time EAs were invited to the "digital party," rather than standing outside a window, looking in and watching everybody else have all the fun. Writing in Wired, he observes that EAs tend to be detached from many corporate digital initiatives. It doesn't make sense, since enterprise architecture is all about helping organizations "clarify the organizational, process, information, and technology elements or primitives that make up the enterprise in order to establish efficient approaches to coordinating them in order to better achieve the goals of the organization."

Jason suggests a number of ways EAs need to get into the game, but for starters, he recommends a name change. The EA team should be referred to as the Center of Digital Excellence. (Or CODE -- clever, huh?)

As part of this evolution, EAs need to be brought out of the IT department and made part of a more expansive, enterprise role -- as the "enterprise" in their title suggests. Perhaps the CODE should be part of the domain of the chief digital officer, an emerging title in many organizations, Jason also proposes.

Such changes may have not been practical just a year or two ago, since --as mentioned above -- many corporate digital activities were unfocused, and tended to be experimental. It would have been comparable to trying to giving EAs a role in departmental spreadsheet and PC application management in the 1980s (if there were EAs around at that time).

Now, however, we're seeing digital business approaches (the social, mobile, analytics, cloud, shadow IT and e-channels) grow and gain a serious footing. As Jason suggests, maybe it's time to bring enterprise architecture sensibilities to the party before things get out of hand.

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