When Adrian Jones became the sole enterprise architect for fast growing diagnostics giant SYNLAB in 2018 he knew the traditional, bureaucratic approach to enterprise architecture (EA) he had seen in the past wouldn\u2019t work.\n\nJones, SYNLAB\u2019s group head of enterprise architecture, needed to quickly gather and analyze enough information to deploy new systems across hundreds of sites and more than 20,000 employees in 40 countries, and to digitize services such as lab tests to make them much easier for its customers to access.\n\nWithin 15 months, half the time Jones reckons a traditional EA process would have taken, insights from SYNLAB\u2019s EA effort are helping the \u20ac2.6 billion company better manage its application and technical risk and to assess its technical debt (the cost of pending work required to maintain its applications and IT infrastructure). EA insights also helped SYNLAB roll out new services such as a COVID testing program to help the European football league safely return to play, says Jones. \n\nThis is enterprise architecture in the age of agile. Rather than spend months or years modeling and cataloguing a business\u2019 technology and business processes in an often-futile attempt to enforce product standards, agile EA practitioners and vendors seek to work more closely with teams developing \u201cproducts\u201d such as applications for employees or customers. They try to deliver value quickly, work closely with product teams, and develop architectural principles rather than an inflexible list of platforms product developers are permitted to use.\n\nNot your father\u2019s EA\n\nEA was designed to identify, understand, and maximize the cost-effectiveness of the IT infrastructures companies created in their march from mainframes to distributed computing. This requires central repositories of information about their IT infrastructure and the applications and business processes they support. But too often, according to critics, EA focuses on cost-cutting and control over innovation, describing technology rather than the business processes that leverage it. And in an era when businesses must change ever more quickly, its pace too often acts as an impediment to transformation.\n\nA Forrester Research survey found that 55% of clients still practice older forms of EA, which includes \u201ctreating enterprise architecture as glorified asset management, with a focus on cost control rather than maximizing IT capabilities for the good of employees, customers, and business partners.\u201d\n\nTraditional EA had a \u201cvery strong focus on technical architecture,\u201d says Marcus Blosch, a vice president at Gartner, \u201ctrying to control everything in command-control mode.\u201d Traditional EA \u201cgot itself into trouble, and many users still think of in that way.\u201d\n\nDeliver value quickly\n\nOne principle of agile EA is not to boil the ocean by collecting every bit of information about an organization before providing insights or recommendations, says Gordon Barnett, principal analyst at Forrester. To speed the process, agile EA practitioners refer to a \u201cminimum viable architecture\u201d or \u201cjust enough architecture\u201d to meet an urgent business problem, making frequent changes to the EA process as needed. But, Barnett warns, the key is to choose the right elements to include to ensure that such a minimal architecture doesn\u2019t limit its future usefulness.\n\nFor organizations that are heavily reliant on SaaS applications and the cloud, \u201ca minimum viable architecture helps hold together that distributed ecosystem\u201d with technology standards and more collaborative governance models, even if it doesn\u2019t provide a central repository of the distributed assets that now support the business, Gartner\u2019s Blosch adds.\n\nAt SYNLABS Jones began by concentrating on \u201cthe key pieces of information we needed to understand the business in terms of the application portfolio\u201d and narrowed his search to, at most, \u201c20 pieces of information about an application.\u201d He then used the survey capabilities in Ardoq\u2019s EA tool to capture additional data such as the cost and risk of the systems on which their businesses rely \u201cto get [users] engaged \u2026 to give them something back immediately.\u201d\n\nHe also used the surveys to allow users to provide information about their own technical and process portfolios and used Ardoq to enter that data into the repository even while interviewing users. This quickly gave users \u201ca very clear view of their existing architecture, which they could use to model the future desired state,\u201d he says.\n\nOne example was examining the blood sample collection process in one country. \u201cI was able to play back to them, \u2018Here\u2019s what we understand of your system,\u2019\u2019\u2019 says Jones. \u201cThey were completely blown away by that. It was the first time they had a top-down view of the entire process.