5 Things EA do well

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 know you are thinking architecturally when you use architecture techniques – 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 the architecture framework, 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.
  • And they explicitly show the future architectural options that are possible from current, transition 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:

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 analyse and understand the architecture. They do not just focus on IT!

TOGAF helps here, firstly by emphasizing the four high-level domain views (business, data, application and technology), and secondly by including a fairly wide range in 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 TOGAF is a good starting point for thinking holistically, but remember that you may need to extend the metamodel and find out how to architect the important sub-domains such as process, product or event.

4. The Best Enterprise Architects Are Creative

OK – so it isn’t only enterprise architects that are creative. But there are enterprise architects who follow the well-travelled paths, without ever considering the alternatives.

This point is best illustrated with an example: One organization wanted to improve the efficiency of its data centres. Most data centres 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 centre! 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 reduced 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 based around 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? – consider basing your reply around these five aspects of EA.

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Roger has been working as an Enterprise Architect since 1984, and over the years has been in involved in some of the most advanced, innovative and challenging Enterprise Architecture projects. He has extensive experience in applying all of the key EA approaches, including Zachman, TOGAF and Information FrameWork (IFW) and has been involved in establishing and embedding Enterprise Architecture Programmes that delivered strategic business results in organisations all around the world. Roger now works as a trainer, mentor and coach, specialising in developing individual and organisational capability in using Enterprise Architecture techniques and tools.