Setting priorities for an enterprise architecture isn’t just a matter of copying ones set by a peer group, warns an industry analyst

EA must be integrated with business strategy: Gartner

Most plans for a global-sized company should be scaled to the international size of the organziation. But an industry analyst says that isn’t true when it comes to crafting an enterprise architecture strategy.

“The appropriate priorities for an organization have to do with what their business strategy is,” said Scott Bittler, research vice-president at Gartner Inc. Enterprise architects working in global organizations must understand the opportunities, constraints and priorities of other regions in the company to optimize results across the firm, he said.

Bittler was commenting on a survey he released this week detailing priorities of enterprise architects in seven countries have for the coming year. But, he cautioned, EA practitioners in North American companies should be guided by their local priorities. 

While ERP promises to integrate internal and external management flow and business intelligence finds data that helps influence key business decisions, enterprise architecture is strategy on an even higher organizational level. Bittler said that EA is high level strategy that connects business planning with implementation.

“It’s a process that builds a bridge with business strategy and all this set of implementation plans,” he said. “If you ask many people how what they’re working on connects to business strategy they can’t tell you because there is no connection, sadly.”

 Bittler said EA “demystifies the magic in the middle,” between strategy and implementation. “In the absence of EA, what tends to occur in organizations, is they end up with a needlessly complex environment,” he said. “When you go to change something it’s more complex to do than it ought to be (and while you) can’t eliminate complexity, but what we can reduce and minimize is needless or non-value-adding complexity.” In short, EA “produces a body of work, in the form of principles, standards … and guides the decision making of business and programs to produce a better result.”

From this stance then, Bittler explained that priorities differ both by region and by company according to the business plan they’re built on. The priorities suggested in the document are just a good start, he said, and shouldn’t be adopted wholesale. “The appropriate priorities for an organization have to do with what their business strategy is,” he said. “(And) at the end of the day, the market decides who has the better plan.”

Once you have an EA strategy, the first priority comes into play. For 2012, as it was in 2011, the first priority in North American is linking it to business strategy. According to the report, this means making sure to not just link EA to IT-centric business arms, as has been the case in previous years, but drawing it into core business strategy. “EA, although it tends to be in North America still led by IT, it’s scope is not just about IT,” Bittler said. He said that this is an easy trap to fall into as EA’s roots are in IT. “(EA was) born within IT, so its roots are technical.”
The next priority is managing the IT investment portfolio. This is both good and bad in its location on the list, the report said. The good is that using EA to manage finite IT resources can be helpful and help direct future spending. The bad is that this keeps the focus on the IT side of business. “(Businesses often) have ten different ways of solving each problem,” Bittler said, “and ten different hardware, software configurations to solve that problem.”
 
Tied for second place in the top three EA priorities for North America is defining the information architecture. The report said this step involves improving data flow inside and outside of the enterprise. It’s not just a case of increasing data flow but actually making sure the right information can reach the right people effectively.

In all, there are 13 priorities defined for North America in Bittler’s report. The nature of the research is to bring together business strategy so that it’s not completely divorced from implementation. “Irrespective of the boundaries of any organizational group, or project scope boundaries, let’s figure out what the plan is supposed to be,” Bittler said.

Gartner has also assembled priorities for other regions and, if organizations are either partnering or conducting business overseas, Bittler said this information can be vital. “If the organization is a global player … then it behooves them to understand what the trends are in (other parts of the world),” he said. “You don’t want to be in a position of targeting that part of the world and not understanding that part of the world.”

 

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