Often I wonder why people start thinking about Enterprise Architecture only when “Information system” word comes on the table. All seems defined and almost decided, when the baton is passed to IT people who are requested to manage an ERP system integration project or a CRM one. Then, the IT people worry is upon alignment, asking how to implement the selected solution to best meet the business needs and requirements. They go back to Business to capture and model requirements in details, and they plan accordingly integration and roll-out. Around there, an Enterprise Architect brings a global point of view which insure that no impact have been missed in the project plan.
When the project scope comes to include several IT solutions, it becomes a true challenge, even for experimented solution architects, to drive such a project. So, when enterprise architect has been called, it has to roll-back to business expectations to produce a realistic business plan. Indeed, to sort out functioning enterprise complexity, enterprise architect ought to work at usages level.
Who could doubt of functioning enterprise complexity ? Enterprise may be compared to a knot of flows. For each of them, the enterprise perform some activities and manage those done by partners or contractors. For example, in the RH flow, collecting applying forms and qualifying them may be done by a subcontractor, or payroll activity may be outsourced. If it does not perform an activity required for a flow, at least enterprises need to control it. The same occurs for customers relationship flow, end customers may not be direct enterprise customers, nevertheless the entire flow has to be controlled.
With the time, enterprises have developed internal processes to perform parts of flows and to control other parts. It means that often external events are likely to impact activities which control flows and require to change internal architecture. The same happens when enterprise wishes to change the way it is doing its own activities, for example implementing lean management. It impacts the entire flow and drive change for external partners.
Innovations which change the way of performing one or more flows, are causing a lot of changes internally and externally on the activities and consequently on IT usages. Contemplating IT solution highlights technical debt and all impacts on legacy system which, although not so well aligned, provides good quality of service for reasonable costs. Then, enterprise architects have to sit down around the table and drive the process toward a road-map. Figuring out how enterprise will work, modelling, simulating, planning change according to business priority and resources, following development, driving new business roll-out, all these are what enterprise architecture may bring to innovators. It work at business capability level, IT usages and IT solutions levels for building the large and consistent view only able to give visibility and decision capability to companies willing to innovate on their business.
It is all the discussion around new smart meters to be rolled out by ErDF in France. It is far from being only a technological innovation, it put at stake a whole business transformation for dealing with strategic issues. Especially, option of setting all in one box at customer premises funded by energy resellers compared to those of setting a hub managed by electricity distributor for controlling services delivery, is typically an enterprise architecture discussion.
Enterprise architects could design comprehensive scenarios and lead experimentations to support ErDF discussions with business partners and to better shape a vision which is not enough developed to be understood by stakeholders. Today, all of them want its part of the cake and propose its own Market vision while ErDF is more or less hanged on to a political decision. For me the critical point is that advantages for end customers are not enough clear which rise resistance and hampers good discussions with other stakeholders. It is like in magic tricks where looks are caught to wrong direction, in this case everybody look at the box instead of considering services to customers. A Design Thinking approach embedded in the Enterprise Architecture cycle may have avoided this pitfall.
In such complex systems with social issues, enterprise architecture is able to bring tools which outline relationships between customer expectations, stakeholders requirements, technological opportunities and constraints. It draws consistent points of view which take account of actors issues in all domains, business and technology. It gives an invaluable decision support for leading such a business transformation.