Enterprise Transformation and Open Group

Enterprise-architecture is dead – long live enterprise-transformation! Or so it would seem, from the description of the current Open Group conference at Cannes.

Yet is all as it seems? I’d have to admit that the conference-programme does worry me a bit. Despite the presence of a fair few people with a broader view than just IT – Alex Osterwalder, Len Fehskens and Stuart Boardman, to name just a few – so much of it still seems to be the same-old search for the ‘next big thing’, the next soon-to-fail IT-based magic-bullet: currently ‘Big Data’, mobility, cloud, cloud and more cloud. Oh well.

A bit of history might be relevant here. Back at the start of the 20th century, the electric motor was the great ‘next big thing’. Huge excitement! – huge hype! – the electric motor will solve everything! No doubt that it transformed industry: freed at last from that terrifying tangle of belts and pulleys, machines now placed wherever fits the workflow, smaller, more compact, more convenient. A whole new infrastructure to power it, control it, monitor it, measure it, manage it.

(Sounds familiar, perhaps?)

And finally, when electric motors were literally everywhere, embedded in almost everything, the realisation that although the electric-motor is an important enabler, it’s only an enabler: isn’t the enterprise itself.

The enterprise isn’t solely about machines, or information, or ‘making money’: it usually includes all of those things somewhere within the overall picture, but first and foremost it’s about the hopes and desires and aims of people. If we ever forget that fact, there’s no space for enterprise – and hence nothing against which enterprise-architecture, or enterprise-transformation, could ever make sense.

As Simon Sinek puts it, any enterprise-scope work must always start with ‘why’: the ‘how’ and ‘with-what’ come later in the story. And for enterprise-architecture that ‘why’ must always be about the whole of the scope – not solely about some arbitrarily-selected subset. Open Group’s TOGAF is excellent for enterprise IT-architecture; yet its rigid focus on IT (as defined in sections B, C and D of its Architecture Development Method) renders it problematic at best for anything else in the enterprise-architecture space. It’s fixable, as I’ve explained at various Open Group conferences and elsewhere over the past five years or so: yet still that kind of update has not been applied to the ADM, and in that sense TOGAF 9 represented a sadly-missed opportunity. As a profession, we need to do better than that.

To give some idea of what I mean by ‘the enterprise’ – and hence its architecture and its transformation – take a look at some of the projects I’m exploring at present in Latin America:

  • a medium-sized brewer needing to resolve problems with internal theft
  • a large manufacturer addressing multi-way ‘cultural translation’ between Asian ownership and executive, US management and methods, and Latin engineers and workforce
  • a government department working with a film-producer to use social-media to break the cycle of mutual distrust between police and schoolkids and teenagers in the slum-districts
  • an NGO wanting to use the ubiquity of cell-phones as a means to improve health-care in widely-dispersed indigenous communities

It’s likely that in each of these contexts, an enterprise IT-architecture will play some important part: but the IT itself is not the sole focus of the overall task. To make any of those transformations work, we need to start from people, not IT – start from enterprise as enterprise – and keep that whole enterprise in mind at every moment.

It may well be that enterprise-architecture is dead – but if so, it was killed by inanely inappropriate IT-centrism, in Open Group and elsewhere. As we move to a nominally broader-based enterprise-transformation, could more effort be made to ensure that we do not repeat the same IT-centric mistakes? Please?

3 Comments on “Enterprise Transformation and Open Group

  1. I use a photo of a dress made with coffee filters. Great analogy … your filters must be able to keep out the bad and allow the good. unfortunately, IT people (a group I grew up and eventually away from) has their filters too clogged to see the enterprise as more than IT. However, the same is true with any business unit…further complicated with social media. Marketing says “everything is marketing” Sales says “everything is sales”. People are just not aware of how clogged their vision and scope is … which is why we need people who truly understand the breadth and scope of enterprise ARCHITECTURE. Without it…what are you transforming to … more specifically, WHY are you transforming at all?

  2. The (wicked) problems you describe above sound like the ones usually described in design thinking literature. And I think you are right! Whatever the hell it is we do, its a convergence of EA, Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and a few other things I’m sure. its a curry of skills and techniques we use to simply “make sh*t better”.

    {apologies for the foul language. I got excited!}

  3. It’s interesting that Open Group have used Enterprise Transformation as the theme of their conference. It is recognition that Enterprise Architecture is much more than IT, or even EA as Strategy (as Ross, Weill and Robertson have written).

    True enterprise architecture is transformation. Architectural change is transformational change – as in your examples.

    Talking about enterprise transformation is to focus on the consequence or outcome of enterprise architecture, rather than the discipline – which is probably a good thing!

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