A number of weeks ago, I was at a CTO Event in DC and got to hear from colleagues about their thoughts on various technologies and IT trends. Overall the exchange was great, and as always, I was deeply impressed with the wisdom and experience of these IT leaders.
However, one particular set of comments set me back in my chair a little. And that was on the topic of Enterprise Architecture. Apparently, a number of CTOs (from a relatively small number of agencies) had not had great success in their organizations with EA and were practically questioning it’s very existence in our IT universe. Yikes!
I believe some of the comments were to the effect (and this is not verbatim—I will put it euphemistically) that these individuals had never seen anything valuable from enterprise architecture—EVER—and that as far as they were concerned, it should be discontinued in their organizations, altogether.
In thinking about the stinging comments from some of the IT leaders, I actually felt bad for them that they had had negative experiences with a discipline like EA, which is such a powerful and transformative planning and governance framework when implemented correctly—with the value proposition of improving IT decision making and the end-user as the focal point for delivering valuable and actionable EA information and governance services—generally what I call User-centric Enterprise Architecture.
Right away after the negative comments, there were a number of CTOs that jumped up to defend EA, including me. My response was partially that just because some EA programs had not been successful (i.e. they were poorly implemented), did not mean that EA was not valuable when it was done right—and that there was indeed a way to build an organizations enterprise architecture as a true beacon for the organization to modernize, transform, and show continuous improvement. So please hold off from dismembering EA from our organizations.
Recently, I was further reassured that some organizations were getting EA, and getting it right, when I read a blog by Linda Cureton, the new CIO of NASA who wrote: NASA CIO: How to Rule the World of IT through Enterprise Architecture.
In the blog, Ms. Cureton first offers up a very nice, straightforward definition of EA:
“Let me step back a bit and offer a simple definition for Enterprise Architecture that is not spoken in the dribble of IT jargon. In simplest terms, it is a planning framework that describes how the technology assets of an organization connect and operate. It also describes what the organization needs from the technology. And finally, it describes the set of activities required to meet the organizational needs. Oh, and I should also say it operates in a context of a process for setting priorities, making decisions, informing those decisions, and delivering results called - IT Governance.”
Further, Ms. Cureton draws some parallels from a book titled How to Rule the World: Handbook for an Aspiring Dictator, by Andre de Gaillaume, as follows:
"· It is possible to manage IT as an Enterprise.
· You can use the Enterprise Architecture to plan and manage the kinder, safer, more cost effective IT world.
· Transformational projects will successful and deliver desired results.
· IT can be a key strategic enabler of NASA's [and other organizations] goals.”
Wow, this was great--an IT leader who really understands EA and sees it as the tool that it genuinely is for--to more effectively plan and govern IT and to move from day-to-day organizational firefighting to instead more strategic formulation and execution for tangible mission and end-user results.
While, I haven’t read the dictators handbook and do not aspire to draw any conclusions from it in terms of ruling the world, I do earnestly believe that no organization will be successful with their IT without EA. You cannot have an effective IT organization without a clear vision and plan as well as the mechanism to drive informed decision making from the plan and then being able to execute on it.
Success doesn't just happen, it is the result of brilliant planning and nurtured execution from dedicated and hardworking people.
Reading about NASA’s direction now, they may indeed be looking to the stars, but now, they also have their eyes focused on their EA.