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In the Digital Age, Enterprise Architecture is needed more than ever – By Keith Worfolk

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Author: Keith Worfolk, CTO at DTI Management

Digital strategy and transformation by nature is cross-functional, hence spans platforms, applications, and databases, enterprise-wide. In its maturity, it includes the “user experience,” promoting common “look n’ feel,” and leads to efficient and user-friendly workflows to disseminate data to the right stakeholders at the right time.

The hype around digital strategy reinvigorates the conversation about the need for enterprise architecture. Some say it’s OK to have an application live at the center of its own ecosystem…that “this one is big enough that it can evolve in its own.” But digital transformation, the manifestation and execution of the strategy, changes that.

Businesses need the right information management, applications, integration and workflow strategies, and workplace presentation throughout the information lifecycle. Without this broader perspective, made more valuable by enterprise architecture discipline, you simply cannot have a good digital strategy …let alone be able to execute a digital transformation program needed to support the evolving business.

Since digital strategy drives business decisions, enterprise architecture has become more important than ever. If you want/need a digital strategy in order to compete, it should be a no-brainer that you build an enterprise architecture competency early-on into your organization.

The people responsible for cost-benefit analyses often argue against enterprise architecture as “not really needed,” more of a luxury. However, more enlightened (and successful) business leaders understand that to execute a digital strategy well going forward, you must invest in enterprise architecture competencies now, including a better user (and customer) experience architecture. This helps your  internal and external users (i.e customers) become more efficient and/or make more money, while creating a user “stickiness” for the functions, workflows and information sharing we (enlightened business leaders) want them to engage in.

Unpeeling the “onion” of digital strategy is more than the UX. When you start pulling back the layers, especially as solutions move to the cloud, the overarching enterprise architecture becomes more apparent and grows in importance as an underlying enabler for digital strategy success. Hence, you need a strong foundation.

My advice? You always want to start with the digital aspects of the business strategy. Then think it through beyond the behaviors on the surface (the UX). Build and leverage your enterprise architecture competencies early and often. Don’t focus solely on the presentation layer. Roadmap around all the pieces of the puzzle, with special attention paid to the foundational layers of the architecture that support the information lifecycle for the presentation layer and the UX. Double-check for any inconsistencies between the information management layer, your business rule, and managed workflows. You can’t fake this in the UX. If these are not done in concert from the beginning (read via a good EA approach), your “digital system” will be harder to maintain and adapt, making it less efficient.

Who drives this process? Generally, your CIO in collaboration with the COO and, depending on your digital strategy needs, the CMO and/or Head of Sales. They’ll work together to enable the digital business via technology efficiencies. The important organizational prerequisite here – to plan and execute a successful digital strategy — the CIO needs to have an equal place at the table amongst the executive team. In organizations where CIO is thought to be a “second class citizen” (e.g. reporting to the CFO), collaboration is harder to achieve.

Typically the COO is responsible for business processes and efficiencies, and the digital strategy probably starts here with input from the CEO to align the strategy with the overall vision for the company. The COO should drive the business requirements, but some of those digital requirements may come from the CMO or Head of Sales …through the CIO, because collaboration between the business and IT is critical to the success of this initiative.

One way that the CIO/CTO can spark this collaboration is by making the COO aware of the capabilities and tools available to help support  the digital transformation. It’s the job of the technology leaders to make the business leaders aware, in their own language, what the possibilities are so that they can envision realistically where the business should be going. The message should be tailored to the audience; for example, when discussing with the CFO, the conversation should revolve around how the IT enablers can make the business more money or save costs based on efficiencies.

Whether your user audience of your digital experience is employee facing or customer facing, they both are important. You need them to help build requirements and testing capabilities.  Customer service is a good example. Their digital experience is critical and enlightening. Based on their purview and listening to your customers, you gain intelligence on how to improve the overall experience.

The best team to execute this is cross-functional. The right team includes experts from all points of the information lifecycle.  This includes applications, database systems, project management, functional testers, and software development leaders. In my opinion, user experience architecture, workflow experts, information and application architecture …and security architecture for some industries are perhaps non-obvious roles and disciplines that should be added to this list, so we don’t lose efficiencies or “stickiness.” Each (enterprise) architect should have a baseline understanding of security best practices for their layer, but some industries, like healthcare or financial services, should have this subject matter expert included in the core strategy team.

Enterprise Architecture is a foundation for Digital Strategy. This isn’t new, and it’s just more important than ever.

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Keith Worfolk

About Keith Worfolk

Keith is a results-oriented senior IT executive with outstanding technology vision, business leadership credentials and a proven record of delivering highly effective IT solutions and services. Offering an exceptionally strong combination of thought leadership, business acumen, expert communications and organizational knowledge to fast-track business and market success. Keith is a strategic problem-solver and skilled evangelist who enjoys building high-performance teams to create measurable results and forward-looking solutions. He fosters a culture of achievement via empowerment and collaboration of cross-functional leadership.