The possible untapped use cases for Enterprise Architecture (EA) are enormous. For example, the “Mother of all EA Use Cases” could have been, since early 2020, for ways to better address the entire COVID-19 crisis. It is not too late, but the chances of EA being used for it at all any time soon are slim to none. No one to my knowledge, has put forward a business case for EA in this context. This is despite COVID-19 manifesting itself as perhaps the most dramatic global crisis in over 100 years.
Before considering it specifically, though, let’s consider some other visible opportunities in the U.S. government. Note that there are 34 items on The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) 2019 High-Risk List https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/697245.pdf . Each of them would make a great target for the use of EA. However, all 17 of times EA is explicitly mentioned in the 293-page document are related to shortcomings in the Department of Defense’s Business Enterprise Architecture (BEA) program. Ironically, the better application of EA is not even one of the recommendations on how to tackle the BEA challenges.
What about the other 33 high-risk areas – why is EA not even considered as an approach to enable possible mitigation of the identified high risks? Maybe the GAO would respond that it has set up its own framework for mitigation in that it assesses areas on its high-risk list considering 5 criteria: Leadership commitment, Capacity, Action Plan, Monitoring, and Demonstrated Progress. In essence, if items are to be moved off the high-risk list, they need to score high on these criteria. Could EA help to address these criteria? Of course, it could, but it is never specifically recommended. Oddly, the reason it is probably not mentioned is because organizations trying to leverage EA would very likely do it badly, thereby wasting time and money with no assurance of any risk mitigation, so…better to avoid bringing up EA at all!
This harks back to something a presenter at a Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo said about 3 years ago when he mentioned EA, noting apparent skepticism in the large audience of CIOs. He then observed something along these lines: “I realize many of you have had bad experiences with EA. That is because there are so many ways to do it badly and so few ways to get it right.”
As an EA evangelist who believes that the ultimate EA value is “better-informed decisions faster for the incremental delivery of targeted outcomes”, I admit that most EA programs I assess are going about it badly. As a result, they are stuck in permanent low maturity, which means they are probably more of a drain on an organization than a value-added activity and will not survive if they don’t change.
So, what are some of the essential pillars that I expect to see in an EA program that is set up to meet its potential? The EA program would need to be set up and integrated as more of a big picture, city planning type of activity rather than an IT program assisting in fragmented, tactical project management support. EA would need to be at a level of the enterprise that would allow it to have complete visibility across the enterprise, as well as linkages to the wider ecosystem, and the opportunity to consult on and track all the significant transformation investments/ initiatives.
Back to the main point, though, of this short message: Enterprise Architects need to take advantage of this tragic COVID-19 disruption to illustrate where EA can provide value. To do so, EA must be set up intelligently in the organization and targeted towards measurable outcomes. It must include at least business, data, application, and technology architectures addressed and managed in a comprehensive, cross-enterprise fashion using leading standards for world class descriptions of baseline and target use cases within the broader architecture landscape defined by business capabilities.
To conclude with one clear cut example that could benefit everyone in all enterprises: The pandemic has catapulted us into a world of mostly remote work as Enterprise Architects, just as with the wider enterprises that we are seeking to support. Much of our work time is spent in online meetings that give us the impression of collaborating, while, in all reality, probably being huge wastes of time.
Mature EA could help us orchestrate the online collaboration experience we must endure to move it toward a world class way to interact and thereby dramatically improve innovation and efficiency. We would have to design what we would envision would be the optimum use and operation of online meetings and workspaces and then determine the gaps that would have to be filled in moving from the baseline approaches and systems.
As things stand, though, the remote work paradigm in general is a high-risk one, although an essential one in these times. EA needs to come up with better patterns for productivity and creativity in the new environment. It is uniquely capable of doing this if it is set up and matured well. Starting or enhancing EA with a greater investment of resources, though, is a risk itself that must be controlled with great visibility and agility to continually improve and to communicate the value proposition over time. As an EA professional services company, we know that organizations need expert help to manage the associated risks to tap the clear rewards for even our everyday work in these trying times.
Authored by Dr. Steve Else, Chief Architect & Principal Instructor