EA and innovation

Just realised that I’m doing a whole load of posts to the LinkedIn forums – particularly Serge Thorn’s The Enterprise Architecture Network and Greg Suddreth’s Business Architecture Community – when I really ought to post them here as well.

So here was a question from Bala Somasundaram at Honeywell Technology Solutions in India:

How Enterprise Architecture can enable Business Innovation?
I understand Enterprise Architecture is best positioned to be an innovation enabler leveraging its Business-IT alignment, Technology competency and Understanding of the Business Model. Would be interested to hear from fellow members on their viewpoints/experiences.

In the hope that it’ll be useful to others here, this was my response:

The first requirement – and usually the hardest for anyone working in IT in general – is to accept that EA is only peripherally about IT, and that an IT-centric approach to EA and innovation is as likely to destroy the business as it is to enable it.

EA is, first and foremost, the architecture of the enterprise as a whole – not solely its IT. That was the painful lesson of so many failed attempts at BPR (business process reengineering) – you must start from the values, vision, functions, processes and services of the enterprise, not from IT-based ‘solutions’. If you put the ‘solutions’ first – as so many BPR proponents did, and as we’re now seeing with web-services and cloud-computing – you end up forcing the business to fit the ‘solution’: the enterprise loses its way, forgets what it knows or even what it’s in business for, and the whole thing falters and may collapse completely. That’s definitely the wrong kind of ‘innovation’… efficient, perhaps, but not very effective…

One reason for starting EA in IT is that – particularly after repeated mergers and acquisitions – the IT landscape of an enterprise is often a complete shambles, with many incompatible legacy systems and a proliferation of small point-applications to solve local problems. In effect, there are four distinct IT-EA maturity-levels:

Level 1 (e.g. TOGAF 7): ‘horizontal’ optimisation of the IT base, cleaning up the legacy mess and moving towards ‘single source of truth’ etc – any further IT-innovation will create increasingly intractable problems until this is done.

Level 2 (e.g. FEAF, TOGAF 8.1): integration with IT-related aspects of business strategy – IT-innovations are useful, but must be linked to and in response to top-down business strategy, not bottom-up ‘technology for technology’s sake’.

Level 3 (e.g. some aspects of TOGAF 9): bottom-up integration with CMDB etc for disaster-recovery planning and real-time impact-analysis, and cross-integration with service-management, quality-management etc as key sources of innovation.

Level 4 (e.g. Agile business-oriented variants of TOGAF 8.1 / 9): ‘spiral-out’ analysis to resolve business ‘pain-points’ and whole-of-enterprise opportunities for innovation; because we need to address true complexity and emergence here, many solutions at this level may involve little or no IT as such, or be more strongly cultural than technical (e.g. Enterprise 2.0)

EA is the custodian of a body of knowledge about enterprise structure and purpose. It has a key role as a bridge between strategy and implementation, via a Programme Management Office or equivalent. It does need to be proactive about innovation – but that innovation may come from anywhere, not just IT, and must always be linked back to enterprise purpose.

Innovation alone is not a substitute for enterprise purpose. If there isn’t clarity about purpose, and its implications and impacts across the enterprise – one of the key roles for EA – then no amount of innovation is going to help. Use EA to help sort out that concern before pushing for any further business innovation.

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