When Adrian Jones became the sole enterprise architect for fast growing diagnostics giant SYNLAB in 2018 he knew the traditional, bureaucratic approach to EA he had seen in the past wouldn’t work.
Jones, SYNLAB’s group head of enterprise architecture, needed to quickly gather and analyze enough information to deploy new systems across hundreds of sites and more than 20,000 employees in 40 countries, and to digitize services such as lab tests to make them much easier for its customers to access.
Within 15 months, half the time Jones reckons a traditional EA process would have taken, insights from SYNLAB’s EA effort are helping the €2.6 billion company better manage its application and technical risk and to assess its technical debt (the cost of pending work required to maintain its applications and IT infrastructure). EA insights also helped SYNLAB roll out new services such as a COVID testing program to help the European football league safely return to play, says Jones.
This is enterprise architecture in the age of agile. Rather than spend months or years modeling and cataloguing a business’ technology and business processes in an often-futile attempt to enforce product standards, agile EA practitioners and vendors seek to work more closely with teams developing “products” such as applications for employees or customers. They try to deliver value quickly, work closely with product teams, and develop architectural principles rather than an inflexible list of platforms product developers are permitted to use.
Not your father’s EA
EA was designed to identify, understand, and maximize the cost-effectiveness of the IT infrastructures companies created in their march from mainframes to distributed computing. This requires central repositories of information about their IT infrastructure and the applications and business processes they support. But too often, according to critics, EA focuses on cost-cutting and control over innovation, describing technology rather than the business processes that leverage it. And in an era when businesses must change ever more quickly, its pace too often acts as an impediment to transformation.
A Forrester Research survey found that 55% of clients still practice older forms of EA, which includes “treating enterprise architecture as glorified asset management, with a focus on cost control rather than maximizing IT capabilities for the good of employees, customers, and business partners.”