Enterprise architecture provides the foundation for successful business-IT initiatives. When properly designed and implemented, enterprise architecture will help business leaders achieve their goals, enabling the organization to become more responsive, efficient, and competitive.
Unfortunately, just a few common mistakes can keep an enterprise architecture from meeting its designers’ intended goals and objectives. In fact, a flawed enterprise architecture can, over time, send an enterprise in an entirely wrong direction.
When developing or updating your enterprise architecture, step back and make sure it isn’t falling into any of the following seven traps.
1. Misaligning EA efforts to business needs
Enterprise leaders may design a coherent, detailed architecture, but it won’t be successful over the long term unless it’s focused on real-world business needs.
Before planning begins, Ginna Raahauge, CIO at communications infrastructure services provider Zayo, suggests rounding up the enterprise’s most impactful use cases to pressure-test the existing enterprise architecture to discover potential leaks. Make sure the use cases are relevant, she advises. “If you’re having order accuracy challenges, [for example,] make sure to think through what’s causing this on the front- and back-end and how a change in the architecture could fix that.”
Raahauge believes that an enterprise architecture is never really completed. “It’s living and breathing,” she says. Raahauge recommends revisiting the enterprise architecture at least once every five years. “As technology is moving faster and faster, we need to be able to survive five years of technology shifts,” she explains.
2. Not taking a customer-first approach
It’s important to align design initiatives with a customer-centric approach when designing an enterprise architecture, says Phillip Hattingh, a vice president at business and IT consultancy Capgemini. Customer-centric KPIs for objectives and outcomes should be enabled throughout the design, facilitating true omnichannel customer journeys that address both digital and physical interplay, he says. “How the design will achieve the organization’s desired outcomes should be clear and well communicated in support of a successful transformation.”
A customer-centric approach to enterprise architecture design marks a major change from traditional product-centric models. “A customer-first approach will challenge the traditional model and has the potential to lead to operating model changes in the future,” Hattingh notes. “By not adopting a customer-centric design, organizations may also lose competitiveness in the marketplace.”
3. Neglecting to centralize core goals and capabilities
An enterprise architecture that fails to centralize core business goals and capabilities is destined to produce or preserve silos.
“When different offices and departments encounter the same challenge and deploy often-overlapping solutions, they entrench themselves in redundant, inefficient systems that inhibit progress toward business goals,” warns Jonathan Benett, technical director, digital government solutions, at Adobe and former chief enterprise architect for the US Department of Agriculture. “Moreover, once workstreams are siloed, implementing any enterprise architecture at all becomes progressively more difficult.”
Benett says he witnessed silos’ destructive impact while serving as a government agency enterprise architect. “Offices with the budget and the human capital to solve immediate problems would develop their own applications and approaches rather than building platforms with applications that served multiple purposes and met cross-agency needs,” he says. “When offices and departments work separately, they tend to oppose efforts to streamline … because they lack visibility into the benefits [of] overall business goals.”
An effective way to tear down a siloed enterprise architecture is to invite teams representing major business functions to catalog all their digital tools, including applications, websites, and workforce management programs. Then include enterprise-wide processes and policies. Once this all-encompassing catalog has been created, gaps and strengths can be identified and built on, Benett says. “From there, a capability-driven business architecture can start to take shape,” he notes.
4. Placing technology ahead of flexibility and business goals
When developing an enterprise architecture, it’s easy to slip into a technology-centric worldview while losing sight of the business value model, says Jonathan Cook, CTO of healthcare data and software company Arcadia. “Business needs are constantly evolving, and we as technology leaders and professionals need to enable, support, and accelerate that change.”
When blinded or bound by a technology-centric outlook, enterprise leaders can find themselves stuck arguing about the superiority of various technological approaches instead of focusing on how to support current and upcoming business needs. “If we fail to provide a flexible, resilient architecture we can hold our organizations back from competing effectively,” Cook warns. “Over the past 18 months of this pandemic we’ve seen that businesses that could rapidly adapt to changing market conditions were able to survive and even thrive.”
5. Getting stuck in the present
An enterprise architecture developed without anticipating future growth requirements is likely to eventually fail. “Without a roadmap, you’ll come up against limitations for creating efficiencies, as well as limitations, for supporting business goals,” says Liz Tluchowski, CIO/CISO of insurance brokerage World Insurance. “You’ll also face the added expense of trying to reinvent the wheel when discovering what you have built is not serving the operational needs of the business.”
Tluchowski recommends keeping an open mind when building out any system that will likely require scalability as the enterprise grows and/or business needs change. “Use platforms and services that are known for their open architecture, as technology is forever changing and there’s so much that’s unpredictable even when you have a plan in place.”
6. Shortchanging security
Enterprise architecture has been forced to change over the past few years as the cyber threat landscape has evolved. “In the past, security was a bolt-on or an afterthought,” says Chuck Everette, director of cybersecurity advocacy at cybersecurity technology firm Deep Instinct. “Security is now at the core and the forefront of enterprise architecture and design,” he notes. “Everything else is built on top or around it.”
Not including security at the start of the enterprise architecture design phase is a dangerous mistake as systems, applications, and data may be exposed to possible compromise, warns Bruce Young, who leads a cybersecurity management graduate program at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “Cyber threats are constantly increasing, and successful cyber-attacks on organizations occur daily, so security must be included in the enterprise architecture process starting with the design phase.”
Basic security considerations must take place during the design and planning phase, as well as testing and validation before final signoff, says Everette, who recommends taking a security-by-design approach to enterprise architecture development. “Security-by-design enforces the prioritization of the design based on the business risks, values, and impacts of breaches and vulnerabilities.”
7. Aiming for perfection
Most highly talented people, including those in IT and the business, want to build something perfect. While perfection may be an admirable goal, it’s not a particularly good pursuit when developing an enterprise architecture, particularly when future-proofing architectures or building for scale.
“That’s important for sure, but over-rotating on it leads to a plethora of problems, primarily of the variety of overbuilding and over-architecting,” explains Laura Thomson, vice president of engineering at cloud computing services provider Fastly.
Building the perfect architecture for the enterprise that management would like to have in five years’ time will lead to massively increased complexity and cost, Thomson warns. “It pushes out delivery deadlines, makes systems slower to build and more error- and outage-prone, and drives up costs.”
Thomson suggests aiming for an architecture that’s merely good — not perfect. “The perfect system doesn’t exist,” she says. Getting to an 80% solution, short term, front-loads value to the enterprise. “You can and should iterate on improvements,” Thomson adds.