Justifying Investment in Enterprise Architecture

In most organizations, demand for innovative solutions occurs organically; when senior leaders see an opportunity or problem, they typically advocate the required investment in people, processes, information, and technology. However, it is often more difficult, particularly in times of austerity, to make the case for investment in enterprise architecture capability or even for the sustenance of those capabilities.  As a result, many professionals with the title of “enterprise architect” are actually working on solutions, and their organizations are not receiving the full value of enterprise architecture. To meet this challenge, first consider the definition of EA found in the Gartner Glossary:

Enterprise architecture (EA) is a discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces by identifying and analyzing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes. EA delivers value by presenting business and IT leaders with signature-ready recommendations for adjusting policies and projects to achieve targeted business outcomes that capitalize on relevant business disruptions.

Enterprise architecture improves the enterprise’s ability to respond to disruptive forces.  However, removing the barriers to effective response typically requires significant and consistent attention. Many of these barriers involve the condition of current systems, including the cost of operating them and making changes necessary to keep the business running.  These barriers are quantified, or at least estimated, as technical debt, which Gartner defines as “the remaining amount of money that an organization must spend to meet its digital technology cost obligations while continuing doing business”.

Excessive technical debt often results from expedient implementations that attempt to reduce the cost and duration of solution delivery at the expense of the ease of solution sustainment and enhancement. It can also result from deferred maintenance, e.g., delays in mandatory component upgrades or replacements. The sources of technical debt have measurable non-financial impacts as well, such as reduced customer, partner, or employee satisfaction; delays or failures in introducing new digital products and services; increased security and availability risks; and, ultimately, competitive disadvantage.

Unfortunately, however, many organizations are, at best, only paying interest on technical debt, since, according to Gartner “CIOs need to report cost liabilities to help business executives identify the technology debt position and develop plans that create net wealth. Yet, technology leaders can be reluctant to discuss technology debt, and business leaders often do not ask about it or attend inquiry calls.”   

Enterprise architects, however, as sophisticated, and holistic analysts, visionaries and communicators, are in a unique position to address this problem. They can identify the sources of technical debt and decreased ability to respond to disruptive change, quantify their impact on the metrics of greatest importance to the enterprise, and create a roadmap and business case for their elimination or reduction. The roadmap and business case should also include the investment in capabilities—including EA–necessary to achieve enterprise goals, develop necessary levels of business agility and resilience, maintain the roadmap as business strategy and conditions change, and manage technical debt. In this way, enterprise architects can demonstrate the value of EA, spur investment in EA capability, and set the stage for adding further value.

By Iver Band, EA Principals Senior Instructor and ArchiMate Expert