In my last blog I put forward the argument that, deployed correctly, Enterprise Architecture (EA) has the potential to provide huge benefits to SMEs by providing the view of the relationships between the people, processes, information, and technology, and then allowing them to select appropriate solutions that will help drive the business forward.

That resulted in some great viewpoints, such as this one from John Eccles “As SMEs invest more in tech, it’s more important that tech decisions are made strategically. So they need a strategic approach like Enterprise Architecture.”

Shawn Mander also shared his view that “when information and technology are strategically aligned and embedded within an organisation, the value gains are massive and sustainable.” Both those statements reflect the benefits to the SME market. However it’s not that straight forward to present the benefits of EA to businesses.

It’s not straight forward though

One challenge that was identified to this is that EA frameworks are not a well-known construct outside of big business. Exploratory conversations with New Zealand SMEs confirm that few know of or utilise EA capabilities, research that is supported in overseas markets. Underpinning this is the complexity that often goes with a conversation about EA. When you start talking Metamodels and Ontology it’s very easy to lose an audience.

A secondary challenge is the blurring of the concept of Enterprise Architecture with the role of Enterprise Architect. In my experience this is a role which has been the domain of people with extensive technical IT careers in specific domains and not necessarily strong alignment to core busines outcomes. This is in part driven by the common misconception that enterprise architecture is a function of IT.

Which is why I’m trying to be careful not to say that every business needs to have an Enterprise Architect. Instead the key decisions makers should be following a model that is easy to understand and focuses on aligning ongoing technology and information enabled improvement to deliver strategic business outcomes, while embracing the people involved.

So where is an EA framework relevant to a SME?

Common architecture frameworks share 4 common dimensions which can be used as a basis of an approach for EA in SMES. These dimensions are best described as:

Why – the strategic question that the business is trying to solve. This is the first step because especially because different stakeholders have different goals.

Who – The people involved in the business activity. This could be staff, management, or customers

What – The capabilities and information the business uses to deliver outcomes.

How – The processes followed within the business.

These 4 dimensions can be used to articulate the current state of a business (the as is) and, in the case of why, to articulate the problems the business is trying to solve. The overall goal of an EA framework is to articulate the change within the business that needs to happen to answer the Why. In this way, a target state (to be) can be developed, and a roadmap built that provides a clear overview of the business and help with selecting the most appropriate systems to achieve the goals the company.

It doesn’t matter what size you are; these dimensions are all relevant to your business.

But what does this look like?

To help reflect how this might look, I’ve created two models that represent how to incorporate an EA framework into your business.

The first, called EA4SME reflects the overall approach showing the importance of linkages to strategic outcomes across the business and the steps that need to occur along the way. The cyclical nature of this model conveys that EA is not a “one and done” concept, but a continually evolving part of business excellence.

At the heart of EA4SME is the need for continual evaluation – both the journey towards a target state and the external environment, which can change significantly as we have just seen with Covid 19.

This model is an adaption of a number of common cycles out there, some of which will be familiar to businesses looking to drive improvements.

The second model, called the Strategy Funnel, then focusses on the first 3 stage stages of EA4SME providing a phased approach for how a business can develop a target state that they can use to identify the most appropriate systems.

The phases of EA4SME

Phase 1: Identification of the problem and getting stakeholder agreement on a common definition.

Phase 2: Deals with the articulation of the current state, showing how people, processes and information are impacted by the problem.

Phase 3: This then ties the strategy back to the strategic goals that will be supported by solving the problem.

Phase 4: To identify what changes need to be made, this phase sees a GAP analysis of the current state and the objectives that are being aimed for.

Phase 5: This is point where it is possible to develop a target state that reflects what the business will evolve to. It should include discussion on how the target state will deliver the objectives and manage the gaps,

Phase 6: Before a solution can be found, there is a need to identify the factors such as constraints, benefits, risks, principles) relating to the target state.

Phase 7: As some elements will have dependencies on others, this is the point where a critical path can be articulated.

The result of this is a roadmap for change. With this fully articulated, it’s now possible to choose a solution.

In my next blog, I will provide guidance on how to chose a selection and then deliver it. The final blog in the EA4SME series will then provide a case study where this has been used!

Want to know more about EA4SME? Get in touch today!

Sources used to shape the thinking of this blog:

Bernaert, M., Poels, G., Snoeck M., De Backer, M., 2014. Enterprise Architecture for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: A Starting Point for Bringing EA to SMEs, Based on Adoption Models

Burns, P., Neutens, M., Newman, D., Power, T., 2009. Building Value through Enterprise Architecture: A Global Study. Booz and Co.

Ross, J.W., Weill, P., Robertson, D.C., 2006. Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating A Foundation for Business Execution

Commentary and discussion with peers.


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