Agility is the ability for a business to respond rapidly to opportunities or threats. In software development, it is the approach by which solutions and requirements evolve through a collaborative and iterative effort, in contrast the traditional waterfall approach which relies on exhaustive specifications and rigid project plans.
As enterprise architecture practices require huge amounts of upfront documentation that can take a long time to build and even longer to update, EA can often be seen as being stuck in a waterfall mode. So why would IT leaders invest in enterprise architecture in the first place as they are under pressure to develop new and agile methods?
This is a common perception, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Enterprise Architecture means visibility. Agility without EA is like navigating at sea without a GPS: it is harder, it takes longer, and you may get lost.
Try to ask IT leaders how many applications they manage. The latest response I had was: “We would like to have 600 applications, we think we currently have around 900, but when we try to list them we count 2,000”. How can you plan for change if you don’t know what you are changing?
Enterprise Architecture provides clear visibility on IT assets and makes transformation possible. With an EA repository, IT leaders can easily see what they have, which systems are being used or not, which costs they need to reduce, and therefore to make the right investment decisions. In simple words: if you want to know how to get somewhere, you need to know where you currently are.
EA can accelerate the implementation of change. Take the scenario where a new application needs to be added to the stack, migrated, or removed. The simple fact of finding the information is time consuming: which systems will be impacted? How many users rely on it? Are all supporting artefacts consistent with the new system? Imagine doing this for 10,000 applications like it is commonly the case in large banks. EA speeds up the process by providing instant access to the information. The EA repository acts as an interactive map that helps navigate the information and run changes rapidly.
Enterprise Architecture can also play a part as an accelerator for project delivery. When projects have access to the enterprise architecture repository, they can easily understand the big picture, access company standards and reduce the time spent on documentation. A large telecom company in Australia estimates that their EA repository helps them save between 5 and 10 days for each project. It quickly adds up as they need to run up to 1,000 projects per year.
Last but not least, EA can bring agility in fixing operational issues. The EA repository provides the necessary visibility to identify root causes and assess impacts in a timely manner. In fact, it is a common use case to share the EA repository with an organisation’s support service, it allows support officers to instantly identify the stakeholders involved when a system breaks down, and it gives them the means to spot root causes and rapidly assess the impact on the business.
Enterprise Architecture supports agility by providing the necessary visibility to plan for change and to conduct change much faster. However, with the current pace of innovation, it may be hard to keep up with the speed of transformation and ensure the EA data stays up-to-date. How do agile EA teams deal with this issue?
The main risk with enterprise architecture is that the data isn’t updated and doesn’t keep up with the pace of transformation. Yet it is mostly an organisational issue. Modern architecture teams are adopting agile methods to update data through a collaborative and iterative approach.
Architects shouldn’t try to document the whole repository in one shot. That’s a recipe for failure. Instead, the best practice is to set up a central knowledge base that serves as guidance for projects and is continuously updated by them. With a central repository, project teams understand how their developments support business objectives, and if they are in line with company standards. Project teams and architects can work together to define and adjust project requirements, assess the impact of change, and quickly update the repository.
This approach has been formalised in the SAFe framework (Scaled Agile Framework), which explains how to scale agile methods in large organisations, highlighting the necessity for collaboration and iterative adjustments. SAFe implements DevOps, an approach that brings together development teams (Dev) and software operations (Ops) to accelerate project delivery. The approach is based on “architectural runways”, which aim to continuously describe the intentional architecture in collaboration with business analysts, solution architects and technology architects. Business analysts link projects to capabilities and objectives, solution architects design applications, services and data flows, and technology architects make the link with the infrastructure and supporting APIs. With the right collaboration, each team is accountable for their own part, and the whole repository stays up to date, therefore providing the right visibility to senior management.
Alongside with collaboration, automating the way data is populated will accelerate the process and help the EA team keep up with business changes. When it comes to describing a target architecture, the human mind is indispensable, but some level of automation can help to populate existing data. The right EA repositories make it possible to integrate with other systems, including CMDBs, HR repositories and project management tools in order to automatically import the data already available elsewhere. Some EA tools even make it possible to generate diagrams automatically and allow architects to focus on analyses and other higher added value tasks.
Enterprise Architecture is not a hindrance to agility, but an essential component of it. It brings the required visibility to plan for change and execute faster. An agile and collaborative EA practice will then make it possible to keep the repository up to date and keep up with the pace of business transformation. Yet, if collaboration is the first key to an agile architecture, choosing the right architecture repository comes a close second. The EA repository must help architects work faster. Top notch EA tools, in opposition to Visio-like systems, allow them to automate the population of data and integrate with other systems, and focus on high-value analyses instead of manual drawings: do more models, less modelling.
Download the Gartner 2017 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Architecture Tools that describes the current state of the market for EA tools and the vendor positioning.