Enterprise architecture (EA) is making a comeback. While the method for understanding and visualizing all of the business processes within an organization has been around for decades, recent changes and current trends in the industry is making organizations take a second look at how they do things. 

According to Saul Brand, senior director analyst at Gartner, research shows 76% of clients are either starting, restarting or renewing their EA practices. “What we mean by renewing [refers to] clients who are doing some form of enterprise architecture. They are most typically doing solutions and technical architecture, and doing a foundational traditional approach to EA. What is happening is that is not enough,” he said. 

The ongoing need to digitally transform and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing new meaning to why and how businesses do enterprise architecture.

“Enterprise architecture is the process of capturing enough of your organization’s information systems, IT infrastructure, application portfolio, and workforce in a way to identify meaningful  and progressive changes to the enterprise,” said Tom O’Reilly, chief operations officer for Sparx Systems, an EA company. 

Why is EA becoming important again? 
In just the last couple years, organizations have been going through a number of different transformations such as cloud transformations, the shift to microservice architecture, the removal of outdated technology, and the introduction of new systems, André Christ, CEO and co-founder of LeanIX, an EA and cloud governance company.

Because enterprise architecture enables a business to map out all their systems and processes and how they connect together, EA is becoming a “very important method and tool to drive forward digital transformation,” said Christ. He explained that since most transformations don’t start off as greenfield projects, about 70% of them fail due to their existing IT landscape. Having a solid baseline, which EA aims to provide, is crucial for any transformation initiative. 

“The reason for this is that once you’ve started a transformation program, you discover new dependencies because of applications connected to other systems that you never knew of before. So replacing them with better applications, with newer interfaces, and with better APIs all of a sudden isn’t as easy as you thought when you were starting the transformation program,” he explained. 

Businesses also want to understand where their investments in the IT landscape are going, and connect the business strategic goals to the activities in their transformation program. “This is where enterprise architecture can help you. It allows you to look at this whole hierarchy of objectives and programs you are setting up, the affected applications you are having, and the underlying changes in detail,” said Christ. 

The main benefits organizations are looking to get out of EA are: avoiding redundant systems, reducing the need to pay for additional support costs for those redundant systems, removing the risk of outdated technologies, accelerating the speed in which they can introduce new apps, and the ability to better integrate systems, Christ went on to explain.  

“This is fundamentally what’s going on with many of our clients. The recognition that enterprise architecture is important. The recognition that it is front and center to digitization as we rethink about creating new business models and new business designs,” Gartner’s Brand added. 

Additionally, the rapid changes businesses had to make as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is making EA a significant practice within the enterprise, according to Martin Owen, vice president of product strategy at data governance company erwin

When COVID hit, the majority of businesses hadn’t thought about how they were going to change their business structure, work from home, or adapt their short-term and long-term objectives. Businesses had to make sense of all their processes and systems to change its business continuity planning and ensure they would not have to go through this type of disruption unprepared again. 

But, before they could do anything they needed a blueprint to map everything out and easily understand what changed, when, how, and why. EA became a strategic tool to support, prepare, assist, strategize and implement changes needed to tackle the crisis. Activities like disaster recovery and business continuity planning became easier because EA provided visibility into what current processes, systems, and people the businesses had, and what they are doing, Owen explained. 

However, Gartner sees that businesses have gone back to normal and are now focusing on investing in the IT estate to create a digitized operating model. “The role of EA is really reverting back to what it was pre-COVID, but at an even more accelerated pace. COVID kind of opened the eyes for enterprise architecture’s importance. But now that we’ve overcome the initial impact of COVID, and we are now into this recovery phase, EA elevated itself,” said Brand.

The history and evolution of EA
Gartner has noticed this increased interest and revival of EA since 2013. According to Brand, EA has been around since 1987, but crashed and burned in 2012 because it failed to provide businesses value. “Enterprise architecture became very ‘ivory towerish.’ It focused very much on this idea of doing solutions and technical architecture. It became very engrossed in this idea of command and control, governance, assurance, standards and review boards,” said Brand. “It just generally became very much of a function within IT that even IT struggled to understand.” 

Some of the ways businesses tackled EA in the past was through the Zachman Framework, the Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF), and the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF), according to LeanIX’s Christ. The Zachman Framework was released in the 1980s to enable organizations to start meaningful conversations with the information systems team, create business value through architectural representations, evaluate tools and optimize approaches to development. TOGAF enabled businesses to design, implement, guide, and maintain the enterprise through controlled phases, also known as the Architecture Development Method. The FEAF was designed for the U.S. Government to start implementing EA practices within federal agencies. These frameworks had benefits and value, but Brand noticed clients “invariably ran into a problem” because they were not “delivering a business value and these clients had to quickly rethink about restarting their EA practice,” he explained. “Now, the challenge for them is thinking about having to take often a rudimentary or foundational enterprise architecture and having to bring it up to the next level of capability and maturity.”

