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EA as a Catalyst for Innovation

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Enterprise architecture (EA) in most IT organizations is viewed as a mechanism to achieve compliance and alignment with business needs. Melvin Greer, a senior fellow at Lockheed Martin, challenged enterprise architects to drive EA as an enabler of innovation at various talks and most notably in his interview with Government Computer News (GCN).  InfoQ spoke with Melvin Greer to clarify his vision of enterprise architecture and its impact on the relationship between IT and business.

InfoQ: Innovation means and involves different things for different people. Can you clarify what flavor of innovation can be driven by EA?

Innovation can be defined as the monetizing of good ideas. This is completely inside a business context. When we speak of innovation we are referring to the development of new business activity, new products & services, driving business into adjacent markets and increasing revenue for the organization.

In his talk with GCN, Melvin elaborates on this idea of innovation with an example:

The primary examples where we have used enterprise architecture are in the development of our service-oriented architecture and cloud computing strategy. As the director of [Lockheed’s] SOA Competency Center, the center is focused on ensuring that we can increase the awareness and applicability of service-oriented architecture to all of our relevant government programs. We use enterprise architecture as the measuring stick upon which the SOA infrastructure and SOA solution reside. When we think about how to determine if we have successful SOA implementations, the mechanism associated with our normal alignment as part of enterprise architecture drives the measurement.

Specifically for SOA, Melvin mentions the Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DODAF) and Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework(FEAF) artifacts such as the Information Exchange matrix in conjunction with the service modeling tools that ensure the development of web services contribute to specific business goals. InfoQ further inquired into the impact of EA frameworks on innovation.

InfoQ: Do you think the current EA frameworks address innovation in the way you envision it or do you see specific areas of improvement?

I'm encouraged by the enhancements to the Enterprise Architecture Management Maturity Framework 2.0 as it builds on previous versions by introducing more scope and content to accommodate the evolving and complex nature of EA as one of many enterprise management disciplines. The GAO has updated the framework to reflect enterprise architecture's evolution. What I want to emphasize is the need for architects to change their attitude with respect to EA justification. Architects that know the business are in a better position to use business metrics, develop EA business cases that focus on business innovation and mature architecture program development and deployment along business and mission objectives.

If EA and its related innovation is wholly in the context of the business then what is the concept of IT alignment?  Melvin responded:

I believe this concept of alignment with business is old school EA, we don't say Sales needs to align with the business. It would be laughable to say that. When architects talk about using EA to align IT with the business it sends a dangerous set of messages; 1) It suggests that IT and business have two different objectives, ones that are not in harmony and therefore need to be adjusted to become aligned, 2) It reinforces the idea that IT and business are not on the same team. It signals to the business that IT supports a different mission, does not understand the primary goal and has a different allegiance. When IT speaks the language of business, keeps score using the same tools and metrics as the rest of the business and signals in all communication its contribution to business innovation, alignment becomes an obsolete activity.

 Melvin concluded the chat by explaining current trends that highlight the importance of core business skills for IT heads and the role of EA with reference to technological trends such as SOA and Cloud Computing.

The trend of moving non-IT people into the CIO role is notable. It signals that the preferred skills for the role may be core business skills. The continued dialog and understanding of the relationship between EA, SOA and Cloud computing is also notable. I'm advancing the idea that EA is the foundational process and SOA is the de facto architecture for Cloud computing. This is an exciting time for business transformation and enterprise architects can be at the forefront of the associated rapid innovation.

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