Time for enterprise architects to ask the hard business questions

'I don't see the CEOs of many companies awake at night worrying about technology standardization.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Enterprise architects need to stop thinking of what they do as architecture for IT, and start thinking about it as architecture for the business. With digital transformation upending so many companies, re-arranging internal technology may be akin to re-arranging deck chairs on the digital Titanic.

Photo: LeanIX

That's the word from Mark McGregor, strategy consultant for LeanIX and former Gartner analyst, speaking at the vendor's recent Enterprise Architecture Connect Day in New York. "Within our world, we talk about application modernization and data center consolidation," he explains. "That's IT. Sometimes I find it very tiring when people say, 'yeah, we've moved to technology transformation.' That's not a business outcome. I don't see the CEOs of many companies awake at night worrying about technology standardization."  

There's nothing wrong with caring deeply about IT issues -- that's what CIOs and their technology colleagues are paid to do, McGregor continues. But it's critical to start thinking beyond technology outcomes and focus energy on business outcomes -- such as "delivering a five percent Increase in the customer experience, bringing new business ideas to market faster, and enabling mergers and acquisitions on a constant basis," he says. ."These are the things we need to be talking about."  Adding to the challenge is the fact that the focus and methodology of many of the tools EAs employ have changed little over the decades, he says,

There's good reason why EAs need to look beyond their internal systems, McGregor says. Many companies are dramatically changing their business models -- and even their industries -- to stay ahead of disruptive forces. McGregor talked about DHL, a package and postal service, which branched out into adjacent types of businesses, such as StreetScooter, a electric-powered fleet of delivery vans. It took concerted outward-directed thinking at all levels for DHL to make such a move. Technology leaders need to help lead this charge, McGregor asserts. 

For example, if in the delivery business -- exemplified by DHL, or perhaps drone deliveries -- "what if you think about the opportunities for worldwide overnight delivery capability, and worked backwards?" Enterprise architects need to also participate in business innovations. "These are the kind of things that should stimulate thinking such as 'Wow, I need to go see the CEO, because I just recognized as an enormous threat to my business , or there's an enormous opportunity, open now that will be tech-enabled or tech-threatened. But it's a business conversation first, not a tech conversation. Think about that evolution in your business, what does it mean how can you elevate your thinking.get yourself elevated up?"

Think about where you are positioned "to help your organization make those shifts," McGregor advises. "Beyond, 'Well if you do that I can help you with the application or we can have a look at mapping that capability to that application.' Sometimes that's relevant -- but you can do so much more than that."

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