In the midst of World War II, Lord Abercrombie began designing a new model for London to supplant the rubble-strewn remains that survived the Blitz. The ambitious blueprint was for a modern, efficient metropolis, geared for the demands of the future.
Yet Abercrombie’s plan never came to fruition, and London was simply rebuilt along existing lines. The city continues to implement innovative and costly measures to overcome its design flaws, but the big corporates of tomorrow may not fare so well.
As we emerge from the financial crisis, companies continue to have cost challenges and need to cope with increasing regulation. At the same time, the digital revolution is transforming what customers expect and demand.
In theory, enterprise architects are the best people to solve these big enterprise challenges. In practice, their voice is often ignored within large organizations, in favor of short term thinking and tactical choices.
Why is this happening? I think there are three main traps that enterprise architecture teams fall into, that are denying them their rightful place at the heart of business transformation:
- The Purpose Trap. When companies are unclear what they want from enterprise architecture, and simply deploy create an architecture function because that is what everyone else seems to be doing, there is a danger that the function will become decorative rather than transformational. Sponsors and leaders of the enterprise architecture team must ensure it has a clear purpose. The goals of the enterprise architecture function should reflect the goals of the company, and all activity must be bent to this purpose.
- The Confidence Trap. A successful enterprise architecture function must manage, make and challenge decisions that other people have been used to making for themselves. Those people will often be unhappy that they are being told what to do. The Confidence Trap opens up when enterprise architecture teams respond to this challenge by giving up their decision rights to avoid conflict. Enterprise architects must be clear on their decision rights and the decision rights they need. Having an appetite for challenge is part of the job.
- The Value Trap. At the outset, leaders and sponsors of enterprise architecture functions are often eager to demonstrate its value, and attempt to define measures to do this. However, such projects commonly deliver long-term value, and forced measurements can become a fatal distraction, wasting time, or even worse confirming skeptical suspicions that the function has limited value. The best way to avoid this trap is to focus on delivering value rather than measuring value, and winning respect as a result. Enterprise architects best demonstrate value by seeking, tackling and solving the biggest problems their companies have to face.
I strongly believe that the complex organizations of today, and tomorrow, will not be able to compete effectively unless designed well.
And I believe that enterprise architecture teams who understand their purpose, have justified confidence, and deliver value, will be one of the greatest assets a company can wish for.