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Enterprise Architects Need to Instill Data-Ready Thinking

As a former product manager, my initial interaction with enterprise architects had to do with whether my software could or could not be installed within their enterprises. In my simplistic world view, enterprise architects were the people that caused me as a product manager (PM) to have a super wide software compatibility matrix. They were the reason why I could only invest so much in software innovation in my software releases.

But as I have gotten to work with Enterprise Architects and understand the problems that they are trying to solve, I have come to see them as the strategists that put their enterprises together for the future. One CIO that I know put the enterprise architect role this way:

“Enterprise architects need to be the forward, business facing component of IT.  Architects need to create a regular structure for IT based on the service and product line functions/capabilities. For this reason, they need to be connected to their business counterparts. They need to be so tied to the product and service roadmap that they can impact the IT roadmap. For this reason, I like to pair a Chief Enterprise Architect with a Chief Business Strategist”.

Enterprise architecture needs to move beyond hardware and software standards.

However, it is essential that enterprise architects get their organizations beyond the point that I would run into them as a Product Manager, enforcing hardware and software standards. The goal of enterprise architects should be to enable their companies “to coordinate customer, supplier and employee processes” (Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, page 7). And they should take their company’s data from being “patchy, error-prone, and not up to date”. (Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, page 7). This so-called optimized core architecture phase “provides companywide data and process standardization that is appropriate for the (enterprise) operating model” (Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, page 71).

I want to suggest, however, that there is a step beyond what Jeanne Ross suggests in her book. As one CIO said to me recently, “IT is all about data. Think about it. What we do in IT is all about the intake of data, storing data, the processing of data, and the analyzing of data. And we need from a data perspective to provide the intelligence to make better decisions.”  

In my opinion, this thought is one of those Apollo 13 moments where the system engineer says getting the crew back to Earth is all about power. So if IT is all about the data, enterprise architects need to ensure that the right data is being created to support business strategies. This requires what I like to call “data-ready thinking”.

How do enterprise architects think data-ready?

Becoming data-ready means enterprise architects need to think about the data that their enterprise needs to ensure its business ends are met before creating or recreating applications. Several years ago I was involved in helping a significant insurance company with their implementation of analytics software. Everyone on the management team wanted the analytics software completed so they could improve a number of critical business processes, but the project lead wanted the analytics approach completed after an upgrade had occurred to their transactional processing software. The firm’s CIO had a very different approach than his project lead. This CIO understood that decisions regarding the transaction processing software implementation can determine whether or not the metrics and KPIs needed to improve the business process were captured.

In other words, transaction processing software decisions could determine whether the software upgrade delivered upon its planned improvement goals. So instead of doing analytics as an afterthought, this CIO had the analytics done as a forethought.

To fix this, he slowed down the transactional software implementation. He got his team to think first about the goals for the software implementation and the business goals for the enterprise. With these goals in mind, his team determined what metrics and KPIs were needed to measure success and improvement. They then required the transaction software development team to ensure that the software implemented the fields needed to measure the metrics and KPIs. In some cases, this was as simple as turning on a field or training users to enter a field after the transaction software went live.

Being data-ready requires architecting the enterprise flow of data.

I believe that being data-first means thinking about how data should move between applications. Instead of having 10s to 100s of connections between applications, enterprise architects need to enable a hub architecture where data sources are decoupled from destinations and enable applications to publish once in support of a one-to-many consuming applications. Taking this step can reduce interfaces by 70% in large organizations. At the same time, it is essential that enterprise architects work to minimize data disparities in systems by mastering data across critical applications. The key to doing this often also involves improving overall enterprise data quality. Taking these steps provides the coordinated customer, supplier and employee processes that Jeanne Ross imagined.

Being data-ready means data is secured and governed.

At the same time, enterprise architects need to ensure that their enterprise’s data is protected as it transverses the enterprise. Too much data is there for the hacker’s picking, because it is not systematically protected. For this reason, it is important that data-ready enterprise architects are able to assist their organizations in identifying, locating and analyzing data risks. This means enabling their organizations to understand their sensitive data risks and vulnerabilities and to align their data security investments, policies, processes and actions.  A lot of this can start by automating the reporting for auditing and governance programs alike.

Clearly, one of the greatest risks facing organizations today is proliferation of private and sensitive data due to the prevalence of cloud, mobile and web applications.

Final remarks

The aim of today’s enterprise architect should be to deliver great data – data that is clean, safe and connected – by design. Enterprise architects that enable great data demonstrate, by their actions, what it means to be truly data-first. Data-Ready Architects think about data-readiness and all of the implications of delivering it so that it truly creates a business competitive advantage. As such, they help to secure their enterprises continuing right to win.

Article written by Myles Suer
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