Enterprise architecture modernizes for the digital era

With digital operating models altering business processes and the IT landscape, enterprise architecture (EA) — a rigid stalwart of IT — has shown signs of evolving as well. One key indicator of this evolution is the increasing interest in enterprise architecture management (EAM) tools, which transformational enterprise architects and CIOs are turning to in order to jointly digitize the business.

According to research firm Gartner, the EA tool sector is seeing annual revenues grow by up to 30% from a limited footprint, with support for such tools increasing as EA broadens beyond direct control of IT departments and into more democratized technology environments. It’s a stark contrast from a decade ago when it was thought the sector would generate just $10 million in revenue because the tools were too complicated.

CIOs and their enterprise architects are buying in to EA tools now because the tools enable organizations to examine the need for, and impact of, change, as well as capture the relationships and mutual reliance within ecosystems of partners, operating models, capabilities, processes, applications, and technologies — all key currents in the era of digital transformation.

“The organization typically has tons of initiatives taking place, so to operationalize them can be difficult, especially as people are so busy,” says Anjali Subburaj, DCX architect with digital retailer The Very Group.

Plus, the pace of change increases the need for architects to use tools that enable efficient response times to business needs.

“At Citi, we needed to be able to scale in order to cope with payments from the likes of Airbnb and Uber,” says Eric Newcomer, former CTO at the financial services provider and current CTO at technology provider WS02. “The transition from monolith to microservices needs a high level of good governance.” Digital transformation needs to be rapid, too, but can’t lose sight of regulations, cyber security, and business reputation.

With the climate of change as it stands, CIOs are exploring EAM tools because the traditional EA approach can’t accommodate the rapid pace that digital transformation requires. “There’s an ongoing change in the business, and that means a change in IT, so there’s never a constant picture,” says André Christ, CEO and founder of emerging EAM technology provider LeanIX. So IT leaders across disparate sectors like financial services, media, consumer goods, manufacturing, and academia are embracing new tools to help see, analyze, and manage fluid landscapes of business technology as they digitize their organizations.

“Being able to look at the mix of applications as a whole, and trying to understand how that creates value or risk, enables you to make the case for change, or even maintain the status quo,” says enterprise architect Jonathan Gregory, currently at the UK’s Houses of Parliament. “EAM starts from the business outcomes and manifests into a series of investment opportunities that have a clear line of sight for delivering them. That’s where the opportunity is for enterprise architects, among others.”

Not just for IT

As CIOs have become business leaders and regular members of the executive board, technology has become central to solving business challenges or developing new business opportunities. Therefore EA is broadening its focus, too. Recently, enterprise architect was considered a very technical role, but as technology has moved to the cloud via SaaS and ownership has moved beyond the traditional IT department to business lines, the role has, like that of the CIO, needed to include architecting business capabilities, delivery of change at pace, and the move away from projects and toward products.

“Enterprise architects need to be empowered to deal with the integration challenges,” says Darren Coomer, founder of the Strategy and Architecture Group and group CIO and COO of Zurich-based financial services provider Swiss Re. “An enterprise architecture tool is often sold as a prerequisite by consulting firms that often earn software commissions. So get some advice on the value it actually brings beyond what you pay your professional services providers to deliver.” 

EAM tools analyze the business, its capabilities, customers, processes, and products, and then operate in the language the business uses. In other words, it creates ownership. “It democratizes the architecture so you can ask questions about the applications used,” says enterprise architect Mike Winfield of London-based Tokio Marine Kiln, a specialist insurance company. “You could do some of this on a spreadsheet, but mapping the relationships between business, application, data, and technical architectures soon becomes unmanageable.”

As organizations and CIOs move away from waterfall projects and toward agile and DevOps, EAM technologies enable greater insight and management of the product. “With a product approach, you’re continually building something, so how do you understand if you’re delivering business value?” says LeanXI’s Christ.

The latest generation of EAM technologies and EA protagonists is highly focused on business value, which, like a product, is a continuum, not a one-off. “You’ve made an investment, and you have to keep investing in it,” says enterprise architect Gregory. “For the finance department, that can be a different way of working. So you need to bring the CFO along with you, which is why the EA is now a partner to the business who looks at how capabilities are utilized and how investment can make the greatest return.”

So EAM tools are, therefore, part of how EAs and business technology leaders manage investments made not only by the CIO and IT but by business lines. “Business-managed IT isn’t a bad thing as it leads to process efficiency, and employee and customer satisfaction,” says Christ. “The risks, though, are cost, integration, and what’s expected of IT. SaaS allows the enterprise architect to correlate its usage information intelligently, which leads to conversations about how they and IT can help.”

Credible data: The foundation of a successful EA strategy

Although leading enterprise architects see the need for a tool that better reflects the way they work, they also have concerns. “Provenance and credibility are key, so you risk making the wrong decisions as an enterprise architect if there’s no accuracy in the data,” Gregory says of how EAM tools are reliant on data quality. Winfield agrees, adding: “The difficult bit is getting accurate data into the EAM.”

Gartner, in its Magic Quadrant for EA Tools, reports that the EAM sector could face some consolidation, too: “Due to the importance and growth in use of models in modern business, we expect to see some major vendors in adjacent market territories make strategic moves by either buying or launching their own EA tools.”

Still, some CIOs question the value of adding EAM tools to their technology portfolio alongside IT service management (ITSM) tools, for example. The Very Group’s Subburaj foresees this being a challenge. “Some business leaders will struggle to see the direct business impact,” he says.

And Coomer voices similar concerns: “Some large organizations have spent several millions on implementing EA tools and maintaining internal teams dedicated to keeping them up to date. But in reality, this isn’t always necessary, and the CIO and organization inherit another legacy platform that becomes difficult to exit. The real value of an EA tool is often through visualization and being able to tell a different story, using the same core data for many different stakeholders — from the details a business analyst may need to run change initiatives, to the board looking for some security and validation that it’s on the right transformational journey.”

Redrawing the role

As EAM tools have entered the market as a result of the EA role evolving, CIOs aren’t as wary of their purpose in digital transformation.

“Architects can be their own worst enemies — too academic and too many methodologies,” says WS02’s Newcomer, a former EA himself. Gregory also understands the CTO’s frustration as well: “Over the last few years, there’s been a dividing line in the role of the enterprise architect, who in the past was seen as a technical guru that had come through the technology ranks.”

But the same was true of the CIO in the noughts. However, the role has transformed into being business-centric, and the architect is evolving to be a key partner with the CIO. The importance of EA communication is something Subburaj says is growing. The necessity and complexity of technology in modern organizations have inevitably led to the need to architect the interconnections between business processes, outcomes and the intertwining technology that plays an essential role. That complexity needed new EAM tools to visualize these relationships and provide a plan from which the CIO and stakeholders can better build the business.

CIO, Enterprise Architecture, IT Leadership