On one hand, digital transformation is a wild beast, changing daily how we view business and the world we live in. To survive in the world of digital transformation is to be agile and open to uncertainty. It’s to thrive in chaos—and many companies have had trouble withstanding the storm. Perhaps that’s why—on the other hand—we’ve learned that despite its recklessness, we do need to harness digital transformation for it to be most effective. For many of us, that harness comes in the form of enterprise architecture.
Call it digital transformation strategy—call it smart business—enterprise architecture is a method your company can use to organize your IT infrastructure to align with business goals. This isn’t a new concept. In fact, enterprise architecture has been around since the 1960s. But the overwhelming presence of tech in every facet of business today has forced us to rethink it, and to make it a more central focus of business management.
Is enterprise architecture a “must” for every company managing digital transformation? Yes and no. In some form, every company needs a smart and agile digital transformation plan. But it doesn’t have to look like the standard enterprise architecture styles of old. Below are some things to guide your company in creating an effective enterprise architecture of your own.
Think big picture. Enterprise architecture deals with your organizational structure, business model, apps, and data just as much as it does information technology. When you put it together, you need to think from an employee perspective, a customer perspective, and from the perspective of meeting your business goals. After all, your digital transformation will impact your entire company, and your enterprise architecture will need to support it.
Create standard language. Your enterprise architecture is of no use to anyone if no one but IT geeks can understand it. When you develop it, use common language. Create easy-to-understand examples. Develop best practices that everyone at every level of the organization can get onboard with. Enterprise architecture isn’t something to help IT show off its skills. It’s something to keep your company functioning as simply and efficiently as possible in the digital world.
Use it to prioritize. Just as your business goals help you prioritize your spending, so should your enterprise infrastructure. If a new technology or program doesn’t align, reconsider it. Yes, you’ll want to leave wiggle room for digital transformation to happen organically. But you’ll also want to avoid fragmentation, which can make even the best company inept. Use your enterprise infrastructure as a reference point. Whatever decision you make about your business should align with it.
Don’t expect miracles. The one bad side of enterprise architecture: there is no evidence it will save money or improve efficiencies by using it. It’s a guidebook. It keeps you on track, no matter where that track is going. But it won’t make your company a well-oiled machine if you’re still using old siloed business models and making bad business decisions. Your enterprise architecture is a best practice for business efficiency and effectiveness. It’s not a Hail Mary.
Build agility into your enterprise architecture. Like I said, agility is necessary in today’s chaotic marketplace. Your enterprise architecture isn’t a verbatim description of how your company should operate and which technology you should use. Make it standard enough to keep the company moving but general enough to move with the market.
Don’t get stuck on names. IT services management. Cooperation. Process improvement. Digital transformation strategy. It doesn’t matter what name you slap on your enterprise architecture. What matters is that you have a plan—a solid plan that can keep your company and employees on track, in a time of digital progress and uncertainty. If “enterprise architecture” causes confusion in your organization, find another term your people and company culture can vibe with.
At the end of the day enterprise architecture isn’t so much about a specific way of managing digital transformation, it’s about adding margins and creating a meaningful frame around it. There is no doubt: your company will change with the times (for better or worse.) Your enterprise architecture is one more way to ensure your company lands on the side of “better.”
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.