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MIT's Ross says EAs must make business-side address their core model

Enterprise architects must drive business leaders to better articulate core company goals, the MIT researcher tells

Everyday challenges faced by enterprise architects are compounded by poor communication and lack of clear vision from senior executives. As enterprise architects shift their roles to ensure business capabilities are utilized, they must drive business leaders to better articulate core company goals. In the second part of this two-part interview, SearchSOA’s Jack Vaughan discusses the importance of communication for good architecture with Jeanne Ross, Director and Principal Research Scientist at the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at the MIT Sloan School of Management. We are seeing with SOA that there is a discussion emerging around building it out incrementally. It sounds like companies like Aetna and others are taking that incremental view to heart as they pursue enterprise architecture.

Jeanne Ross: I think what we’ve learned in general from companies that are deriving real value from architecture, is they make these trade-offs all the time. The [enterprise architects] get up in the morning and they recognize that some things need to get done now – how you are going to get by while you are building the capability. And we have to stop looking at that as being anti-architecture – that’s part of the process. It’s really essential in an economy that is moving so fast that it’s hard to keep up with.

Q: As with a lot of jobs, I think, it is a daily challenge for the architect to successfully make an impact.

A: The challenge that architects face is that it is hard to do architecture. To design capabilities, what you need is this very clear vision of where the organization is going and how it’s going to operate. And then if you’re a great architect you can say, “Okay, now I understand what the company wants to do. Here are the critical capabilities.”

And you can certainly have lots of debate with senior executives about exactly what those capabilities are, but a good architect is going to make a lot of good assumptions about critical capabilities. That would be hard enough, but in most companies senior executives have not articulated a clear vision. So, you’re already starting kind of in the hole. You’re trying to build capabilities and you’re not exactly sure what those capabilities are supporting, because management wakes up every morning and changes their minds. This is the kind of thing that I think architects need to help management understand. That if they want to build some capabilities that give them any kind of advantage in any situation, they need to identify some core to their operating model.

Q: How does that map into specific instances? You know, specific business models mapping to specific software strategies.

A: There has to be an essence there that dictates what opportunities they’ll go after and how they will approach them. So, you know, they can say, “We’re going to do a lot of mergers and acquisitions that grow rapidly.” Then the next question is, “How? Are you going to just go acquire all these companies, kind of like Warren Buffet does, and they’re all going to do their own thing? Or are you going to put them all on a single platform so that they share services? Are they going to share data? And if there’s no clear vision, any assumption that architects would make could clearly be way off base. They could be trying to build capabilities that do not matter. We often talk about the importance of coaching senior executives on articulating vision and establishing strategy because otherwise it is very hard for architects to have an impact.

The good news is that people are getting religion around architecture. It’s a digital economy, everybody gets that. Growing numbers of people understand that that means architecture matters. So, that’s the good news for architecture. The bad news is we’re blowing it. Or at least we’re at risk of blowing it, in that we’re so focused on major capabilities that companies are not investing well. They are spending money and then not using what they’re creating. And that’s going to kill us. There’s nothing wrong with what the architects are trying to do, there’s nothing wrong with the capabilities they’re defining. The thing that’s wrong is that when they go in, people aren’t using them. And the people who are going to get burned by that are the architects. They have to look after the exploitation piece. They have to know who’s going to exploit it, and get the smaller increments to make sure somebody does.


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