\u201d\n\nCoach, don\u2019t enforce\n\nSince an agile transformation effort began two-and-a-half years ago, EA at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has been less \u201can enforcer of standards and a keeper of metrices and diagrams\u201d than an \u201cenabler\u201d and partner working with and across agile teams focusing on business outcomes, says Michael Sioufas, director of enterprise architecture.\n\n\u201cWe don\u2019t necessarily want to say, \u2018Teams must do this or that,\u2019 in a prescriptive tone. We give them tools [such as best practice frameworks], guidance and help them leverage those tools as much as possible,\u201d he says.\n\nForrester\u2019s Barnett says the principles encouraged by an EA group might reflect, for example, whether \u201can organization is operating in a very price-sensitive market,\u201d which means \u201cWe will put cost at the center of all our architecture decisions.\u201d For a different business, he says, quality might be a driving principle.\n\nSuch principles also enable product groups or business units to choose the tools that best meet their needs. For example, says Barnett, \u201cfor a high volume [business intelligence] data warehouse maybe you should use Oracle, but if a small office, maybe an Excel database. You might have hybrid clouds, with criteria for when people should use each one.\u201d\n\nSuch efforts can falter, however, if \u201cEAs do not want to empower delivery teams, and delivery teams do not want to be guided by EA,\u201d says Barnett, adding that few organizations have effective processes for retraining EA staff as the automation of traditional EA processes frees them for more consultative roles. \n\nAnother feature of agile EA is \u201cdigital labs\u201d that, at global mining company Vale, serve as sources of experimentation in areas such as robotics, and the internet of things, says Marcelo Menard, Vale\u2019s global enterprise architecture manager. These labs, along with developing a worldwide network of IT vendors for specialized needs, are part of a new EA approach that has helped Vale\u2019s EA group to shift from being \u201ca kind of police\u201d to \u201cone of the main teams driving innovation,\u201d he says.\n\nPower to the product groups \n\nMcKinsey\u2019s EA group has scrapped traditional enterprise architecture review boards, says Sioufas, in favor of a decentralized model that examines the epics (collections of user stories) on which agile teams are working, focusing on \u201cwhere help is most needed and where there is a lot of overlap or synergies within the architectural product teams.\u201d\n\nKeeping an organization\u2019s inventory of IT assets up to date can be a major challenge, especially with cloud-based, composable applications built from containers and APIs that are used only when needed. Blosch says that business units can be tasked with performing these updates, and be free to decide which components to update based on the needs of that unit.\n\nAgile EA at work\n\nSioufas, who works as a domain architect for the consulting firm\u2019s HR and finance groups, says McKinsey\u2019s decentralized EA structure and use of various tools and frameworks \u201chelps us to have a lot more insight across the different business domains we\u2019re working in.\u201d\n\nWhen teams discover problems such as weak API security, conduct system consolidation, or manage technical debt, they tackle these tasks with \u201carchitectural swarms\u201d of experts who gather much as an agile team would to meet the challenge. \u201cWe treat it as a mini sprint \u2014 a quick problem statement: What is the issue, which people do we need to get, what outcomes are we trying to achieve, and how do we measure success?\u201d says Sioufas.\n\nVale\u2019s EA practice used LeanIX\u2019s Enterprise Architecture Management to help it quickly respond to sudden changes driven by COVID, such as enabling remote inspections of equipment and the shift to remote working. EA helped Vale identify \u201cthe capabilities and processes we need to improve\u201d as well as the processes it needed to automate, says Menard. Replacing formerly siloed repositories of architectural information maintained by individual lines of business with a \u201ca single source of truth\u201d for IT assets and applications helps Vale avoid duplication and prioritize IT projects, he says.\n\nWhatever its past shortcomings, backers say, EA isn\u2019t going away because it can\u2019t. However agile an organization is, it has an enterprise architecture in the form of the hardware, software, and workflows that drive the business. By adopting agile EA principles, EA practitioners can track, describe, and recommend changes to that architecture quickly and clearly enough to adapt it for ever changing business needs.