Wednesday, 21 February 2018 09:08

What has a greater impact on Digital Transformation: Enterprise Architecture or Business Architecture?

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Around this time 12 months ago Gartner predicted that half of EA Business Architecture initiatives in 2018 would focus on defining and enabling Digital Platform Strategies.

While there hasn’t been follow-up research to prove whether this prediction has come true, anecdotal evidence would suggest that the real situation is pretty close.

In the research Betsy Barton, Vice President and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner stated:

“The increasing focus of EA Practitioners and CIO’s on their business ecosystems will drive organizations further toward supporting and integrating business architecture. This is to ensure that investments support a business ecosystem strategy that involves customers, partners, organizations, and technology.”

The core output of a Digital Transformation, from an IT perspective, is the development of supporting digital business platforms. However, with the growth of cloud-based services success in this transformation process is less a technology challenge and more a Business Model challenge. Digital Transformation can provide an opportunity for organizations to do business in a totally different way. But the fundamentals of business in a digital and traditional world remain the same. To run a sustainable business, you need to deliver a product/ service to customers that meet their needs in an effective and efficient manner and ensure that you continue to evolve that product/ service so that it continues to meet customer needs into the future. And you need to make a profit doing it. So you need to have a Business Model that achieves this.

Enterprise Architecture is very good at defining, and bringing a semblance of order to, the complex ecosystems that make up a business, particularly from a technology perspective. However, business architecture is what brings it alive. This is what Gartner calls this business-outcome-driven Enterprise Architecture, which emphasizes the importance of understanding the business and how it executes on its value streams.


TOGAF practitioners will proport that Business Architecture is an inherent part of the Architecture Development Method (ADM), which is true. However, I would argue that Business Architecture should be the key driver of the ADM to deliver a successful Digital Platform Strategy, rather than focus on some of the more traditional governance elements of Enterprise Architecture.

The really interesting aspect of the Gartner research is that Ms. Burton advises that one of the keys to success for the implementation of successful digital platform strategies will be the ability of organizations to integrate with other businesses digital platforms. While this will be a significant technical challenge, the key to deriving real business value will be ensuring that the platform and integrations align with the organizations strategic intent and support its value streams. In this context, Enterprise Architects will not only need to understand the business drivers and outcomes required by their business but also the needs of their partners in the digital ecosystem.

This ability to support the innovation agenda that is driving Digital Platform Strategies has also seen the rise of a new Architecture skillset, design-driven architecture. Gartner advises that “design-driven architecture will allow organizations to understand their ecosystem and its actors, gaining insight into them and their behavior which will allow organizations to develop and evolve the services that they need and consequently deliver on their business objectives.” In effect, it will allow Architects to be more customer/ human centric in their designs to better meet the increasingly complex needs of customers/ stakeholders. The key skillet that will be leveraging is Design Thinking or Human Centric Design.

With millions of dollars being pumped into Digital Platform Strategies the pressure on Architects is significant. They need to be able to manage the need to innovate organizations Business and Operating Models, often within Agile Development environments, while ensuring the interoperability of these platforms with other players in the organization's ecosystem. In addition, they need to delight their customers/ stakeholders and in the private sector deliver a profit! With the continued development of Cloud-Based Services, the challenge of delivering these objectives by developing successful Digital Platform Strategies will be less of a technology challenge and more a business challenge.

When I initially posed the question of which discipline, Business or Enterprise Architecture, has a greater impact on Digital Transformation it wasn’t to say that both weren’t important. However, if you look at the underlying value proposition of Digital Transformation, it’s about doing business better and more efficiently by leveraging technology. To fully realize this promise the business models and value streams that deliver these outcomes need to be defined and tested based on customer/ stakeholder needs (Design Thinking) before the development of the technology platform to support them. It is, for this reason, I believe that Business Architecture will have a greater impact on Digital Transformation initiatives than Enterprise Architecture!

Scott Comte

EA Learning, formerly known as the Enterprise Architect’s training arm, provide training solutions that increase an organisation's ability to deliver outcomes. We have a range of IT Architecture, Business Architecture and Business
Transformation courses that can be delivered as an in-house service, either as a standalone training course or as a wider learning pathway. Our aim is to ensure you and your team has the right training and professional development to enable them to deliver outcomes.

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