Saturday, May 11, 2013

The EA Dilemma of strategy versus standardization

The idea that boundaries and limits can produce boundless and limitless thinking seems counterintuitive and paradoxical. But if we further examine the mechanisms at work when we face constraints, perhaps we can identify which types of standardization best promote, rather than diminish, creativity. Good strategy takes creativity. Some strategies are, to choose a different vocabulary, "logical extensions of the current business" - they leverage the architecture rather than conflicting with it. What are further perspectives upon the EA Dilemma of Strategy vs. Standardization?

1. EA as Agent of Strategy

EA isn't just something that "facilitates agility." That's too facile. EA, like anything else that sets a direction, both facilitates and constrains. The problem with blue-sky out-of-the-box strategies is that they often ignore this fact. And in the case of dilemma between the flexibility of strategy and standardization of operations, the key problem is in the place of EA in the strategy development process. In most of traditional EA frameworks,  the strategy is the input for the architecture

  • An EA group has to manage all aspects of strategy. They have to manage a reasonably stable standard core to support real innovation that could be built on top. They also need to manage the growth or evolution of core itself , as well as gracefully handling special projects. And two of the major problems of business strategies are (1) they are poorly communicated and (2) poorly understood. As a result people are unsure of 'What is happening', 'What they should do', and most importantly 'Why anything needs to be changed'. A given strategy will be successful when AB+CD > EF+GH, where
    AB = the Apparent Benefit (of the strategy),
    CD = the Current Discomfort (with the existing situation),
    EF = the Effort Forecast (to realize the strategy), and
    GH = the General Hassle (going on at the time and interfering with priorities) 
  • EA Provides Visibility & Insight upon Strategy: A good strategy takes creativity, but neither strategy nor innovation is serendipity only, it takes structure or framework, that's the role EA should play, to balance the two sides of world, or two parts of human brain, innovation vs. standardization; creativity vs.logic, analysis vs. synthesis, management vs. governance. EA does not REQUIRE that everything fits within the "tried and true" architecture. What EA ideally does, is to provide visibility and insight into the costs/resources associated with various business strategies. 
  • Agile design approach in the strategy development, breaking strategic movements up into smaller bits, enabling the organization to digest the changes in smaller bites., try to perform decision making process as an iterative process of forthcoming to the target state of the enterprise, it’ll remove a lot of claims that EA is too restrictive. How to cope with the statement "EA is too liberal"? Should EA make every effort to represent the enterprise as a living system for the greatest possible number of operational and IT people? Only few people understand strategy. Most are too consumed with the here and now (not intended as criticism or judgment). Giving them the strategic changes in a size, taste and color that equal their every day issues will probably take away a lot of the obstacles. 

2. Does Standardization ‘Strengthen’ or ‘Stifle’ Strategy

Many people assimilate "standardization" to "rigidity". Standardization is just business as usual (BAU) for EA to handle multiple demands of business. Some people have called it "creative tension. While many architects consider that the biggest issue of EA is about lacking the agility of the framework, but it seems that the real pitfall is to treat the enterprise as a linear mechanical system, and this pitfall is a root cause of the problems with the strategy implementation at the domain level (especially in IT). So in the end, is standardization ‘strengthen” or ‘stifle’ strategy?

  • EA needs to know what to keep stable and what to evolve. Unless architects can do judiciously, EA would be perceived as roadblocks not facilitators of innovation. The key challenges are:
    (1) identifying when context is changing,
    (2) what are the implications for the current landscape of EA framework(s) and architecture implementation tools and
    (3) how rapidly will those implications take effect
    (4) what needs to change in the management and process of EA to address those implications
    (5) how are those changes to be made 
  • Standards done right would in fact aid successful innovation. Increased standardization may facilitate innovation in an environment where the rate of focus and priority change exceeds the production/ROI cycle of a deployment.  Once the core is stable, one is free to build durable innovation on top without bothering about 'trivial' things. And a "stable core" does facilitate incremental innovation on top of that core. But it is also the basis for the barriers to innovation that is known as "the innovators dilemma". Think about what standardization of electric systems (voltage, plugs, switches etc.) did for innovation in the field.  
  • Surely enterprise architecture has to accommodate both continuity and change. EA has to be as much about day to day operations as it is about strategy. In fact, the strategy also has to ensure sustenance and evolution of day to day operation as that is what funds the future and allows strategy to succeed.  In simple terms, the challenge is to architect space and boundaries to enable both simultaneously. Do you define the space where business will happen (and how?) first, then, the boundaries between? Or fix the boundaries? How do you manage the relationship between the two over time 
  • Flexibility can be achieved through agility (the ability to change quickly) and/or through versatility (the ability to use the same for a lot of different purposes). So standardization should be an essential part of versatility. If "components" are well designed, the essential components can be reused over and over again without changing them, and standardization is a blessing in this case.  Isn’t EA an excellent tool to set standards, also establish tactical flexibility enabling the company to implement strategy? And the mature EA will make effects of the level of maturity of organizations with regard to the necessity of "AGILITY" -"Standardized Agile Process". But if the components are not well designed, every change (cost of switch) will be difficult and standardization will be opposed to agility. So standardization is potentially a danger for agility when the overall concept of making choices is not good. 
  • Is strategy not the art of choosing options in uncertainty? Such a business strategy on its surface sounds completely catastrophic for EA, but it really is not. All that EA has to say about this is to expose the costs of making such a change and to identify proactively and structurally what systems need to change and how. And if the business leadership still wants to move forwards with such a choice, then EA helps execute that decision. And isn't more flexibility needed when uncertainty is higher? 

3. The ‘Paradoxical” Role of EA

It is the role of an architect to translate the decisions and ambitions of the board into realistic business structures. Thus, an effective EA are both creative thinker and critical thinker, both logic and innovative, and creativity & logic reasoning is not in contradiction with each other.

  • ‘Corporate Democracy’ Continuum via guardianship:  Everybody has an opinion about everything. Many people even know better than subject matter experts whom they consider peers, while the leadership neglects to communicate about it. It takes strong leadership, not just standards and expertise in improving corporate democracy. EAs are trying to manage a portfolio of standards where different standards are forced to evolve at different rates. The concept of “ownership” of information is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain, and “guardianship” is better fitting for purposes. 
  • The logic reasoning of EAs should go hand in hand with politics and creativity. The most creative and innovative buildings are designed by architects who should know very well what is possible and what is not. Thus, "architecting the business" has added value in every situation where complexity is high or increasing. EA/BA has the task to understand both concepts, versatility and agility, and search for a balance between them. This balance is not absolute but should be established in the context of the business and taking into account the strategy of the company. 
  • Develop further Architecture Standards fitting in Digital Enterprises: Perhaps organizations are in the midst of a transition where traditional enterprise-centric notions of information and process are not sufficient over the longer term, EAs need to develop further architecture standards that are valid where a multi-enterprise context is the norm rather than the exception; perhaps having a separate "innovation" organization implement the changes rather than attempt to retrofit (force fit) the change into the current operational organization is the most viable approach? This "innovations" organization would have similar organizational capabilities (including operations) however it would not be encumbered by the concurrent constraints of maintaining business continuity.     
As a conclusion: BA/EA is not a dilemma between strategy and standardization. In most cases, standardization in certain areas is the result of the strategy and standardization can even be an essential aspect of the strategy, but every strategy needs a translation in concrete and working business structures and that is the essential role of BA/EA.


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