March 2, 2021

Is your enterprise architecture team slowing down innovation?

Jens Bontinck
Head of Delivery & Advice
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With the ML6 advisory services, we support businesses by looking into the available data & cloud architecture and application landscape to speed up the adoption of AI and advanced analytics.
We notice that the culture of the organization and the team is equally important to technology and knowledge. All teams need to be open to (or at least facilitate) innovation.

The major challenge we notice in large companies is the friction between IT and business teams innovating using a modern, often SaaS or open-source, tech stack, and the operational IT organization and enterprise architecture team. Venturebeat reports that 87% of data science projects never make it to production. Rigid enterprise architecture principles backed by IT teams stuck in the “approved” way of working are among the causes.
On the other hand, an architecture team must ensure the IT systems and business processes in a company are secure, performant, fit for purpose and future proof.

The behaviour of people in an organisation depends on each individual's personality but largely on the culture, values and principles of the organisation. People “act” in a certain way to get their job done according to the expectations of their team and management.
An anti-pattern is a typical response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive.

Enterprise Architecture anti-patterns

If you are an enterprise architect (or if you are frequently working with one) watch out for the following anti-patterns (*):

  • The Eagle hovers high above every project and attacks if you might decide against unwritten and undocumented architecture rules. The eagle steals your project with pride if your project is successful.
  • The Philosophers discuss all possible risks and benefits in various “talking shops” for several months before approval. They excel in replying “What if” or “Yes, but…” followed by 99 reasons with a likelihood of < 0,001 %>?”
  • The Administrator has surveys, documents and forms for every step in the process. 95 % is irrelevant for your project, but you need to complete every question, draw multiple architecture diagrams and defend it in several architecture board meetings. If you miss one comma, or the architecture board didn’t find time to look into your use case due to the high number of projects in the meeting, it’s back to square one..for a few months till the next board is planned.
  • The Innovator pushes, often irrelevant, cutting edge technology to every person in the organisation that might be open for a bit of innovation. If you start an innovative project, the innovator will gladly take over most of the development and meetings with the suppliers.
  • The Clubhouse Dealmaker approves all innovation as long as you use Microsoft, SAS, Oracle, HPE or IBM tools. If your legal teams need at least 6 months to read the contract, and you need a PhD to predict the license costs, your project will be approved.
  • The Application Developer expects a REST API for everything you mention. Your production project will be approved as long as you spend 90 % of your time on CI/CD, manual swagger file creation and automated testing.

(*) Characters, businesses, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The modern architecture team

The definition in “Pragmatic Enterprise Architecture by James Luisi” is more up to date for today’s reality “Thus, the role of an Enterprise Architect is to understand what disciplines need to be brought to bear on the enterprise, and to ensure that the disciplines relevant to an enterprise are staffed and functioning well.”.

This requires that the enterprise architecture teams align the business strategy with the IT strategy and make sure secure environments for teams to innovate are available.
An excellent article about the need for business and IT alignment is “The Architect Elevator — Visiting the upper floors”.

We’ve noticed that it’s beneficial for an organization that a “Tech Stack” is published and regularly updated. Paired with roadmaps that highlight the technologies and applications that will be phased in and out. This reduces the number of discussions and unnecessary architecture boards.

It’s recommended to have a multidisciplinary architecture team.
If your team is very generalistic, application development or ERP focused, you will likely misjudge important aspects of other workloads.
We have seen great results with architect teams that have a mix of people with a development, data, IoT and AI background. They know the specifics of the different workloads and the overlap between the different architectures. By specialising in one workload, it’s possible to track what’s happening in the market.

As an enterprise architect, it is absolutely not essential to know every detailed requirements or protocol. Your role is to make sure the appropriate teams and partners with the right expertise are involved at the right time.

Timing is essential. It’s inefficient that an innovation team is flooded with questions that can’t be answered at that time or the stakeholders that are, for example, essential to put an AI model into production are not aware of the proof of concept. The article “The Role of an Enterprise Architect in a Lean Enterprise“ points you in the right direction.

So let’s summarize our tips & tricks

A modern architecture team needs to:

  1. Align the business strategy with the IT strategy;
  2. Provide secure environments to experiment with new technologies;
  3. Publish and regularly update the tech stack and roadmap for technologies used or on the radar of the organization;
  4. Make sure your architecture team has a multidisciplinary background, so knowledge is available for all types of applications and workloads;
  5. As an architect don’t try to be the top expert but focus on bringing the appropriate teams and partners together at the right time;
  6. Try to ask questions at the most appropriate time in the lifecycle of a project. Share questions upfront, if they are known, so the project team has enough time to anticipate and prepare.

Get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions. As part of our advisory services, we can look into your readiness for advanced analytics and AI.

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