by Bob Violino

How to Make EA Make Sense to Your CEO

Aug 31, 20113 mins
Financial Services IndustryProject Management Tools

Expert advice on discussing EA with your board in plain terms

How a CIO talks to other business leaders about planning and implementing enterprise architecture (EA) makes a huge difference to the success of the effort. But all too often, the discussion becomes a soup of technical jargon and business buzzwords. A simple, coherent message is key.

Joe Drouin, senior vice president and CIO at workforce services company Kelly Services, has found it’s easy to lose your audience when you’re talking EA. “EA-speak gets very academic when you talk frameworks and domains and models and methods. It gets complicated really fast.”

Rather than getting into theoretical discussions and referencing complex wall charts, Drouin keeps the conversation focused on business priorities, collaboration and how IT components can deliver value to the organization through EA.

“We spend a lot of time working with people in the business to help them understand the why of [EA] without really talking about architecture,” Drouin says. “That’s really worked.”

In simple terms, EA is about aligning the strategic vision of the business with its IT infrastructure and applications, and enabling business units to create a more seamless experience for customers and technology end users.

Your conversations with business leaders should be focused on two areas: how the architecture will be used as a competitive asset and how it will deliver strategic advantage, says Neal Kaderabek, divisional vice president of financial services and CIO at Hallmark Services, a provider of administrative services for the individual health insurance market.

“Using real examples of problems business leaders encounter on a daily basis is an excellent approach to introducing EA as a solution and not another flavor of the day,” Kaderabek says.

The business leaders Kaderabek works with aim to reduce costs without compromising scalability, speed to market and quality. “Conversations on architecture are channeled to ensure these outcomes will be realized,” he says. “Demonstrating the [positives] as they occur goes a long way toward reinforcing their support for the architecture.”

At BMO Financial Group, a financial-services firm, the EA practice works on four areas: architecture-development processes; an effective governance model; organizational competence; and shaping the culture, says Jean-Michel Ares, group head of technology and operations. Ares has found that creating a set of accepted terms for describing things is key to successful EA communication. BMO developed a framework that breaks the organization into logical building blocks, such as products and real estate.

“This simple description creates a common language for technology and the business to discuss issues relating to day-to-day operations and strategy to improve capabilities,” Ares says. “The framework is used consistently across all business units to develop our investment plans,” he says.

Jeff Scott, principal analyst at Forrester Research, also suggests you ensure enterprise architects and IT are on the same page before you approach business leaders about EA. “There is nothing worse than the CIO pitching one view and the architects showing up with another,” Scott says. “And I see this much more often than you would imagine.”