Enterprise architecture has been quietly eating away at the silos

Lack of enterprise architecture shows, often in a big way. 'Left unresolved, EA shortfalls will destroy formerly great organizations.'

Not too long ago, enterprise architects toiled away with their charts and whiteboards in the depths of IT departments. Now, EA not only keeps corporate technology planning on track and in sync with business goals, it has become much more than that. Digital transformation means technology isn't just supporting the business -- technology is the business. 

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

A survey of 82% of respondents say digital transformation has increased their IT complexity, a survey of 1,892 IT managers released at the end of last year by LeanIX. At the same time, 79% of respondents say their enterprise architecture program has reduced IT complexity. As an added bonus, respondents report an average 4.6% cost savings on their IT budgets directly attributed to having an enterprise architecture program.  

Still, EA is still fairly nascent at most enterprises. A majority of IT managers, 77%, report they do not have a mature EA program.

Lack of EA shows, often in a big way. "Every negative customer interaction via a company app, website, telephone call, or service provider exposes your architectural inadequacies," says Jeanne Ross and Cynthia Beath, co-authors of Designed for Digital: How to Architect Your Business for Sustained Success, in a recent report in MIT Sloan Management Review. "Left unresolved, these issues will destroy formerly great organizations."

Ross and Beath define enterprise architecture as "the holistic design of people, processes, and technology to execute digitally inspired strategic goals." They outline three principles of EA, illustrating its increasingly visible role in business:

EA breaks processes and products into components. "Today, enterprise architecture involves componentizing a company's key outcomes - products, customer experiences, and core enterprise processes - and assigning clear accountability for each component," the co-authors point out. "The enterprise architecture designs an organization's critical people-process-technology bundles in a way that facilitates both operational excellence and adaptability to change."

EAs become team leaders. Today's EA priorities are part of a dramatic shift from traditional siloed management approaches to one based on teamwork. "The leadership task becomes one of formulating teams and then coaching team members to help clarify their missions, establish meaningful metrics, and design experiments to test innovations. Team members define their goals. Leaders hold teams accountable for meeting those goals and, just as important, grant them the autonomy to do so."

EA influences strategy. In the process, EA teams become involved in setting high-level strategy. "When companies fund teams rather than strategic initiatives or systems development projects, those groups can respond almost instantaneously to company bets."

For years, EA was seen as a practice that surfaced and opened discussion on technology requirements. Now, business leaders are taking notice of what has become the foundation of their businesses.