Digital Transformation, Business Agility, and Enterprise Architecture are terms verbalized with increasing frequency in this era of digital technologies and rapid change. The appropriation of digitalized applications, solutions, and processes has enabled organizations to increase efficiencies and respond to shifting customer needs and trends in a more flexible, adaptable, and agile manner.
Digital transformation and the rise in mobility and a remote workforce have created a shift in the business model paradigm. The adoption of a more agile approach has been gathering steam, and businesses that are building agility into their processes are seeing the payoffs in greater productivity, faster time-to-market (TTM), and increased consumer satisfaction.
The culture of agile
Digital transformation succeeds in a business environment that embraces a more collaborative and flexible philosophy. Moving from simply doing agile business processes to being agile across the board, requires a shift in the corporate mindset. When a business develops a truly agile architecture, everyone in the enterprise is involved in delivering solutions; from business operations and tec, to marketing, finance, compliance, and security. The agile culture moves from a company-oriented one to a people or customer-oriented culture, embracing the tenets of collaboration, co-creation, ownership, flexibility, and communication.
Agility is redefining enterprise architecture from the traditional schematic of centralized governance, lengthy development cycles, scheduled quarterly reviews and reliance on a waterfall delivery method. Instead of long-term operating and strategy plans, agile enterprise architecture involves short-term cycles and fluid planning that is customer and market-centric. The language changes from top-down project mandates and management to continuous product development, experimentation, testing, and monitoring within collaborative product teams.
The essentials for crafting your agile enterprise architecture
The blueprint for a truly agile architecture requires fundamental shifts in the business dynamic. There are three essentials that stand out as requirements for attaining agility across the entire enterprise.
Collaboration –The bedrock of successful enterprise-wide agility is collaboration. Innovation will flourish when it is decentralized and isolated silos give way to cross-functional, agile, and self-organizing teams. An isolated IT team leads to delayed projects, overrun budgets, productivity that is hard to measure, and disconnects between business and operations. Every department must be involved in supporting and achieving the business goals.
Teams containing a mix of business line and IT professionals will accelerate development and delivery, greatly reducing time to market. Based upon a shared customer-centric goal and vision, there is shared ownership of outcomes and a deeper level of engagement throughout the enterprise. Daily communication and collaborative feedback nurtures creativity, problem-solving, and drive continuous integration and continuous development. Collaborative input from colleagues, inside and outside the organization, is essential for enterprise, technology, and solution architects.
Current state mapping – Adopting agile practices and principles throughout an enterprise entails potentially massive change. Without a clear roadmap for navigating the process, a business can flounder. Instead of achieving a leaner simplicity, there is increased complexity and a muddied vision. Before a business can successfully embrace an agile architecture, the current state of operations must be fully known and understood. Essentially, a blueprint of functionalities, capabilities, applications, and the tech stack must be crafted. Everything, from the data catalog to business process workflows, must be mapped. Business leaders can ask the following questions to analyze the current state and assess impact points:
- Which projects should we prioritize and what capabilities will they require?
- Which processes rely upon what software applications?
- If we remove one or two apps, how will that impact processes?
Once the blueprint of the current state is mapped out, a business can work in a structured way to create the future state of its architecture with ease and at its own pace.
Balance agile transformation with daily operations – Continuing to work with some of the current architecture for a time can allow the top level of the organization to ease into adopting the agile mindset and culture. In the iterative process of developing agile architecture, the architects, executives, and tech leaders will need to strike a balance between transforming initiatives and effectively maintaining daily operations. They will have to discern how much direction is needed versus support, and how much they will set the pace.
If the focus is first on value delivered to customers, then the architecture will be prioritized according to the most strategic projects, capabilities, and applications. An agile architecture will adopt a ‘just enough’ approach to project design and delivery.
Agile architecture optimizes the collaboration of architects
Enterprise agility facilitates more direct communication and involvement of enterprise architects within the cross-functional teams. Through daily discussions and various touchpoints, architects can provide guidance, advice, and feedback on IT decisions, and assist teams in jointly owning the solutions.
Working together, enterprise and solution architects can develop a complete view of the IT landscape and how it will need to be modified to fit into future needs; minimizing waste and optimizing resources. Solution architects can view the architectural map across all apps, solutions, and systems and collaborate on improvements. They can also help enterprise architects scale standardization across the entire business. That cornerstone of collaboration at the core of agile transformation enables architects and non-tech leaders alike to gain more clarity and alignment.
The value of agile
Business value is greatly improved when enterprise architecture combines agile practices. According to a report from McKinsey & Co., businesses transitioning to more agile models can improve financial performance by 20-30%, with 30-50% improving operational performance, TTM, and customer satisfaction scores. Embedding an agile model within processes, people, and technology will cultivate ongoing support for CI/CD, groundbreaking innovation, synergistic collaboration, and ultimately, maximized customer outcomes.
Wilko Visser is the CEO at ValueBlue, a company behind the SaaS platform BlueDolphin: an Enterprise Architecture tool for Agile Business Transformation. Prior to starting the company in 2011, Wilko spent time as a senior executive across both self-started organizations and private corporations with thousands of employees. A strong believer in the promises of digital transformation, Wilko is excited about the innovation BlueDolphin is enabling for organizations across the globe.