Enterprise architects face unique challenges as the bridge between IT and the business. They need both deep technical skills and business acumen; the ability to understand the details of technical infrastructure combined with a big-picture perspective; and the communication skills to work as effectively with introverted IT staff as with extroverted business leaders.
This position wasn’t necessary and didn’t exist in the days of monolithic departmental software systems that operated independently and couldn’t “talk” to each other, but emerged as a vital need with the introduction of web services and service-oriented architectures that enabled IT components to be connected and re-used across multiple applications.
Effective enterprise architects must be able to balance short-term priorities (e.g., simplifying processes for BYOD device registration and support) with a long-term strategic design of the organization’s IT infrastructure (how will new applications, tools and processes fit with and enhance existing core systems?).
In addition to the need to possess and master this unique combination of skills, enterprise architects are challenged on a day-to-day basis to:
- Execute on a vision for improving business processes, but often with no direct authority or budget.
- Persuade the leaders of other business functions to believe in and help achieve specific objectives to move the enterprise forward.
- Balance tactical, short-term, quick payback projects with strategic initiatives across the business.
Of course, the role has its attractions as well. It’s a high-visibility position with the opportunity to make a significant difference for the organization; it provides the opportunity to work with cross-functional, often multinational, teams; and the challenges (noted above) keep the job interesting.
How can enterprise architects successfully achieve their objectives while conquering the challenges inherent in the position? Here are three strategies for maximizing effectiveness:
Build support. To overcome corporate inertia and resistance to change, think about who will be positively impacted by an initiative, and how to communicate the benefits in terms that resonate with each group.
For example, a project to enable employees to report service incidents through a simple interactive web portal–rather than picking up the phone–is more likely to be embraced by those employees if it means their issues are resolved more quickly. The help desk manager will appreciate the reduction in call volume. HR will like the increase in employee satisfaction; departmental managers the increase in productivity; and executive management the decrease in support costs.
Create ad hoc coalitions and teams. Projects are more likely to succeed if those affected have input at the planning stage, and even more so if those individuals are involved in building the new system.
For example, empowering managers to create, test, and deploy their own automated processes using simple graphical tools greatly improves not only the quality of the process, but also the likelihood of adoption.
Tackle big challenges using an agile approach. As noted above, enterprise architects get involved in a mix of small, tactical improvements and large, strategic projects. Large projects are generally assumed to entail much greater cost, time, and risk.
But large projects, even those spanning the entire enterprise, can be made more manageable and less disruptive by adopting an agile approach. For example, implementing an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy to simplify and centralize employee provisioning across shared services functions can start small, with the redesign and automation of just one or a few common (or particularly painful) processes.
Then the implementation can be expanded to encompass additional departments and services incrementally. In this case, enabling process owners to design their own task flows, as cited above, not only increases the likelihood of project success and user adoption, but also speeds the rollout by spreading the work across multiple managers.
To address budgetary constraints as well as controlling the growth and complexity of the organization’s IT infrastructure, enterprise architects look to leverage existing technology investments whenever possible. Tools that facilitate communication between core management systems and data sources, and between those systems of record and user-facing systems of engagement, enable enterprise architects to improve processes and automate task workflows with minimal investment in new technology.
The Kinetic Task automation engine is one tool that can serve as the “plumbing” for cross-functional business process improvement initiatives, managing the information flow between any systems that can communicate via common methodologies such as APIs, Web Services, REST, or SOAP. Kinetic Task is perfect for agile organizations providing the flexible pragmatic approach a scripting environment provides, while also providing the control and management functionality of a robust BPM tool.
Through communication, team building, agility, and careful technology investment, enterprise architects can successfully conquer the challenges of the role and use technology to improve business processes and outcomes.