Why is Enterprise Architecture failing?


First of all I am not talking about the chief architect, application architect, solution architect or technical architects. These are well-defined roles that have specific deliverables and have been in existence for many, many years. The EA however is a relatively new animal.

Here’s one definition I found…

“The Enterprise Architect ensures alignment between the business and IT strategies, operating model, guiding principles, and the software development projects and service delivery. By taking a global, enterprise-wide, perspective across all the business services, business processes, information, applications and technology, the EA ensures the enterprise goals and objectives are addressed in a holistic way across all the application development projects and their deployment into production.”

or perhaps Gartner’s will define it better


or perhaps not.

The joke is now old. “What is the difference between an Enterprise Architect and a Janitor? If a janitor stops working for  a month, someone will notice…” and unfortunately true sometimes. If we asked Gartner, here is what they would tell you.

The 10 EA pitfalls identified by Gartner are:

  • Insufficient stakeholder understanding and support
  • Not engaging the businesspeople
  • Doing only technical domain-level architecture
  • Doing current-state EA first
  • The EA group does most of the architecting
  • Not measuring and not communicating the impact
  • Architecting the ‘boxes’ only
  • Not establishing effective EA governance early
  •  Not spending enough time on communications
  • The wrong person in the job.

If you have worked for an IT vendor, you will recognize the following personality. The high-strung, AAA golf-club swinging, Porsche-driving, Rolex-wearing person that makes sales quota every single year. Good for them. One of them I met in the early 1990’s left the computer industry and went on to form an ISO 9000 training company. Completely perplexed I asked “Jimmy.. what do you know about ISO 9000?” The answer, “Not a damn thing… but that’s where the big money is!”  He saw coming trend, caught the wave and without a shred of knowledge sold-out training courses on the crush to become ISO 9000 certified because everyone knew that you couldn’t be in business without it… (hmmm)

Today I believe EA’s are a bit like ISO 9000 certification. Gartner tells people they should have one, so without even being able to define what it is, they place an advertisement for a TOGAF certified architect. 12 months later, they have some diagrams that few understand and no one can execute against. Then they hire another one …

My list of why EA is failing shortens from Gartner’s 10 to 2.

  • The wrong person
  • No Value Realization Plan before the role is even hired

I have seen 3 types of EA’s in my travels.

  • EA’s that know the business, know technology and have enough technical expertise to know the difference between a dream and a plan
  • EA’s that know the business, but lack core IT skills but have taken and passed a 4-day TOGAF course.
  • EA’s that have core IT skill, little business knowledge but lack the “Big Picture” and soft skills (and have likely taken and passed the same 4-day TOGAF course)

In my opinion only the person with both business (domain specific) and technical knowledge with enough true IT experience to know that there is difference between nice diagrams on a page and actual pragmatic implementation is a viable EA.  The right person will also not let the other 9 items on Gartner’s pitfall list happen.

Just as big a problem as hiring the wrong person is not knowing explicitly what value you expect from the investment.

If EA is done well.

  • Your IT operational and maintenance costs will decline $
  • Your business will be more productive $
  • Your business will be more agile and able to respond quickly to change $
  • You will make better decisions with better information $
  • You will be able to show direct value from IT investments for revenue enhancement or cost reduction $
  • IT will spend less time on maintaining systems and more time producing new capabilities and innovating competitive advantage $
  • IT will become a weapon not a cost center for your business $

Missing from this list are platitudes like “better alignment with business strategy”. While necessary, it is not a monetizable value statement.

If the EA and EA program are established to drive specific value to the enterprise with hard numbers, then there is less tolerance for deliverables with nice diagrams that are improbable to implement. Only by hiring the right person and before hiring, setting the value expectations of the program, can the EA program deliver true success.

Do this and you will definitely notice to your detriment if the Enterprise Architect took a month off.

Where’s Jimmy now? Probably selling TOGAF courses….

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2 Responses to Why is Enterprise Architecture failing?

  1. Paul Preiss says:

    Ian, we at Iasa, have found similar evidence in the market that while EA can be a strategic role it is only so when a) it is built on a solid foundation in IT capability, b) the individual comes from a deep background in architecture practice, and c) the role is fully aligned with the other architect roles.

  2. Patrick Bodard says:

    I fully agree not that I have been myself an EA

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