Enterprise Architecture Management: Architects have to be uncomfortable

The prejudice is widespread: the Enterprise Architect sits in his ivory tower and paints wallpaper full of colorful boxes and symbols – far from any operational reality. Oliver Bossert, Senior Knowledge Expert at McKinsey, clears up such prejudices: “Anyone who has a firm grip on architecture will spend less time tinkering with interfaces in the course of digital transformation.” Only then can services be reused much more efficiently and data quality increased.

Together with the Henley Business School, McKinsey advanced the study “Themes of successful platform transformation”. Most important result: Almost all relevant key figures improve when companies drive digital transformation using a well-thought-out enterprise architecture. You can hardly rely on tools. There are plenty of them, but none that really made a significant contribution to the implementation.

“We notice that architects who talk a lot with their CxOs and little with external providers have the greatest success,” says Bossert, who at McKinsey deals with enterprise architectures and technologies. Conversely, most specialists who primarily sought to speak to external cloud and software providers would generally have problems. “In architecture management, I absolutely have to hold the handle of the action myself,” says Bossert. The satisfaction of specialist and IT decision-makers in their own company is critical to success. It is important to create transparency and to make quick decisions at board level.

As the study shows, companies that are digitally transforming create a lot more point-to-point connections, interfaces and also applications, which leads to above-average integration effort and higher costs. If a functioning enterprise architecture is in use, the problem can be contained. The number of services used is increasing, as is the reuse of such services. Agility and scalability increase significantly.

In September of last year, McKinsey and the Henley Business School warned in another joint analysis against dragging legacy applications through digital transformation. It takes far too much time to re-engineer these legacy applications that have developed over years, sometimes even decades. If new digital functions were added to old software, more and more point-to-point connections would have to be programmed and maintained, which would lead to a spaghetti-like program structure that would make further adjustments extremely difficult. Many companies would suffer severely from these “technical debts”.

Even back then, the team of analysts found that “Digital Leaders” differed from the rest in that they had fewer interfaces to manage and could therefore roll out customer-oriented products and services more quickly. They are good at creating modular digital platforms that are designed for agility and allow the reuse of services. Even then, the study authors pointed out that strong architectural skills are required to create the right environment for the creation of a “balanced digital platform”.

In the current study, McKinsey and Henley Business School also emphasize that for leading digital companies, the customer journey is always the starting point for the roadmap of digital transformation. “This is extremely important in order to be able to show rapid success,” says Bossert. Theoretically, such a conversion could also be tackled according to corporate functions such as finance or logistics, “but at some point I’ll be through with everything and nothing will reach the customer,” warns the McKinsey man. It is better to start with the customer experience and “plan backwards” from there – even if this always requires compromises in architecture.

And what properties should an Enterprise Architect have? “The most important thing is a high level of willingness to be uncomfortable,” says Bossert and for this reason describes managers from the financial sector as often well qualified. An IT training is not absolutely necessary, here it is more about the soft skills: Is the person ready and confident enough to think outside the box and ask the right questions?

For example, an enterprise architect might ask, “Why are we doing this?” or “What are the benefits of this?” or “How can we optimally serve the business side?” According to Bossert, his job is to question a lot, from the often slow business decisions to unnecessary IT complexity to corporate goals and values. That is why soft skills are more important here than technical expertise that goes into great detail.

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