Enterprise Architecture is all about supporting strategic planning and business transformation activities, although many organisations seem to almost wilfully forget that this is one of the main purposes of Enterprise Architecture if not the most important one.

A business strategy is a long-term plan of changes for the whole enterprise which will address things like offering new products an business services, dealing with new customer or market segments, opening up niche opportunities, growth via mergers & acquisitions, cost consolidations and increased efficiencies. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_planning  and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_transformation

Enterprise Architecture primarily focuses on what an enterprise needs to do in order to stay viable, efficient and profitable in the future. In Viable System Model (VSM) terms, Enterprise Architecture is a System 4 type of system. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_system_model

Enterprise Architecture bridges the gap between new strategy ideas and the execution of those ideas, in the same way that the intelligence corp in the military provide intelligence about current and future capabilities to the generals and ensure that the appropriate planning takes place in order to win the military campaigns.
Many organisations without an Enterprise Architecture function will risk failing to properly implement or deliver the on their business strategy.

It is frequently reported that many strategic ideas and initiatives identified by C-level executives are never properly implemented or seen through to full operation by the business units. That big picture of the business strategy on the white board in the CEO’s office or a high level presentation can look deceptively simple in a board meeting, but as they say ‘the devil is in the detail’. The C-level executives are responsible for seeing that the strategy is implemented, but it will be the Enterprise Architect that works out the detail.

Organisations need to know where they are now and create a baseline Enterprise Architecture model of their current state, then create a future target Enterprise Architecture model and do impact and gap analysis between them. The future state Enterprise Architecture model often needs to contain not just one single future target model but multiple complementary or competing models of  the many future scenarios that are likely to have  been developed using Scenario Planning techniques. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scenario_planning

Strategic business transformation can be hard. Enterprise Architecture makes it far easier to answer questions such as:

  • What Strategic initiatives are needed to fill the gaps found and address risks and issues?
  • What new or changed business capabilities will be needed?
  • What needs to be done when?
  • How does one prioritise the different strategic business initiatives on an Enterprise Architecture roadmap?
  • When are these investments in change going to be delivered?
  • How will the initiatives be funded?
  • What are the dependencies between the strategic initiatives?
  • How will the business model be changed?
  • How will the target Business Operating Model be changed?
  • What organisation units and business functions need to be changed?
  • What value chain and value streams need to be changed?
  • What are the costs and potential revenues?
  • How feasible is the business strategy?
  • What feedback mechanisms between ‘systems’ will be needed?
  • How will change be governed and how will compliance be assured? (i.e. how do we overcome resistance from difficult stakeholders, and the ‘Not invented here’ anti pattern?)
  • What controls, KPI’s, CSF’s, incentives, bonus structures will be needed?
  • What changes to the principles and standards will be needed?
  • How do we align people, processes and technology?
  • What other things have we forgotten?

I recommend reading the books:

  • Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change’ by Lawrence Hrebiniak and
  • Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution’ by Jeanne Ross and Peter Weill.
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I am currently involved with the EAST group (an outreach group of SCiO http://www.scio.org.uk/ ) which is looking at the overlap between Enterprise Architecture and System Thinking, and in particular the Viable System Model (VSM).

The Viable System Model has been around for many years, coming out of Stafford Beer’s work  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Stafford_Beer

This diagram looks complex at first but you can also read a very accessible description of the Viable System Model at http://www.scio.org.uk/resource/vsmg_3/screen.php?page=0cybeyes and at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_system_model

An excellent book to read is Patrick Hoverstadt’s book  ‘Fractal Organization: Creating Sustainable Organizations with the Viable System Model’  See http://amzn.to/mjHz6F

But what is the Viable System Model?

The Viable System Model is a recursive view of five main systems within an organisation.

The word ‘System’ here doesn’t mean an IT system or an information system but has the more generic meaning of the word ‘System’. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System

Those five systems are concerned with the following functions and capabilities:

System 5 Policy, ultimate authority, identity.
System 4 Adaptation, forward planning, strategy.
System 3 Internal regulation, optimisation, synergy.
System 2 Conflict resolution, stability.
System 1 Primary activities.

System 1 systems within an organisation are realised by those organisation units that actually make products, deliver business services and create value.

System 2 systems are those organisation units that provide the coordination functions.

System 3 systems are those that provide the audit and operational control functions.

System 4 systems are those that look forward to the future and the external environment.

