The Case for Outsourced Enterprise Architecture

Why CIOs need enterprise observability

Enterprise observability is the capability of analyzing the enterprise as a whole. It’s the coveted macro-view all IT leaders need in their inherently cross-functional position within the company. 

Enterprise observability for IT leaders is akin to what business intelligence is to business unit leaders. Observability provides the operational visibility needed to make key IT management and business capability decisions. Observability is effectively your IT leadership radar; a key navigational aid to assist in the continuous stream of decisions you’ll make over the course of your IT leadership tenure. 

Without adequate observability capabilities, you’re essentially flying blind. The implications of decision making without enterprise observability include overpaying for software licenses, failing to utilize existing technical capabilities, and creating unnecessary information security risks. 

Are you getting what you need from EA today?

I’m routinely asked by senior IT leaders to review existing enterprise architecture teams, and I use a proprietary EA effectiveness measurement toolset to do exactly that. But notice how I used the word effectiveness rather than maturity? Maturity is relative, whereas results are absolute. Said differently: your EA practice may be more or less mature than it “should be,” but EA’s efficacy is ultimately what matters in the end. 

If EA’s products and services are formalized and align tightly with IT executive expectations, your company likely has a top-notch EA practice. If instead EA products aren’t well defined, cadences are ad-hoc or reactive, and EAs must be explicitly added to “high-profile” projects by management, then something may be missing.  

Common challenges with in-house EA

Some of the common challenges with in-house enterprise architecture teams include staff turnover, non-repeatable processes, attention diffusion, impractical artifact creation, and taking an IT-centric (versus business-centric) approach to enterprise assessment. 

EA turnover is the simplest phenomenon to understand. EA teams are one of the smallest teams in IT, so the loss of an EA often equates to degradation of services.

EA is all about structure, right? Yet ironically enough, many EA practices don’t have standardized products, services, clearly defined customers, or cadences beyond basic architecture review board (ARB). When EA teams lack structured process, they become reactive at best. At worst, they’re seen as bureaucratic roadblocks by the business. 

Then there’s the issue of attention diffusion, which essentially means that full-time employees have time-consuming obligations. Writing 360 reviews, attending off-sites, and getting pulled into many directions beyond core EA work almost always cannibalizes EA cycles.   

Impractical artifacts are exactly what they sound like; EA outputs that are simply too complex or cumbersome for the average business person to effectively leverage. Think spaghetti-esque network diagrams or kaleidoscopes of color-coded boxes which are neither comprehensible nor actionable for business unit leaders.

Finally, we have the non-business approach to EA. Using heavy tech jargon, bias towards ivory tower “governance” over (sometimes messy) business outcomes, and generally failing to move the business needle can be the kiss of death for in-house EA programs. 

Benefits of outsourced expertise

Cutting to the chase – experience and focus are the key differentiators with external enterprise architecture expertise. 

Building and scaling multiple EA practices across multiple companies per year is something I routinely do. That experience is invaluable, because the breadth of companies yields so many more data points concerning what works and what doesn’t. As a hypothetical example, would you trust a groundskeeper who maintains only one yard, or a dozen? Compounding experience across many different companies allows external resources to side-step the painful lessons in-house teams typically learn through trial and error. 

In terms of focus, outside consultants shouldn’t be pulled into the time-consuming routines FTEs often endure.  Employees are paid based on the time they spend with the companies, which means many things compete for that finite amount of time. Focused consultants craft SOWs based on deliverables and outcomes, which keeps them laser-focused. 

Outsourced, hybrid, or training wheels

It’s worth noting that leveraging outside EA assistance isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Outsourced EAs can provide perpetual EA as a service, but may also train the in-house team how to scale an EA practice to adequate self-sufficiency. Similar to the way Salesforce platform teams or enterprise network operations centers leverage outside expertise as a force-multiplier, EA is no exception. Attempting to build, scale, and optimize an EA practice with an entirely in-house team can be an uphill battle. Leveraging external expertise is a fast and low-risk option to ensure the EA program takes root and scales effectively over time.