Enterprise Architecture - Plotting a technological direction in a sea of disruption
By Bryan Hooper, VP, IT Restaurant Operations & Enterprise Architecture, Bloomin' Brands
Enterprise Architecture at its most basic is built around two key pillars, design and governance, which are reflected in models such as TOGAF ADM. These pillars reinforce each other since the design is relegated to a mere suggestion without governance to ensure that design is thoughtfully implemented. By ruthlessly focusing on these pillars, we can collaboratively set a design vision for the organization to stay true to ourselves as we encounter a disruptive business and technology world that tempts us to drift from fad to fad and create a community of governance where the entire organization is tracking to our design vision. By executing with excellence on these fundamental pillars, Enterprise Architecture becomes the technological conscience of the organization to answer the "how" to business leaders' strategy of "what" to deliver.
Design starts with a technological point-of-view for the organization. Without a point-of-view, how can an EA team know what will constitute good design and approaches for the organization beyond generic and useless "industry best practices"? As Enterprise Architects, we are uniquely qualified to forge this point-of-view for the organization. With the technologies available to us today, there are several solutions and approaches that we could use to deliver business value, and this endless buffet of choices is why a thoughtful point-of-view is so essential. It gives us a framework for judging competing approaches and selecting the technologies that make sense for our culture and capabilities as an organization.
Developing a point-of-view starts with honestly assessing your organization and setting a holistic vision that builds on the best of what is working for the organization while pushing out things that distract from that vision.
Enterprise Architecture becomes the technological conscience of the organization to answer the "how" to business leaders' strategy of "what" to deliver
At the start of EA at Bloomin' Brands, a multi-concept restaurant company, we did not have a point-of-view, and this was reflected with teams picking any and every technology that was in fashion. We took stock of our portfolio, the composition of our talent and local market, our capabilities as an organization, and which technologies have historically been vital in our industry. With a majority Microsoft talent and asset base, available talent in our market, a modestly-sized team, and historical usage of Windows-based technology in the restaurant industry, we developed a point-of-view that we would be a Microsoft-centric technology leader taking advantage of Azure Platform-as-a-Service cloud offerings and restaurant leading Software-as-a-Service solutions to deliver maximum value with minimal infrastructure overhead quickly. This point-of-view builds on our true strengths and acknowledge that as a restaurant company, we get little value in being infrastructure experts. In a similar organization without existing investment, an open-source and Amazon AWS based point-of-view may have been appropriate. Either point-of-view is capable of delivering value with different tradeoffs, but without picking a single path, we risk muddling from one hot technology to the next, too thin on technological proficiency to execute and deliver anything quickly or well.
With a point-of-view set, the design comes into focus quickly. It lets you set a Technology Matrix, a palette of approved technologies and guidance, for the IT teams to start focusing on the main technologies to develop proficiency while directing them away from solutions outside of the point-of-view. It provides a filter to industry pattern and practices so that EA can provide gentle and useful guidance to product teams. It inspires a thoughtful Enterprise Architecture roadmap laying out an iterative approach to achieving business strategy while leveraging initiatives to retire legacy debt that no longer fits within the point-of-view.
With a point-of-view driven approach to design, a collaborative approach to governance lets EA evangelize the vision, work the design principles into the daily efforts of our teams, and build the process guardrails to ensure that execution matches the vision. Technologist in an organization is a thoughtful and passionate group (which is why a top-down authoritarian EA approach is seldom useful) and need to be brought in early to understand the design point-of-view and provide input into developing the governance approach and framework. At Bloomin' Brands, we have an Architectural Council of top thought leaders of each of our IT teams to evangelize our design point-of-view and gather collective wisdom to evolve our approach to delivering business value. By infusing our design principles into the thought leaders, we can scale the limited EA resources across all of our efforts with our EA talent serving as coaches and advisors for the team thought leaders.
Leveraging our thought leaders, we crafted implementation processes with checkpoints so that governance becomes an ingrained and holistic part of the technology delivery process. Our method includes architectural reviews at project initiations, regular project and code reviews, and production readiness reviews. Automation using Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and release management tools support the scalability of governance. Finally, our EA team oversees the Change Management processing giving them purview and control over changes for the entire organization.
By focusing on the twin pillars of design and governance built from a clear technological point-of-view, Enterprise Architecture gets clarity in vision and capabilities to create a culture of business value delivery aligned with the organization's strengths and culture. This basic and honest approach to EA delivers clear value to an agile organization unlike the dubious, intangible promises of avant-garde Enterprise Architecture. When we operate with this clear sense of purpose, we can navigate a disruptive landscape and chart the course to deliver business value.