System 5 systems provide the strategy and business direction.

The Viable System Model is recursive so that the same five systems appear at all levels within an organisation, but it’s easy to see equivalent VSM systems at various levels in an organisation.

At at the top level it is possible to see that the Executive Board is a level 5 system, the general management are mainly level 3 systems, the system 2’s are the programme managers, project managers and solution architects. The system 1’s are the operational service delivery units and project teams.

Where does that leave Enterprise Architects? Well the Enterprise Architect function is essential a system 4 system with it’s focus on strategic planning for the long terms view and creation of roadmaps of strategic initiatives.

The strategic Enterprise Architects (system 4) with their long term, external and strategic focus work in co-operation with the Solution Architects (system 3) with their immediate operational, internal, lean, design and delivery focus.

It’s clear to see with our Viable System Model lens that solution architects and enterprise architects are not doing the same job but a completely different job.

From an Architecture Continuum perspective (TOGAF9  http://pubs.opengroup.org/architecture/togaf9-doc/arch/chap39.html) then the Viable System Model is an example of a generic Foundation Architecture. and a thus a key architecture to reuse when designing organisation specific target enterprise architectures.

The SCiO group has developed the SCiO Organisational Maturity Model http://www.scio.org.uk/OMM which is based on the Viable System Model.

This can be used for assessing the strengths and weaknesses in your enterprise, looking at how efficiently it is working today, both in the immediate operational perspective but aslo the log term viability of your enterprise in the face of changing external market and business environment.

The on-line questionnaire for the SCiO Organisational Maturity Model addresses six aspects of the Viable System Model:

  • Operations
  • Co-ordination
  • Resource and Performance Delivery
  • Monitoring
  • Development
  • Managing strategy

The outcomes are expressed in terms of  a measure of maturity across those six dimensions and a diagnosis of which Archetypes (i.e VSM anti-patterns) apply to your enterprise and which need to be addressed.

Unlike Lean manufacturing which only focuses on operational efficiencies in the the lowest level System 1, System 2 and System 3 systems within an organisation, the Viable System Model looks at the whole enterprise from a recursive perspective which is more sound and holistic.

In some ways it is surprising that it hasn’t yet reached a tipping point within organisations or their enterprise architects. Maybe this is because everyone is too focused on the day to day need for operational efficiency and approaches such as Lean Manufacturing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing) and forgets about planning for the future. This is the difference between being reactive and proactive.

Further reading at http://coherencyarchitect.com/2011/01/29/the-fractal-organization-in-an-enterprise-architecture-point-of-view/

and the excellent book: The Service-oriented Enterprise by Tom Graves,  http://amzn.to/kAzR7F

The Service-Oriented Enterprise: Enterprise Architecture and Viable Services

The next time you are challenged on the purpose and value of Enterprise Architecture, then answer that it’s the difference between the external and future oriented perspective of the VSM system 4 as opposed to the inside and now, operational efficiency perspective of system 3 and service delivery perspectives of  system 1 and 2.

As a system 4 system, the enterprise architecture function focuses on:

  • Supporting the business strategy developed by system 5
  • Analysing strategic change initiatives
  • Planning and creating strategic road-maps
  • Scenario analysis
  • Assessment of future risk, agility and viability of the enterprise
  • Coordinating with system 3 systems (i.e. portfolio and programme management, project management and solutions architecture)
  • Governing the realisation of those strategic changes and development of new business capabilities.

The more one looks at the Viable System Model, the more it looks like the unifying theory behind Enterprise Architecture.

I have been reading Andy Winskill’s blog on his suggested Elevator pitch for Enterprise Architecture – ‘Enterprise Architecture is about the identification and realisation of Competitive Advantage‘.

I think this is an excellent pitch that has the benefit of being concise and focused on the business language  of senior executives.

My own elevator pitch is ‘Enterprise Architecture is the bridge between strategy and execution‘.

To expand on this pitch, I usually point people towards the excellent ‘Enterprise Architecture as Strategy‘ book by Jeanne W Ross et al.

I also sometimes describe EA as a realisation of the System 4 (focusing on strategy/future/intelligence) in Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model.  Or as a combination of System 4 and System 3 (focusing on audit/control/governance).  This doesn’t work so well as an elevator pitch unfortunately as most people are not familiar with Stafford Beer’s work and will just give you a blank pitying look…

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