Enterprise Architecture Smells

2013.11.10 [IMG_0992]

I recently had a conversation about Enterprise Architecture which went something along the lines of “how would you approach EA, if you come into a new organisation and there is nothing, no EA, no IT strategy, no documentation or other guidance”. Not having personally experienced this, or thought about this scenario, I was slightly stuck and replied along the lines of  (1) understand business strategy and operating model, (2) high level documentation and assessment of current situation and identification of gaps (3) look to resolve gaps firstly through shaping any existing IT programmes… Back came a reply, “I disagree…”, followed by a logical and sensible explanation of how that individual had begun to bring in EA. In that explanation there was a great deal of context which made me realise that in all EA work I have ever approached there always has been, and it is this that will guide you in where to start. I think the contexts where EA work is requested, or identified as needed, are well summarised in the book Enterprise Architecture As Strategy [Ross, Weil & Robertson], they call them Symptoms but I like to think of them as bad Smells:

One Customer Question Elicits Different Answers: Most probably data duplication. Start with some high-level data modelling; a quick win, to build credibility, is to eliminate just one piece of data duplication; for the longer term identify all the core data that should be shared in order to drive programs of work to rationalise the estate and, of course, ensure good ongoing governance of data.

New Regulations Require Major Effort: In my experience the root cause is Different Business Processes and Systems Complete the Same Activity (see below)

IT Is Consistently a Bottleneck: I think this is tricky but my first suspicion is there is too much re-inventing (of systems and methodologies) going on and I would agree with Ross et al that the long-term approach is to introduce standardisation. Standardisation can be applied across methodologies, technologies and ultimately in the creation of generic solutions, which can be quickly re-used. It’s difficult to pick out a specific quick win but I would look to find something that can be re-used to get work underway faster than previously experienced. Adoption of SaaS and/or PaaS could be a fast-track mechanism for standardisation but there are many pros and cons to consider.

Different Business Processes and Systems Complete the Same Activity: I would start with a business capability model to understand the extent of the problem; a quick win here is not necessarily easy, it’s simple to say eliminate a duplicate system but hard to do; longer-term develop a plan that moves capabilities delivered by IT systems to more closely match the business capability model, in that each capability is implemented in, ideally only one, but practically as few as possible, systems. Of course governance needs to review proposals against the existing map of systems vs. business capability delivered to stop problems compounding or reoccurring.

Information for Making Decisions Is Not Available: more precisely it is not available at the right time. My starting point here is to examine the flows of data, is it being held up somewhere for example in overnight or weekly batches or in waiting for external data? A quick win should be straightforward using improved technical solutions in a targeted area and, longer term, adopting those improved solutions across the enterprise.

Employees Move Data from One System to Another: aka Swivel-Chair Integration. Again this is about data-flows but this time it’s the lack of automation. The approach is similar: first these manual flows need to be understood and then technology solutions implemented where cost-effective. I know it’s easy to say but often hard to achieve when data sits in silos: the organisation will need to change its operating model to mature its IT systems architecture.

Senior Managers Dreads Discussing IT Agenda Items and Management Doesn’t Know Whether It Gets Good Value from IT: I’ll admit I’m not sure where to start on these two. I suspect their cause is one or more of the previous bad smells, anyone care to enlighten me?

The above responses are only where you could start, EA should extend to all the disciplines mentioned on a prioritised basis: there will probably be more than one smell but which is worst?

Maybe very forward-thinking organisation recognise they need EA before they smell something bad and perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to work with one sometime!

Leave a Reply