EA Archivist or Activist? Delivering Value is the Key

By | August 12, 2010

Todd Biske posted a summary of a conversation he had with Mike RollingsBrenda Michelson, Chris Bird and others. They were discussing the future of Enterprise Architecture. A theme that emerged from their talks focused on whether your practice is defined by being an archivist (passive) or an activist (active).  Here is the conversation (from Todd’s post) that got the ball rolling:

Near the end of the conversation, Chris asked the question, “Are Enterprise Architects really Enterprise Archivists?” Brenda responded that we really need Enterprise Activists focused on action, delivery, ideation, and evangelism.

Building credibility in your organization by delivering on value will get you to the place where you can be the “enterprise activist”.   Those of us who had very limited budgets and very small teams are well aware that showing value by making a positive contribution to our organizations is the way to earn the right to be “activists”.

Again from Todd’s post, here are Brenda Michelson’s four attributes for an “enterprise activist”:

  • Action: The action is engagement. Talk to the people that have the ability to make change happen. Using the activism analogy, the EA is the lobbyist. Engage the stakeholders, and make your case.
  • Delivery: Deliver the strategic architecture, and then work with the project teams to make sure the architecture is realized properly. If you’re only cataloging what other people have done, you’re an archivist.
  • Ideation: Think about the future. James McGovern (@mcgoverntheory), a fellow EA, had posted once that EA’s need to have time to think. This is where the ideas come from, and then can get turned into the strategic architecture. They’re not the exclusive source of ideas, but EA’s are supposed to be your senior level thinkers, so innovative ideas should be expected of them.
  • Evangelism: How can you be an activist without being active? Make the cause known. If the cause isn’t heard, work to understand why, and tweak the message accordingly.

I like the broader range of attributes that Brenda presents as they provide guidance for any size, shape or structure of enterprise architecture practices in any organization.  I don’t think I am overstating things by saying these are “timeless” attributes.

I wrote a post in July 2007 titled, Enterprise Architecture Roles or ‘What do you do??.  In the post, I talked about the roles that we fulfill in our EA practice at BCIT.

Here are the EA roles with my definitions:

  • Guide: A discussion regarding how the new idea may change the architecture and/or how the existing architecture can support the idea
  • Consult: Involvement in architecture design and assist with architectural alignment – specifically an initial EA review and test to identify existing architecture components
  • Approve: Approval of technology and its accurate representation in the architecture – including documentation and updating of all EA artifacts – approval process built into Project Management and Change Management.
  • Communication: Communication is the key and without it no one will ever realize the value of Enterprise Architecture. Establishing IT Governance at various levels in the organization really is a benefit. We have a strategic governance group and a series of tactical governance groups
  • Leadership: Delivering on the 4 roles above puts your EA practice in a position to become active and strategic. You will get invited to the strategic planning table and other business units in the organization will see you out for advice and partnership

I also provided a gut feel estimate of the time I spent on each area – Guidance: 30% Consult: 20% Approval: 10% <— 60% of my work;  Communication and Leadership: 40%.  For us, this is a very active EA practice.

The one line from my old post that really stands out for me is and seems to dovetail nicely with the “enterprise activist” discussion is:

I spend significant hours daily guiding, consulting and approving our technology investments and surprisingly less time creating models and diagrams.

As you can see, a small EA practice needs to be practical and active so that value is delivered to the organization that funds it.

So back to Brenda’s 4 attributes and how I see our approach to achieving them:

Action: the three roles of guidance, consulting and approval are bundled together in a strong EA communication plan focusing on delivering value at regular intervals to our organization. Contributing positively to planning and projects will get you a long way there.

Delivery: Projects deliver value to advance an organization’s mission. By embedding EA into existing processes like Change Management and Project Management, we ensure that EA is visible and actively contributes to the delivery of value. Recently, we have embedded EA reviews for software purchases.  It took time (almost 5 years!), to build credibility with our Purchasing department by demonstrating the value we bring with our reviews.  This has been a big benefit to the institute by managing costs as well as managing complexity.

Ideation: in 2007, we began an annual process to deliver a Technology Plan for BCIT that focuses on 4 key areas: Business, Facilities, IT Renewal and IT Investment. The plan is primarily based on our Enterprise Architecture work and is a 3 year rolling window of how we will leverage technology to support the strategy of the Institute.  Here is the most current update from 2009/2010.  We consciously take time annually to plan and think about new directions for how technology can support our business.  Some of the things we addressed in the past 3 years are: business continuity, virtualization strategies, environmental initiatives and electronic document management.

Evangelism: like many organizations in the past year, we too ran into some fiscal challenges.  Late last fall, an Institute committee recommended a change in the way we manage our budgets and forecasts.  I was asked to coordinate an analysis and an investment in changing our business processes and technology to support the new fiscal strategy. In a time of layoffs and budget cuts, we were able to secure significant funds for new technology and consulting expertise base on a solid plan to improve the business. Recently, our institute published a new strategic plan as well as an implementation plan. Central to the plan is “business process improvement”.  With our proven skills in delivering value with Enterprise Architecture and its related disciplines, I anticipate that we will play a leading role in bringing new causes forward that will advance BCIT.

Thank you to Brenda, Todd, Mike, Chris and others for starting this discussion. Enterprise Activist? Absolutely!!

I also thank you for reading my post and I hope this generates more questions.  I look forward to your comments and feedback!

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