Anyone Can Have an Architectural Idea

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Anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, can have an idea that could impact your enterprise’s architecture. They might be an enterprise architect, but are most probably not. Depending on the value they put on the idea, it may develop further or stop right there: if they think it’s a good idea, they will invest themselves in it; if it seems like a bad idea, they won’t. The impact of their idea may be limited to just your enterprise. Or, it could restructure the market(s) in which you do business: “enterprise architecture” can drive “market architecture” – making it a very powerful idea, indeed.

Chris Potts, Corporate Strategist and Author,

Chris will be chairing the Enterprise Architecture Conference Europe which is co-located with the Business Process Management Conference Europe 2017. The conference takes place 16-19 October 2017. He will also be delivering a keynote speech on Transformation, Digitalization, Valuation, Innovation – An Agile Keynote. He will also be presenting the course Leadership Strategies for Enterprise Architects with IRM UK, 30 November – 1 December 2017.

Some of the ideas that are impacting your enterprise’s architecture originated from a long time ago. Take digital business, for example. One of the original ideas that has made it possible was first documented by a computer scientist in 19571, and was inspired by the way a hamburger restaurant organized its kitchen. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) startedout in 1964 as Materials Requirements Planning2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an idea from antiquity – although the term was first documented in 19563. While Enterprise Architecture4 (EA), as a formalized idea, started-out in the 1980s, the earliest known written work on architecture dates from between 30 and 15 BCE5.

On the other hand, today someone stepping-out of their car, standing waiting for a train, or sitting in their bathtub (for example), can have an idea that could impact your enterprise’s architecture. They might work for your enterprise, or another one. Their idea may not be entirely original, more likely how to exploit an existing idea – such as digital business, ERP, AI or EA. In other words, an innovation. And more specifically, if their idea has an architectural impact, a structural innovation.

Let’s say that person works for your enterprise, in marketing (it could be anywhere). Their innovation idea is about exploiting digital business. Their goals are to attract new customers, grow revenues, and so improve the return on investment in marketing. They have the knowhow, personal enterprise and budget to make the change. It’s consistent with the marketing strategy, and doesn’t require any capital investment. It’s what they come to work to achieve, and what the enterprise pays them to do. A win all around. No architect required.

Why shouldn’t they just get on and do it?

Because, for a start, it will be hard for them to assess the potential impact of their change on other parts of the enterprise. Marketing isn’t a standalone, autonomous activity. People who work in marketing are connected with other people, and the technologies used for marketing are connected with those that are used for everything else. Every enterprise activity is part of a wider culture and structure, and of wider end-to-end processes. A change in only one activity might still turn out to be a structural innovation.

Also because, if the enterprise has a digital business strategy (or ERP strategy, AI strategy, EA strategy, etc.), founded on a coherent architecture and executed though a coordinated set of investments, the marketing innovation may be at-odds with it. It may also be at-odds with the enterprise’s strategy for investing in change, if growing revenues isn’t a priority goal at the moment, or there are already enough revenue-growing changes in the portfolio.

So, if strategy, architecture, and investment goals are reasons why the person in our example shouldn’t just get on and innovate, how would they know?

Let’s go back to the moment they stepped-out of the car, or wherever they were at the time. They could have known, already, that the enterprise has a digital business strategy, that there is a coherent enterprise-wide architecture, prioritized investment goals and a change portfolio. Even if they didn’t know the details, they could know who to ask. That knowledge would have helped them decide whether to invest themselves in the innovation there-and then, to check with someone first, or to let it drop. Some of their ‘bad’ ideas might even turn out to be good ones after all – perhaps with some re-shaping – and vice versa.

Those are the moments that an enterprise’s architects need to think about the most, and act upon. The enterprise’s architecture emerges from structural innovations, big and small, that people invest themselves in and make happen. A few of those innovations come from the architects, and will be on their roadmap if they have one. Most will be the work of others, and are where the value of investing in architecture will truly show.

An enterprise architect’s strategy for success is founded on leading, influencing and facilitating other people’s ideas, starting from the moment they have them. The longer and more deeply someone invests themselves in an idea, the harder it can be to influence them. Leadership will help people validate their ideas as they occur. Influence will help them reshape, or if necessary abandon, ideas early-on. Facilitation will help people to explore their ideas in the context of the enterprise’s strategies, architecture, investment goals and change portfolio.

Yet, the architect is rarely there when the ideas happen. How, then, do they provide leadership, influence and facilitation? The solution is in their relationships with the enterprise’s strategists, portfolio managers, and Chief Officers (in our example above, with the Chief Marketing Officer). If those people recognize the value of architecture, with its focus on structural innovations, coherency, and interconnected impacts, they can act as proxy-architects and encourage others to do the same. The quid-pro-quo is that the Enterprise Architects must equally value the work those people do, and be prepared to do something in return.

How, then, should people such as Chief Officers see and appreciate the value of architecture? For a start, the results of the architects’ leadership, influence and facilitation must tangibly appear in the enterprise’s strategies, in the change portfolio (specifically, in the architectural investments6), and in the Chief Officer’s own outcomes.

Ultimately, though, the value of architecture has to show up in the durability of the enterprise, its usefulness to its customers and other stakeholders, and its attractiveness to whoever it needs to attract7. Those are the characteristics that demonstrate the value of architecture. How soon that value shows depends on the enterprise you are, the architect’s priorities for how they invest their time, and the changes the enterprise invests in.

Whether or not your enterprise invests in and sees that value of architecture, others do. They may interact directly with your enterprise (e.g. as corporate customers, suppliers, regulatory authorities), or use EA to alter the structure of the markets in which you do business. Either way, you may see the impact of their ideas on your enterprise’s architecture – that is, in the structural innovations that you are investing in because of changes in the architecture of the market.

Enterprise Architecture is a powerful idea. Using it to lead, influence and facilitate Market Architecture, even more so.

Chris works with people around the world as a hands-on practitioner, mentor and trainer, with over 25 years’ experience in strategy, Enterprise Architecture, and investing in change. He is an inspirational and entertaining speaker, and chairs conferences on EA, innovation, business change, and technology. He has also delivered guest lectures at New York University, City University London, and the IT University of Copenhagen. Chris is the author of a trilogy of business novels: “FruITion”, RecrEAtion” and “DefrICtion”. Follow Chris on Twitter: @chrisdpotts.

Copyright Chris Potts, Corporate Strategist and Author

1“How to Consider a Computer”, Bob Bemer, Automatic Control Magazine, 1957 Mar, 66-69. The hamburger restaurant was Bob’s Big Boy, according to interviews with Mr. Bemer.
2See Wikipedia pages for Enterprise Resource Planning and Materials Requirements Planning.
3See Wikipedia page for Timeline of Artificial Intelligence.
4Author’s note: for simplicity, in the specific context of this article, I am treating “Enterprise Architecture” as a generalized term for all the architecture that relates to an enterprise.
5See Wikipedia page for De Architectura.
6Architectural Investments: see “The Buried Treasure of Enterprise Architecture”,
7English equivalents of the Vitruvian triad (See the De Architectura footnote on Page 1).

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