I was chatting with a client recently about some work that we were doing. He is a senior executive for a leading UK retail business, and although he appreciates the good work done by his EA team, he is a bit sceptical about the Enterprise Architecture. In particular, he doesn’t think that the EA team bring any unique skills or value.
During our conversation he challenged me to list five things that enterprise architects do, that aren’t also part of any other discipline. I thought it was useful to expand this – and list the five things that the best enterprise architects not only do, but do well!
And it also seemed useful to show how TOGAF can help remind you of these five things.
1. The Best Enterprise Architectures Think Architecturally
This is a key point, and one that I hammer on about relentless. When I coach EA teams or mentor clients the mantra I repeat over and over is: “you have to think like an architect”.
The best enterprise architects have a way of thinking that is distinct and different from other disciplines. Architectural thinking is not thinking like a business analyst, or a solution developer, or an operations manager, or a project manager.
So how do you know you’re thinking architecturally? Well the most obvious point is that you relate everything back to the architecture.
When a stakeholder says they have a concern, you explain their problems in terms of the architecture and its components. The TOGAF ADM encourages architects to think about the architecture (Phases A, B, C & D) before going on to solutions.
You also know you are thinking architecturally when you use architecture techniques such as architecture frameworks, principles, building blocks, enterprise patterns, governance, metamodels, etc.
TOGAF describes many of these techniques… but it doesn’t really explain how to use some of the most fundamental ones! For example, it talks about the need to customize architecture frameworks, but it doesn’t really explain how you go about doing this or what the resulting frameworks should look like.
2. The Best Enterprise Architects Make the Architecture Explicit
Following on from thinking architecturally is the need to make the architecture explicit. So often, when I coach architecture teams, I find that they do the architectural analysis, but they don’t relate this explicitly back to stakeholder concerns!
There are three things that the best enterprise architects do here:
- They explicitly show how the current architecture constrains the enterprise. They show how the architecture limits operations or how it prevents the business from achieving its objectives.
- They explicitly show how a future architecture enables the capabilities that matter in the enterprise.
- They explicitly show the future architectural options that are possible from current, transitional, and future architectures.
To be honest, TOGAF doesn’t emphasize this task enough. I did a quick search for the word “explicit” in the TOGAF documentation, and I could only find it in the Business Architecture chapter. So to help you remember this, keep asking these three questions:
- What constraints are imposed by the enterprise architecture?
- What does the enterprise architecture enable?
- What future options could be developed using the enterprise architecture as a foundation?
3. The Best Enterprise Architects Think Holistically
Good enterprise architects view the enterprise or the scope of an architecture initiative as a system. They use systems thinking to analyze and understand the architecture, rather than just focusing on IT.
TOGAF helps here, firstly by emphasizing the four high-level domain views (business, data, application, and technology), and secondly by addressing a fairly wide range of elements via the content framework.
But there are also many areas that TOGAF doesn’t cover. For example, TOGAF mentions processes in the Process Modeling Extensions for the metamodel, but it doesn’t really explain how to construct a Process Architecture. And it has even less on Product Architecture, Event Architecture, or architecting Business Rules.
So, while TOGAF is a good starting point for thinking holistically, you must remember that you may still need to extend the metamodel and find out how to architect the important sub-domains such as processes, products, or events.
4. The Best Enterprise Architects Are Creative
OK – so it isn’t only enterprise architects that need to be creative. However, there are too many enterprise architects who follow the well-traveled paths without ever considering the alternatives.
This point is best illustrated with an example: One organization wanted to improve the efficiency of its data centers. Most data centers use just as much non-computing energy in cooling and power conversion as they do to power their servers.
The EA team examined various creative ways to reduce this overhead, including more comprehensive measures for power usage and effectiveness. But the simplest change was to raise the temperature in each data center! According to expert recommendations and most IT equipment manufacturers’ specifications, the temperature of the cold aisle can be raised 26.5°C or higher – which significantly reduces facility energy use.
Unfortunately, TOGAF doesn’t really cover this creative aspect of EA.
5. The Best Enterprise Architects Deliver Capabilities
Finally, the best enterprise architects focus their change efforts around business capabilities.
Each architectural change delivers either a new capability or a significant improvement to an existing one. EA is uniquely positioned to do this. Why? A “capability” is a complex and aggregate mix of different organizational components; all of the elements and components are crucial. Understanding such compound creatures is exactly what good enterprise architects do all the time. And EA techniques are the best way to formally describe such capabilities.
TOGAF is driven by capability analysis and improvement. So there is a lot of help from TOGAF here.
So if someone asks you – what is the unique contribution of EA teams? – consider basing your reply around these five aspects of EA.