I had a healthy debate this past Friday with a number of EA colleagues on Twitter about EA and if it is only for large companies. Keep in mind that I have never worked in a large IT shop. Most of my career I have worked in IT shops ranging from 50-300 people. Currently I am in a startup and there are 5 IT people. So obviously, I have a different perspective than the typical EA advocate.
It all started when I sent out this tweet:
Just finished a great discussion about EA & small business with Forrester’s Jeff Scott. EA is not just for the big guys!
I had volunteered to participate in Forrester’s research effort on the topic “EA Value”. I am sure most of Jeff’s interviews on this topic were with Fortune 500 companies with huge EA initiatives including some federated EA models. I am sure he was surprised to find a 5 person IT shop talking EA, especially a startup! When asked what the value EA brought to my organization I responded with:
The first thing we did was brainstorm for 2 days on the CEO/founder’s initial business idea. We created a business architecture that we represented visually on one slide. This picture allowed us to describe our business to both technical and non-technical people. By capturing the entire ecosystem of our industry, we were quickly able to analyze our business model and refine it. We were able to determine what parts of the ecosystem we should compete in and what parts we should partner in. Before we built this visual model, we were planning to compete in areas that we shouldn’t have.
Here are a couple of the tweets that caught my eye as this conversation continued throughout the day:
RT @madgreek65: … EA is not just for the big guys! < how can SMB’s afford it?
@madgreek65 The question is does SMB really need EA. I think of EA as only for Large Organizations
Before I could type a response, Brenda Michelson beat me to the punch with this tweet:
@madgreek65 problem is, many equate EA w/jumbo frameworks & rigid governance, rather than set of values & practices for capability delivery
I couldn’t agree more. So maybe our disagreements are all about semantics. I agree that a SMB probably does not need a heavy handed framework. I do, however, think that all companies with an IT department should apply at least some components or best practices from the EA practice. The problem is, EA means many different things to different people. So when I talk about EA, I am not talking about frameworks like TOGAF, Zachman, E2AF, etc. Here is what I am talking about:
Enterprise Architecture is a complete expression of the enterprise; a master plan which “acts as a collaboration force” between aspects of business planning such as goals, visions, strategies and governance principles; aspects of business operations such as business terms, organization structures, processes and data; aspects of automation such as information systems and databases; and the enabling technological infrastructure of the business such as computers, operating systems and networks (source: IFEAD – Institute for Enterprise Architecture Developments)
To sum it up, EA is the master plan for your business with a focus on
- Strategic Planning
- Business Operations
Why would we reserve that for only big companies? The other discussion point that was interesting came from these tweets:
@madgreek65 … I’m not sure one can do 20% of EA capabilities and expect successful outcomes if that’s all one can afford
My response –> Regardless, I’d take 20% over 0%
@madgreek65 … 20% may be worse than 0%. Reliance on gut > incomplete strategy & planning.. no false sense of security
This brings up the question is EA an all or nothing proposition? Why can’t we pick and choose pieces from the EA playbook based on the following characteristics of our company and still be successful? :
- Size – bigger the company, the more process needed
- Culture – ability to adopt, transform, support, etc.
- Budget – financial capacity to support
- Talent – internal ability to perform
- Longevity – in for the long haul or sell in next 2-3 years?
- Desired Outcomes – Maintain, expand, world class, etc.
For example, my company consists of less than 20 full time employees, advisors, and consultants (Size=small). Our culture is comprised of seasoned veterans who are entrepreneurial in nature. We don’t believe in rigid process. Our budget is limited since were are funded by angel investors. We have extremely talented engineers and business people with years of domain knowledge. We don’t see ourselves exiting in the next two three years yet we don’t expect to be here in 20 years either (longevity=medium term). Our desired outcome is to be agile, easily integrate with partners and customers, and to be respected as first class organization. So I analyzed this criteria and came up with the following components of EA that I believed would help us meet our goals:
- Business architecture
- 3-5 year business roadmap
- Portfolio management (prioritizing what we work on and when)
- Various technology visuals (infrastructure, information, etc.)
Notice, I am not following a framework from top to bottom. For one, I don’t have the resources (manpower or budget), and two I don’t have the time (we are pre-launch). But just because I have not embraced every step of a EA framework does not mean we can’t achieve our desired outcomes. Just because I decided to only produce a subset of artifacts doesn’t mean that we did not sufficiently plan and strategize. So I still argue that doing 20% or 30% of what an EA framework recommends is still way better than ignoring EA altogether. I also think that the argument “EA is too expensive for SMBs” is invalid as well. EA is as expensive as you make it. You don’t buy EA you do EA (sounds like a SOA pitch, doesn’t it?). EA can be expensive if you hire tons of people , buy expensive tools, and create tons of documentation that add little value.
So I say EA is not just for the big guys. But for the little guys to do EA and create positive outcomes they may have to shell out a few bucks to get the right person in place to lead the charge. At the end of the day, your EA is only as good as the people who run it.
@ madgreek65 … in smaller shops, planning is all about the people doing it, which is my point. and talent gravitates toward big $$
The real question for SMBs is do they want to pay for EA now or would they rather pay for the consequences later!