There is a scary thing going on in IT at the moment, its around Enterprise Architecture, now I've always maintained that There is no such thing as IT strategy but I'm getting worried that Enterprise Architecture is starting to be turned into a goal in its own right. There are some good reasons to have an Enterprise Architecture function, it helps to provide consistency and governance. The challenge however is when Enterprise Architecture starts trying to lay down 5 or 10 year plans, and even worse when it starts trying to make technology based decisions today based on those plans of tomorrow. As Sam Lowe put it to me the other day. The goal of Enterprise Architecture should be purely at the IT level, it shouldn't be at the technology level.
Now I have a slight problem with Sam's idea in that IT does actually mean "Information Technology" so clearly IT isn't abstracted from technology. What I think Sam was trying to say however is that EA isn't about solutions its about the general goals that IT should have within and organisation. I'll go along with that as an approach. There is a rule of thumb I've always used: Plan for a year, have a goal for 2, a target for 3 and vague fag packet stuff beyond then.
The problem is that EA is beginning to be seen as the goal in itself, so Enterprise Architects lay out the "vision" of where the organisation should get to in 5 or even 10 years time and create huge amounts of documentation in which to detail this end state. Simply put that is a massive waste of time and effort and something that will only impact in a negative way on the projects being done today.
Enterprise Architecture should never be the goal, it should aim to guide and steer and help to select the good from the bad. This should not be done against some grand IT or technology vision but should be done against the business value that elements will derive. The reality is that this will change significantly over a 5 year period, let alone more, and so any decisions that are made today on the basis of progression towards the mythical enterprise architecture are going to be an increased burden which is done to achieve something that won't happen.
Note here I'm talking about enterprise architecture. If you have a 5 year programme of work to deliver against a new business area or goal than that is fine, because that isn't an enterprise thing, its a solution thing.
Enterprise Architecture isn't a goal, in the same way as IT strategy isn't a goal, the point is that the business changes and IT needs to adapt in line with the business and someone needs to herd the cats to make things consistent. This is why the key skills in EA are not the creation of big documents that try and define some vague future but the ability to influence people and to help them reach the right choice for their current solution that also makes sure that the next thing down the line isn't going to be screwed.
Technology changes far too fast for anyone to make bold ten year plans. Back in 1997 some companies hadn't caught onto the concept of the internet, I even interviewed with an IT company back then who didn't have email that went outside the company! Anybody who attempted an Enterprise Architecture with a 10 year goal back then would almost certainly have looked like a muppet after only 3 years, and I doubt that the rate of IT development has slowed since then.
Enterprise Architecture is required, its required as an active day to day part of the operation of how IT operates, it should continually evolve and iterate the "to be" state of the IT estate in line with the demands of the business and it should never be allowed to start defining goals that sit way beyond the technology horizon of today. Enterprise Architecture is not R&D, its meant to be a practical solution to ensuring that solutions are consistent. Word documents rarely help make anything better, normally they make things worse, this means that EA has to be about active participation and direction of projects and programmes and about the people and communication skills that this requires. This also means that while EA is about the general cases and direction of IT that it must understand the technologies of today and those that will soon be arriving. Without a proper understanding of technology it is hard to see how EA can ensure that pieces are progressing as required.