AT#48: How to Ride an Elephant in Digital Times?

AT#48: How to Ride an Elephant in Digital Times?

AT#48: How to Ride an Elephant in Digital Times?

Let’s look back four years and remember what consultants predicted for the digitally transformed future of companies. Expectations were high, a bright, technology optimistic future was drawn in vivid colors – self-driving cars, disrupted businesses, AI automates all backoffice processes, etc. etc. And now – let’s compare this to the reality of enterprises of the old economy – yes, companies have run punctual innovation initiatives, banks have modernized their mobile payment apps . But substantially? Nothing has “transformed”! Digital transformation of the old economy is happening at a much slower pace than expected. So, the question is: why? Why are big companies still around without having changed their business models substantially?


This picture is only a small part of the legacy IT-landscape of any larger enterprise, full of what we call “technical debt”. It has usually grown almost without any influence of any “architect” or “designer” around. Executives made big IT decisions without caring about the big overall design. Yes, the situation is severe, companies are in great danger to die a “technical debt” death unable to afford the huge costs of legacy IT. The discipline of Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM) has had only a very limited influence on business/IT decisions. In almost any companies EAs are not present in board rooms.

But what does that mean for the discipline of Enterprise Architecture Management? What have we been doing over the 35 years since it has been founded? Good thing is – it’s not our fault – at least not only our fault. The main reason is that the concept of architecture is almost absent at the business side, no wonder that business people have never taken their accountability for business architecture. Decisions were made without having the bigger picture in mind, IT architects overruled by the business.

What other reasons are there?


Whenever I speak to executives I can feel a certain level of fear of the disruptor, everything changes so fast, new technologies appear at a tremendous pace. Time-to-market is on the top of the prio list of executives, NOT long term strategic goals. Must feel a bit like on a speed-boat – only looking forward but less left and right, no time to think in the longer term.


Companies know that they must get innovative in digitally disruptive times, but non-adaptable, ill-designed legacy business&IT structures AND time-to-market pressure leads to punctual innovations only. Groups meet in design thinking spaces and create some punctual ideas, but I’ve never seen a game-changing innovation coming up from a design thinking session.

Fundamental business model innovation would need fundamental re-engineering of legacy business&IT structures.


If we look at a typical larger company of the old economy, we find many roles that shape the design of the enterprise. However, people like process managers, product managers, service designers, software architects etc. define only their little part of the “elephant”. Usually, these roles don’t collaborate well – acting more in silos than as one enterprise.



There is a tendency to blame the IT department for the botched IT-landscape, but that’s not true. It’s a business problem. Requirements are typically not consolidated well across departments. IT has always just been the contractor who had to implement those punctual requirements under time pressure. Business units are not aware of their responsibility for their applications and do not think architecturally.


So, the question is – what to do? How to ride an elefant in the age of digital?


Typical deliverables and methods of current Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM) practices are overwhelmingly complex. EAM tools often include hundreds of out-of-the-box diagrams. As a result, nobody understands the immature concepts, frameworks, and meta-meta-models of EAM. So, why not make EAM as easy to use as an iPhone? How about focusing on models, methods, and diagrams that are standardized and designed for usability? Wouldn’t it be great to have a real standard that is so cool that everybody in business wants to work with it?


The concept for realizing this “EAM as an iPhone” approach is what we call “Enterprise Core Model”. A simple diagram that shows the most relevant aspects of the enterprise on one page. Disciplines working today in silos are now working on the same model in parallel and collaboratively.


When people think of “architects”, they see people that plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house, having the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. This metaphor is, however, not suitable for enterprises – they cannot be architected but must be grown! Establish a framework for growth, plant the seeds, do some weeding and fertilizing now and then, be curious about the business, train your social skills.


Traditional EAM usually has an inside-out view of the company. The enterprise has architecture and must be optimized. In the age of digital transformation and direct data links with customers and partners, the surrounding ecosystem becomes the driver of the EA. Customer journeys start and end at the customer, running through several companies. Markets have architecture! As a consequence EAM needs to shift the focus from inside-out to outside-in thinking.


To unleash its enormous power, EAM must be implemented as a management instrument that is the basis for important strategic decisions. Digital Governance is implemented by a formal organization structure of people (usually called ‘governance boards’) that make decisions on architectural models with well-defined roles and responsibilities. Establishing the right digital governance model is critical since it acts as the rudder to steer your digital initiatives in the right direction.


To make EAM work, we must smash the walls of its ivory tower – built by a discipline not understood and not accepted by most business people. EAM can only work if NOT performed by a specific EA role only. It needs to be done by many roles collaboratively. To enable this, we need to make the concepts “as easy to use as an iPhone” and bring the mindset of “architectural thinking” to business roles and executives.


Previous Posts

AT#13 Companies are Elephants!

AT #40: Four Skills for the Successful Enterprise Architect

AT#37: Stop Botching your IT-Landscape!

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