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How can I better connect enterprise architecture with business capabilities?

While businesses still must deliver on time and on budget, they must also ensure that the desired business outcomes were achieved.

It shouldn't be news to anyone today that there is an increasing pressure on enterprise architecture teams to become more business focused. In reality, it is not just enterprise architecture but all of IT that needs to become more business focused. Enterprise architecture just happens to be at the heart of it, because enterprise architects have traditionally been seen as people that can bridge the business-technology gap.

The easiest way to see what being business focused means is to simply look at the project focused culture of most organizations. Delivering on time and on budget are usually the most important concerns of the team working on the project. While meeting these concerns clearly does have an impact on the business, the real success of the project is only partially determined by the costs. What about the benefits side? Too often, there are no measurements of the productivity gains that justified the project to begin with. What if the project was intended to create new revenue? These benefits normally aren't realized the same day that IT changes are placed in production. Try to remember the last time you were called a year after completing a project to review whether the benefits had been realized.

There was a time when enterprise architecture needed to be focused on ensuring consistency within the practice of IT. It was important to bring a broad technical point of view to the table, balancing the needs of the technology portfolio with the immediate needs of any one project. This was done at a time when there was a wealth of new technology, starting with PCs on everyone's desks and moving toward direct customer interaction via Web applications. Today, you will not see too many projects about building a new internet presence for the company; odds are, you are augmenting the Web applications that are already there. It is much more about changing the existing architecture than it is about new architectures. The question for today's enterprise architect is what to change.

The answer to this must lie with an understanding of the business. While there are certainly some optimizations that can solely be done within the context of IT, those are likely only going to have an impact on the costs within IT. It is difficult for IT alone to know whether a system change is going to result in better productivity and cost savings for another department. Enterprise architects need to work at a strategic level to help the business define the correct change initiatives to achieve the business outcomes desired.

Today, most enterprise architects still primarily direct IT change driven by business needs. Through the use of capability models and system mappings to those models, the enterprise architect can identify areas of opportunity. Where things are out of alignment, change initiatives can be defined. The IT organization has to follow through with delivering those change initiatives. While businesses still must deliver on time and on budget, they must also look back after changes are implemented and make sure that the desired business outcomes were achieved.

Looking forward, if the techniques and models of the enterprise architecture can be integrated into the processes and models that are normal tools of the business leaders and vice versa, it can only benefit the business as a whole. It all begins with becoming more business aware. The next time you work on a project, go back to the charter and find out what the intended business benefits are. Put a mark on your calendar to go back a year later and talk to the business sponsor to find out whether those benefits have been realized. 

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