Enterprise Architecture As Strategy
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, David C. Robertson
Harvard Business Press 2006
First, there was a sсepsis: oh, please, what kind of enterprise architecture book could be published by Harvard Business Press? A transatlantic-flight-long refresher on ‘how to make sense of your IT department’ for clueless CEO? However, my curiosity drew me to opening the cover, and I haven’t regretted that.
It turned out that authors conducted a more than 10 years long study of various high profile enterprises and their approaches to the IT unit. The underlying question of the book is what’s the difference between top-performing organizations and everybody else in terms of their approach to enterprise architecture. However, the book is much more than just reflections on empirical data. It presents a solid framework on how to formulate and deliver a strategic enterprise architecture for a firm. The main idea of the framework is that an enterprise needs an efficient foundation for execution, which is conceived as ‘IT infrastructure and digitized business processes automating a company’s core capabilities’. In order to produce one it is said that a company needs three things: define its operating model, come up with an enterprise architecture, and establish a proper IT engagement model.
Operating model is a certain mixture of integration and standardization of business processes between various business units of the organization. There are four archetypical operating models defined: Coordination (high integration, low standardization), Diversification (low integration, low standardization), Replication (low integration, high standardization), and Unification (high integration, high standardization). Operating model provides an input into understanding which processes have to be digitized into the foundation for execution.
Enterprise architecture per se is understood as ‘the organizing logic for core business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the standardization and integration of a company’s operating model’. Authors suggest concentrating on getting right the high level picture that is basically a single page diagram displaying relevant business processes, shared data, key customers and significant ‘linking and automating technologies’. Each archetypical operating model places emphasis on certain aspects of the EA and this is reflected on the diagram. For example, Coordination model implies that shared data and infrastructure should be in the focus; however, for Replication model those are mostly irrelevant and core standardized business processes have to be emphasized instead.
Finally, IT engagement model is defined as a consistent governance mechanisms assuring that business and IT projects achieve both local and company-wide objectives. In other words it enables a systematic delivery of envisioned foundation for execution as a series of incremental improvements. A healthy IT engagement model consists of company-wide IT governance, mature project management practices, and alignment mechanism between former and latter.
Authors draw a lot from their empirical studies. The book is full of case studies and real life examples that are well placed to illustrate various points.
There’s only one problem with the book. The framework itself is explained as a compilation of best practices employed by top-performing organizations, fair enough. I’ve seen such works previously. A prominent example is “Good to Great” by James Collins, an in-depth analysis of numerous market success stories and cautious conclusions rooted in empirical evidence. However, the style in which this book is written resembles a step-wise process handbook guide. The authors have added a lot of their own judgements failing to provide a rationale, and, since none of companies they’ve studied used their framework as it is, it sometimes looks a bit speculative and unfair.
In summary, I recommend reading this book to anyone professionally involved in the enterprise IT. In addition to that, any senior decision maker will benefit from reading it as well. The material is tight-packed, very clear, and almost free from technical jargon. The book is a good source of inspiration, just don’t take the framework as universal truth.