What is necessary is an operating model that enables EA to design the IT estate and enable future-state capabilities that drive “customer centricity and targeted outcomes,” according to Brand. For that reason, he has seen the purpose of EA change from 2012 to take more of a business-outcome-driven approach and start by linking to business direction and strategy.

The traditional way of doing EA has been through Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM), which is the practice of establishing and maintaining a set of guidelines and principles to govern and direct the design and development of an enterprise’s architecture. This practice is not going anywhere, Brand explained, it’s just moving down the list of EA priorities. “If enterprise architecture is going to be of value, it’s starting point is different,” said Brand. “The emphasis today with modern EA is first by looking at the strategic conceptual contextual things.” With the EAM approach, businesses tend to try to solve the how before they reach the what and why.

Gartner’s eight steps to starting, restarting or renewing a business-outcome-driven EA program are:

  1. Adopt business-outcome-driven EA
  2. Construct a value proposition
  3. Start with business architecture
  4. Determine organizational design
  5. Determine skill sets and staffing
  6. Determine governance and assurance
  7. Determine business value metrics
  8. Construct a charter

The first three steps establish an approach to EA while the following five execute and operationalize EA. Enterprises first need to understand the technologies, find a practical use case and then operationalize it with the technologies and the existing IT estate. The key concepts driving a modern EA practice is planning, designing, innovating, orchestrating, navigating and operationalizing, according to Brand.

And today, Brand is seeing even more of an evolution with efforts to transform EA into an internal management consultancy. “Our clients are doing business-outcome-driven EA, but they recognize they have to deliver it in a different way, and hence they tend to use the management consultancy model,” said Brand. “What we are talking about is an extension of business-outcome-driven EA, but the catch is how we deliver this to the organization so that value is understood.”

This EA as an internal management consultancy transformation has been an ongoing trend since 2016, and it involves utilizing fusion teams, which is a concept where business and IT lead the use of technology to create new business designs and models. “It’s not the old days where it’s simply business says and IT does. This is a relationship between business and IT people jointly making decisions about investment in their IT estate.”  

The number one challenge for EA since the beginning has always been the inability to make a value proposition for the discipline, according to Brand. “How do you build a value proposition? By using EA internal consultancy,” he said. 

EA beyond 2020 
Last year, Gartner’s enterprise architecture predictions focused on the “importance of information architecture becoming more prevalent” and clients having to think about “stepping up their game.” 

This year, Gartner is seeing the idea of enterprise architecture become more involved and focused on the composable enterprise. “We do see EA becoming more front and center to helping build a composable IT estate that is quicker, better and able to deliver speed to value and time to market.” 

“Composable business is a natural acceleration of the digital business that you live every day. It allows us to deliver the resilience and agility that these interesting times demand,” said Daryl Plummer, distinguished vice president analyst, during the opening keynote at virtual Gartner IT Symposium/Xp 2020 in October. “We’re talking about the intentional use of ‘composability’ in a business context — architecting your business for real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty.”

Brand believes EA will continue to evolve, adapt and respond to the changing world. “Remember, we are building digitally technology-enabled and data-driven business models, and enterprise architecture is front and center to delivering all of that. It is the intersection between business and IT,” he said. 

By 2023, Gartner expects 60% of organizations will depend on EA to lead digital innovation. “Today’s enterprise architects are responsible for designing intelligence into the business and operating models, identifying ways to help their organization use data, analytics and artificial intelligence to plan, track and manage digital business investments,” Brand stated

Brand also predicts by 2023, EA tools will be more intelligent to support customer experience, product design, machine learning and IoT. He went on to explain that in order for EA leaders to demonstrate business value today they must design for intelligence, refocus on information architecture, lead digital innovation, and leverage intelligent tools. 

However, he recommends organizations decide what they want to get out of EA first, get buy-in and mandate, ensure the practice is valuable and interesting, then start to think about how a tool can be implemented. 

Spark Systems’ O’Reilly sees tools organizations maturing to a more team-based approach for EA going forward. “It is imperative that EA needs to be contributed to and accessible by each and every member of an organization (with a few EA heads to govern the process),” O’Reilly explained. “Companies may have been able to treat EA as an ivory tower practice pre-COVID, however now that many organizations are taking advantage of their employees working from home…a team-based accessible solution is required.” 

One of the main challenges for EA practices is knowing how much information to capture and the level of detail. “Many organizations agree that they need enterprise architecture and will spend the next 10 years capturing their current system. Unfortunately at that point when they are ‘done’ their model is 10 years out of date. To overcome this there needs to be some conscious decision to decide when enough information has been gathered to make a decision. The easiest way to achieve this is to have every member of your team contribute to the overall picture on a daily basis as part of their work,” O’Reilly explained.

Erwin’s Owen added that being able to automate software discovery, and integrate with data modeling tools will also help EA provide insight into process, people, the organization and the technologies.

“In recent times the main trend has been integration between industry standard tooling providers to be able to share a specific part of the picture, or in enterprise architects case, to be able to combine information from these separate systems to paint a picture as a whole,” said O’Reilly.