So, What is Digital Enterprise Architecture?

Some time ago, I wrote an article about what is Digital Architecture. As a continuation of that article, also as apparently I am not very creative in finding new topics, I would like to focus on Digital Enterprise Architecture this time.

A Digital Enterprise Architecture is crucial, especially for large-size enterprises to stay nimble amid increasing competition. It is no secret that Amazon, or some other digital organisation, but most likely Amazon, is sooner or later will attempt taking over your industry.

The previous article stated that Digital Architecture is an architecture discipline applied to Solution Architecture. As would be expected, the same logic applies to Digital EA. Digital EA is essentially a modern approach to Enterprise Architecture which appreciates the impacts of digital transformation and thrives to keep the organisation stay ahead of the digital curve.

With that said, here are a few ideas for establishing a Digital Enterprise Architecture.

Disrupt Enterprise Architecture Principles

OK, disrupting might sound a bit ambitious. However, at a minimum, EA should revise architecture principles, policies and standards to enable the adoption of digital best practices and, more critically, emphasise customer centricity. Principles should not just focus on operational excellence as they would in a traditional enterprise architecture. They should instead cherish returning, happy customers. In the digital age, businesses can only survive if they pay the same or more attention to servicing their existing customers as they do to acquiring new customers.

In a Digital Enterprise Architecture, principles should be simple, practical and concise with a sound understanding of the digital landscape. Principles should emphasise customer and experience focus and inspire re-thinking. As a good example, Digital Principles provides a simple set of principles with digital themes such as Designing with the User and Being Data Driven.

Also In a Digital Enterprise Architecture, policies and standards appreciate the changes in the architecture patterns. For instance, if there is a policy against data replication, it may conflict in cases where persistent caching on the edge layers is required, or a fully-autonomous microservice is to be created. Keep in mind, even well-regarded museums are updating their principles to adapt to digital behaviours of today’s consumers.

Experience as Enterprise Architecture Asset

Key to digital is designing the right and optimum experiences for customers. In order to model such experiences, organisations today use tools like Customer Personas, Customer Lifecycle and Journey Maps. In a Digital EA, creation and re-use of these experience artifacts should be considered a norm. In fact, EA should provide an enterprise portfolio of experience assets where projects and solution can utilise to assure all segments of customers and lifecycle stages are considered.

These enterprise level catalogue of customer personas, lifecycle stages and high-level customer journey maps should then be used to derive other enterprise models where possible. As an example, a business capabilities maps should display critical capabilities that are necessary to implement these journeys and capabilities impacted by different customer personas and their lifecycle stages. This would allow help organisations create capabilities that connect with the customers throughout their lifecycle. Where experience artifacts cannot be directly used to derive other EA models, they should at least be associated. For example, an application catalogue linked to customer journeys would reveal critical applications for customer satisfaction.

Experimenting with Lightweight Governance

Experimentation is an essential capability, especially for large-size enterprises where innovation is not that great. Being able to test ideas before investing massively in them is the only way to keep up with smaller size startups or with large-scale organisations who have the resources and better at innovation. As Jeff Bezos correctly points out, ideas should only become expensive when they work.

Traditionally, Enterprise Architecture has the gatekeeping role in form of policies and standards to maintain a sustainable technology ecosystem. While governance is indispensable to eliminate unnecessary business and security risks, strict policies may stonewall experimentation or let ideas become just too expensive to try. Instead, a Digital Enterprise Architecture should promote experimentation through flexible governance models. Such models should allow business to test their ideas without having to invest in a fully-ratified solution until the idea proves itself to be profitable.

Thoughtful experimentation and investing in ideas is an essential capability, especially for large organisations, to avoid falling behind the competition. Although first-time-right might sound like a noble Enterprise Architecture outcome, you can’t pick the winners without investing in losers.

Cultivate a Design-Driven Architecture

Embracing a design-driven, innovation culture is crucial for today’s organisations. Focusing on operational excellence no longer cuts it. Although it is not easy to quantify the value of design, the Design Management Institute’s Design Value Index is a strong indicator to quantify the difference it makes. According to 2015’s Design Value Index, design-centric companies outperformed S&P 500 by 211% on returns over the 10 years between 2005 and 2015.

A design-driven architecture (I know, it sounds like “wood-driven carpentry”) would be the key enabler of a design-centric company. In an article from 2017, Gartner says 40% of enterprise architects will focus on the design-driven architecture where organisations understand the ecosystem and its actors, gaining insight into them and their behaviour and developing and evolving the services they need. In fact, Enterprise Architects, an Australian architecture consultancy re-branded itself as a Business Design firm 15 years after its foundation.

In these circumstances, Enterprise Architecture should promote design thinking within the organisation and in the architecture processes. It should also encourage, if not instruct, solution architects to spend time with the actual customers and participate in customer/user tests.

Here’s a bonus, inspirational interview conducted by the London Business School with Molly Dobson from Amazon on the culture of innovation.

Be Digital

Well, thank you Captain Obvious. But, seriously, you simply cannot have a Digital Enterprise Architecture if your EA practice, or any of your architecture practices for that matter, is not behaving digital.

