Enterprise Architecture in a Tough Economy

Gartner offers an prescription for enterprise architecture ROI

With the economy in crisis, you might think that industry analysts would champion a steady-as-you-go approach, particularly when considering ambitious -- and potentially costly -- technology initiatives.

Gartner Inc., however, recently argued that an enterprise architecture (EA) is a necessity and not a luxury. It's a tendentious position because of a possible perception -- fueled in part by Gartner's own research -- that EA implementations are costly and (in many cases) yield far from satisfactory results.

To that end, Gartner recently published a condensed list of issues that CIOs should focus on to ensure that their big-ticket EA investments are bearing (or are at least on track to bear) fruit.

"CIOs seem to intuitively realize the value that EA can deliver, but we find that many organizations continue to struggle with it," said Anne Lapkin, a research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. "Often EA is not well understood elsewhere in the organization, and the EA teams are not doing a good enough job of demonstrating or articulating its value," she continued. "Further complicating matters is the fact that the increased importance of cost optimization efforts means that EA teams often need to recast their initiatives in light of changing enterprise priorities."

For starters, Gartner says, an IT chief must ensure that an EA value proposition is both specific to his or her enterprise and is clearly articulated in terms of business value. "Business leaders are interested in achieving the business goals that are defined for the company, and it is the architect's ability to express how the architecture will contribute to these efforts that will make the difference between support for the architecture and tolerance … or … indifference," the Gartner release indicates. "Too often, chief architects rely on the idea that the value proposition is well understood to the enterprise, forgetting that anything that is not made explicit is open to interpretation by different stakeholders."

Gartner's summary of best practices also takes a page (or stele) from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, who famously observed that all things flow -- i.e., change -- and that nothing resists change.

One outcome of the tumult of the last 24 months is that most EA efforts will have to be reconsidered. For this reason, IT chiefs must revisit their EA efforts to make sure that they adequately address changing enterprise priorities.

"It is important not to forget that EA is an iterative process. The EA team should re-evaluate its priorities periodically as part of that process," Gartner says. "Not every enterprise is drastically cutting expenses because it's the only way to survive. Some are using the current environment to expand into new markets. EA teams should take the opportunity to refine their value propositions to reflect the current business priorities and to publicly reaffirm their commitment to achieving business goals to demonstrate that it is in tune with this business overall."

Other issues include prioritizing process over production (the focus in this case needs to be on flexibility or resilience, Gartner stresses -- not solely on speed or efficiency); championing the use of business-focused metrics as distinct from technology-centered measures (i.e., shops sometimes hew to metrics that have more to do with technical perfection -- e.g., the notional elegance or efficiency of an architecture -- than with business value); and governance.

"Governance and architecture go hand in hand. EA identifies high-priority business changes, and governance ensures these changes are funded and occur. If architecture guidance is not implemented, then EA deliverables count for little more than books gathering dust on the shelf. To achieve true value, the processes for using the architecture to make investment and implementation decisions must be developed at the same time that the process for creating and maintaining the architecture is defined," Gartner concludes.