For architecture to be appreciated by the business, it needs to have a tangible purpose and measurable results. For many, this can mean improving the customer experience through digital transformation initiatives. Architecture for the sake of architecture is not only a waste of time and money, but also leads to significant frustration and can undermine broader architecture efforts.
To ensure your architecture is delivering value to the organization, it needs to be strategic. So, what is “strategic architecture”?
“Strategic Architecture” definitions from the web:
The Open Group
Strategic Architecture: A summary formal description of the enterprise, providing an organizing framework for operational and change activity, and an executive-level, long-term view for direction setting.
Strategic architecture is the way that a business comes together from the ground up. This includes such pieces of information as the stakeholders, the mission and the vision of the company. Other important aspects include the plans for operation, the core strategies and the actions needed to accomplish them. Without a strategic architecture, a business is likely to falter because there are only so many resources available to meet goals at any given time. The strategic architecture, created by business experts, provides a long-term view of how the organization will grow, develop and succeed, and it often includes the technology that will support the company throughout the process.
Basically, for an architecture to be “strategic”, it needs to be aligned with the mission, vision and goals of the enterprise. This does not mean that it is a “future state”, but parts of it often are.
A company will often embark on a big initiative to transform the way they do business. This can be for many reasons, such as “enhancing the customer experience” or “providing better customer service”. The bottom line is: the company wants to increase revenues and profits by keeping customers happy - while reducing costs.
The initiative often involves new or enhanced systems and processes to enable these changes, which can involve a fundamental evolution in the enterprise architecture that exists (although it may not be documented).
Companies typically realize that there is a need for EA somewhere along the path to implementing the new systems, as costs start to skyrocket and timelines expand.
Once the enterprise architecture has been started, someone realizes that the executives need to understand where all the investment dollars are going to be spent and what the expected ROI is on this investment. This is usually where the architecture is mandated to be “strategic”.
Of course the EA team has always tried to be strategic, but they did not always have the ability to show how the new technologies and processes tie back to the company’s goals.
Strategic architecture should actually be the FIRST thing that is defined. This starts with documenting the mission, vision and major goals of the company. This can then be further refined by breaking down the goals to major objectives, along with the measurements that can show the achievements towards the goals.
These objectives can, in turn, be used to drive which processes and systems need to change and can be further defined as requirements that are imposed on the various projects.
A good enterprise architecture will already have reference models for its standard technology stacks, along with at least a functional model of the business architecture that can act as a reference model for the business process future state. All of the process and technology models can be defined as a future state, but this does not make them strategic. Aligning them to the mission, vision and goals is what makes them strategic.
These architecture concepts must be created and maintained in a shared repository. This, in turn, allows executives to be able to drill down from the mission, vision and goals to the level of detail that they want to see, while still maintaining the detailed information for the companies’ architecture teams to be able to develop the new capabilities with a better idea of the end goals.
When considering all of this, is your architecture strategic?