EA teams should re-think and re-design their services with the focus on their customers. Are the organisation users getting the answers or guidance they require easily and timely? Is your Enterprise Architecture relevant, down-to-earth or disconnected? Are your artefacts easy to consume, or does it require architecture knowledge or special tooling? Do people have to chase EAs for critical decisions or are you proactive? Does your EA only speak about a far away future state which is not helping solve today’s problems? Or is it only an outdated documentation of the current state? Most critically, are you a gatekeeper or an enabler?

EA should also explore the opportunities to utilise technology to deliver better experiences. An example would be an AI engine running on the architecture repositories allowing users to intuitively query the architecture. Another example would be using big data and machine learning to maintain a current picture of the enterprise systems and the interactions between them.

Acting faster, bolder and smarter at the same time is an imperative for today’s businesses and it is exponentially harder for traditional organisations. Enterprise Architecture can have a role in achieving one or all of these goals. A Digital EA does not only focus on being smart and be the brakes when necessary; it is also the engine driving the change and helping the organisation take bolder steps.

How to successfully fail Digital Transformation

It is nearly impossible not coming across an article or a post about digital transformation on any given day. I can at least guarantee you have seen one today.

Considering the profundity of digital, the abundance of content on digital transformation must be expected. I think all industries, governments and even the society are still in the process of comprehending what digital truly means. Everyone who has seen that mm-hmm moment would have definitely developed second thoughts about the opportunities as well as the threads that come with digital. To me, it is somewhat akin to discovering plastics; the scientific wonder of the early 1900s, now an environmental curse. It is for that reason now we are talking about everything digital; digital economy, digital culture, digital government, digital thinking and so on.

As with every new technology evolution, there is also an abundance of content on how some large organisations tried digital transformation and failed spectacularly. Some even take the bar higher by predicting that 90% of digital transformation projects will fail. McKinsey also draws the attention to digital strategies organisations have today and signals that they are likely to fail if they don’t fully understand the digital economy and its demands.

One, who reads these downhearted articles and listens to failure stories, might for a second think there is a demand for failure in digital transformation. This article is inspired by that fictitious demand, but I trust you appreciate what is the actual point here.

Without further ado, here are my tips for successfully failing digital transformation.

1. It is all about mobile apps and web pages.

Chances are your company already has web and mobile applications. You might become “digital” by refacing those apps and adding some new cool features without actually thinking about the overall customer experience. If your company has no mobile apps, you should definitely take that as a golden opportunity and create as many mobile apps as you can. There may be functional overlaps, your customers may have to install 20 different apps and end up calling the customer centre but that’s OK. Digital is speed and you certainly don’t have time to understand the digital economy and its dynamics. Similarly, creating a digital mobile strategy is simply not agile.

Bonus: Ask IT guys to build a few APIs and organise a hackathon to rubber-stamp your digitality (yes, it’s totally a word).

2. Digitise the present.

Digital means automating existing processes and make them available through online channels. Your digital transformation is done once you replace your paper forms with web applications. Don’t make the mistake of mapping out customer journeys, or re-imagining your interactions and relationships with your customers and the rest of the digital players. Others may be busy with creating new digital business models or building new digital ecosystems, but don’t let them distract you, you can always let them disrupt you later.

3. New technology, traditional thinking.

Digital is the cloud, AI, machine learning, the blockchain, IOT and all the other technologies in Gartner’s hype cycle. Embed these technologies in your projects as much as you can. Use machine learning to generate random numbers, use chatbots to let your customers know of your call centre number. However new the technology is, stick with the existing, tried and tested processes. Being able to stand up a new cloud instance in a matter of minutes shouldn’t mean you can access those instances without going through weeks of governance and approval processes. It is also a good practice to ineffectively deliver such technologies through a tennis game between operational silos.

4. Do it once, and do it right. Don’t experiment.

Experimenting with new solutions and business models or prototyping ideas are unnecessary risks. You cannot foresee the feature and certainly, you do not have the luxury to test and fail. Think of how your peers or execs would see it if your experiment fails. Don’t forget, culture eats strategy for breakfast; don’t be a pancake. Follow the leading company in your industry, wait for them to be successful first before you copy what they did. If you happen to be the leader, just follow this digital transformation methodology until you no longer have to carry that burden.

5. It’s a transformation project, not a cultural shift.

And just to reemphasise all that has been discussed in previous paragraphs: treat digital transformation as a project, not as a cultural and business shift. You cannot kick off any transformation without a deadline and a defined ROI. No doubt you will hear voices in the industry saying digital transformation is a continuous effort, a mindset change for the whole organisation. Simply ignore those romantics and enjoy your half-baked digital transformation or analog stagnation.

This last item concludes my methodology for successfully failing digital transformation. On a serious note, the boundaries and the impact of digital are hard to define, and, digital transformation is easier said than done. IDC predicts digital transformation spending to reach $1.7 trillion worldwide in 2018, a 42% increase from 2017. Interestingly, that is the same amount of money globally spent on the military in 2017. Yet, IDC also predicts 75% of the organisations will fail to meet their digital transformation objectives – even without the help of my successfully failing digital transformation methodology. Nevertheless, digital transformation is bound to happen in one way or another. As Greg Verdino cleverly defined in his article, “digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expect and what analog businesses actually deliver”.