Setting a company-wide strategy for standards, technologies and suppliers can deliver a leaner, meaner business, if you put someone in command.
Many enterprise architecture (EA) efforts fail for lack of commitment and an understanding from senior management, enterprise architects and other EA participants. One of the keys to success is finding an effective EA champion.
Meta Group discusses one consistent theme with many of its clients - frustration at the lack of understanding and commitment to an EA. Senior IT and business management are uncertain what an EA is so are not sure what to expect or, worse, their expectations are not realistic.
Equally, architects are not always sure what role they should play and try to balance between the strategic, enterprise-wide role and the tactical, project-centred role. Similarly, those supporting the effort are not sure what they should do.
Many successful organisations have prospered from the efforts of an individual who has taken on the responsibility for championing the EA cause. The champion should be a senior-level executive, not lower than someone who reports directly to a chief officer. Although this role would normally be a chief information officer it could be a chief financial officer or a chief operating officer with some level of responsibility for the IT function.
The role of EA champion is more effective when it is filled by someone who is not identified as having "ownership" of the EA team, process or deliverables. The most important attributes are credibility and respect within the organisation.
The role of the champion is to support the EA effort by actively promoting it, soliciting support and advising the EA group on how to increase understanding and effectiveness. The responsibilities of the EA champion will depend on the stage the EA effort has reached. The most active responsibilities will be in the early stages - building awareness, soliciting support and persuading senior management of the value of participating in the project.
Such responsibilities will be most evident during the planning stage. The champion must be active in developing the scope, objectives, metrics, programme charter and resource requirements. He or she should also be active in soliciting participation from senior IT and business executives in the vision stage.
The primary benefit of having a champion is that he or she gathers support by actively advocating an enterprise architecture to people in parts of the organisation to which the EA team may not have access or with which it has no credibility.
Meta Group research has indicated that effective transformation programmes are based on understanding the various states that the enterprise undergoes during the change and on helping to reach the desired status.
People undergoing change experience the following states: awareness, confusion, understanding/fear, trust and adoption. The champion plays a critical role at each stage. In most IT departments, staff members become aware of change programmes in a fragmented manner. This results in inconsistent understanding of new messages, agitation and a decrease in productivity.
IT departments should formally initiate programmes for change and openly communicate their rationale to employees. To encourage staff involvement IT departments should organise focused feedback sessions to enable all staff members to understand the change programme's benefits, participate in implementation planning and become instrumental in transmitting the new plans to lines of business. This will open two-way communication between IT staff and managers. The EA champion should lead such sessions to give them credibility.
Once staff members become aware of anticipated changes, confusion results because of the number of unanswered questions. The prime cause is the one-way communication style adopted by many managers. This prevents effective discussions between staff members and managers, leads to increased concerns, amplified doubt and delivers few answers. This delays the emergence of adopters and slows momentum.
To break this deadlock, IT departments should arrange forums facilitated by a third-party to discuss challenges, identify risks and - more important - identify early adopters volunteering to share their perspectives and to explore alternatives with their colleagues.
The appearance of this generation of champions will be critical for the transformation strategy to advance. The EA champion should be the communication link between doubters in the ranks of senior management and the EA team.
After the confusion phase, some understanding can occur but a general fear of failure can also arise. Individuals are usually concerned about their inability to proceed to the next stage, whether this is because of limited skills, uncertainty of management support or unavailability of tools to fulfil the new roles.
This creates substantial resistance to proceeding with the strategy and can result in valuable workers leaving the organisation. To combat this, IT directors should undertake a skills evaluation gap analysis to assure staff of the organisation's commitment to investing in training. This will create additional champions and construct a strong foundation of trust.
The EA champion needs to understand the skills gap and work with senior management to make sure that they understand the need for new skills in moving the transformation forward. Inviting staff members to participate in making transition plans can be an effective catalyst to building trust and increasing the number of champions for change.
This stage is characterised by a gradual handover of the ownership of the transformation strategy from managers to staff members, demonstrated by increased staff buy-in and a constantly growing momentum for change. Accomplishing transformation strategy objectives will most likely become inevitable.
The EA champion is an important part of gaining trust because that individual most represents senior management's view of the value of EA at this stage, and staff members are more likely to develop trust when they see this support.
High adoption levels are reached after achieving the first milestone of the transition strategy. Therefore, IT directors should ensure that transition plans are completed on time and on budget.
A post-implementation review should be undertaken to guarantee that future transformation strategies are implemented quickly and smoothly. The EA champion should participate in this and report the findings of the review to senior management.
Higher support and understanding of the EA function and its benefits leads to a more adaptive and agile enterprise. The enterprise can and should benefit from the role of an EA champion being filled by a highly-respected and credible senior manager.
Tim Westbrock is vice-president of enterprise architecture strategies at Meta Group
What is an enterprise architecture?
The simplification of IT systems leads to lower costs as a result of easier management and support, and fewer IT suppliers to deal with.
This simplification forms an "enterprise architecture" which aims to reduce the variations of IT across the company, through a company-wide IT strategy, encompassing technologies, standards, and preferred suppliers which should be used for new IT projects. It is important that senior executives understand the benefits of the strategy, in order to win the hearts and minds of staff.