How to Explain What Enterprise Architecture Is to Non-EAs

16 Aug 2020

by Ardoq

Greetings from an Enterprise Architecture newbie. 

When starting at Ardoq, Enterprise Architecture (or EA as the cool kids call it) is often a new world for new employees. Often, they are eager to learn as much as they can but, like many others stepping into this world for the first time, they sometimes find they are looking for a simpler to explain the what, how, and most importantly, why of this role. So how do you explain what Enterprise Architecture is to someone who’s never even heard of it?

Many ask this very question. It turns out that Enterprise Architects themselves often struggle to find the best way to communicate what they do and why it’s so important (let alone how Enterprise Architecture is maturing and what they’re looking to be able to provide in the very near future...but one step at a time). 

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The Opportunity: An Outsider Perspective

The gift of being new to anything, or being an outsider altogether, is that you can bring fresh eyes and important new questions - or at least that’s what the folks at the Ardoq office keep saying.

Luckily, we have an example from a fellow Ardoqian who was put to the test one social weekend with friends:

I was presented with a perfect opportunity to test my way of trying to explain what Enterprise Architecture is: A six-hour road trip to a mountainous ski resort with a bunch of my very non-EA friends. I was determined to find a way to explain EA to them or die trying (if snowboarding didn’t kill me first). 

As soon as we set off, I turned to them and asked, “So guys, who here knows what Enterprise Architecture is?”

They stared at me, blankly.

Yeah, this wasn’t going to be easy. Thankfully I had an idea.

What Is Enterprise Architecture (In All Its Technical Glory)?

If you Google “What is Enterprise Architecture?” you’ll find...a lot. But a quick technical definition might go something like:

“Enterprise Architecture is the process of analyzing and evaluating an organization’s business and IT capabilities, in order to find ways to optimize (or effectively transition) the company from its current-state (or As-Is) to its future-state (or To-Be)”

While accurate, it isn’t particularly relatable for most people, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t go too far with my particular audience that day.

Instead, I tried to ditch the jargon altogether and use our road trip as an analogy to explain as best I could.

The result? Buckle up and let’s go (pun intended).

what is enterprise architecture

Hitting the Enterprise Architecture Road(map)

At the start of our trip, we took our car to a garage for a maintenance check. After giving it a once-over, the mechanic told us that we needed to equip ourselves with winter tires for the icy roads and a particular type of ski rack for all our gear (yeah, I know, obvious in hindsight). He warned us that, without these preparations, our trip would not only be longer but possibly more dangerous.

 “So,” I started, “let’s say that we’re a company. We’re the managers, and the car (including everything inside of it) is the IT & Infrastructure. That means everything from the company’s computers, apps, and equipment to their office space, desks, company merch, and the kitchen sink”. 

 “The starting point for our road trip is where our company is now (in terms of size, profits and so on). That’s our current state. And the ski resort is where we want our company to be. That’s our future state."

The mechanic here is our Enterprise Architect. He told us what to do to “upgrade” our “company.” Plus, by telling us it would be dangerous without these upgrades, he told us what to expect. That expectation can, more or less, be measured like a metric. And the gas stations and small towns along our route can serve as small objectives that push us toward our overall goal of getting to the resort. We can call them our Key Performance Indicators or KPIs”.  

In a Nutshell:

In Enterprise Architecture, having an overview is vital. This means knowing where your organization is at - in terms of business goals and strategies. Also how well it’s doing at its current state through metrics and KPIs. By knowing where you are and how you’re doing, you’ll get an idea of where you should be and what you should do to get there.

Getting to the Resort

Naturally, the winter tires and ski rack made a big difference. Not only did we get to the resort in record time (less than the usual six hours), but it was a pretty smooth ride with plenty of legroom.

The mechanic (our architect) showed us how to optimize our car (our company) so that we could get to the ski resort (our future state) on time and in one piece. Our trip was shorter, safer, and more comfortable than it would have been without the upgrades. Therefore, our comfort and safety are our metrics for measuring how well these upgrades worked.

In a Nutshell:

The goal of Enterprise Architecture is effective and measurable change. Architects provide businesses with a roadmap for making this change happen, but they also show them exactly how much better they will operate afterward. Hence, the merit of the metrics.

Keeping an Eye Out

On top of the upgrades, the mechanic also recommended that we ditch our worn-out printed map and use the car's onboard navigation system instead. Good job we did, since it helped reroute us automatically to bypass closures and what looked to be an accident, thereby cutting loads of time (and stress) from our trip.

With real-time data, different terrains, zoom, and angle capabilities, and live updates across all of our devices, the live navigation system was by far the best option. See how much more adaptable we can be?

 In a Nutshell:

For effective change management, Enterprise Architects need to use actionable data and strategic agility. These things will allow the EAs to adapt to sudden changes while staying focused on the main objective.

Driving Back Home

After a fun week of snowboarding, we set off back home. With a car full of tired, bruised, and hungover friends, I thought this would be a good time to reflect on my EA analogy.

When understanding what Enterprise Architecture is, you need to:

  • Get a complete overview. The only way to know where you have to go is by knowing where you are.
  • Strive for effective, measurable change. Once you get to where you need to be, check back to see if there’s a noticeable difference.
  • Use strategic agility. Even with the perfect roadmap, things can happen. Agility helps. 

We won’t be EA prodigies overnight, but I think we got off to a good start, so I’ll take that as a win.

Ardoq Ardoq This article is written by Ardoq as it has multiple contributors, including subject matter experts.
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