In the world of digital strategy and execution, SAP enterprise architects (EAs) play a role unlike anything else you would find in an IT organization or services and support partner. They don't sell anything or receive commissions on upselling or cross-selling new products. Instead, EAs are an investment in putting together the right pieces and parts of solution investments, processes, and organizational structure tied to business outcomes
"In our line of work, providing clarity and having an opinion is not enough. Our stakeholders want clarity AND direction on where to go with technology," says Jason Porterfield, Vice President of Enterprise Architecture for the North America region at SAP. "We need to work hard to earn the status of trusted advisor to have that right to say which direction we think they should go."
Porterfield's observation and many more he shared during his session that I attended at the LeanIX Connect Summit Americas in Boston on June 10, 2022 couldn't have come at a better time. I've lost count of the times EAs told me their customers expect a roadmap to be drafted in a couple of days and leave the room. The work EAs do isn't done that way – nor should it be, ever. Instead, customers have to be shepherded to share the right information, allow thoughtful analysis, and turn that document into a living and productive design for the future state.
Building an enterprise architecture takes time and effort, but it doesn't have to be a contentious experience. So how can EAs cut through the misunderstanding? According to Porterfield, four essential adjustments in their process can make a difference.
Tip #1: Tell a Good Story
Great EAs understand everything end to end. They tell good stories that are relevant to their business stakeholders. More importantly, cutting through gigabytes of technical minutia that business stakeholders rarely care about can reveal the previous path that turns challenges into outcomes that matter for meaningful and lasting transformation.
"EAs would never put mountains of information front and center. Their customers and business partners don't want to see it," advises Porterfield. "But when deducing all that insight into a compelling business case, referring to specific findings when asked for proof, and tying data to business outcomes and needed capabilities, EAs gain credibility rarely achieved in business today."
Tip #2: Provide Captivating Visuals
A frustrating aspect of an EA’s work is when an executive starts asking questions that can stop a project in its tracks – especially after new technologies and the overall approach is vetted and approved. "I don't believe your business case" are the six words no one wants to hear but must prepare to answer convincingly.
"IT leaders love making charts that show what technologies will be turned off, which ones will be implemented, and how data will flow across the enterprise system," Porterfield acknowledges. "Organizational leaders – like CFOs – need something more. They want to see new capabilities and opportunities for top- and bottom-line growth and efficiencies that couldn't be gained without the transformation project."
Tip #3: Align with How the Customer Thinks
Every organization has a unique way of looking at its technology and process structures. Some prefer to work in work streams, while others prefer a single point of contact to collect and analyze the business case. Whatever the situation, no one can beat EAs who know their audience and the best ways to cater to its needs.
"Whether an EA has one stakeholder or 20, it's vital to understand the relationship with each contact within the company," remarks Porterfield. "EAs must reflect on how they can improve those connections, show their business case visually, avoid traps opened by misconceptions or flawed thinking, and prepare the organization for a future state based on their values and vision.”
Tip #4: Show the Courage to Be Transparent
EAs like to present sound, highly visual stories – and they should. However, few customers have the patience, mindshare, and time to listen to a 113-slide presentation on architecture, process, challenges, transformation steps, timelines, and goals. Instead, they want to hear only the specific details they care about and see proof that the right changes are being made.
"Support is not given when EAs maintain a roadmap, govern it, and challenge people when they deviate from it without a valid reason or change request. That “IT knows best” mentality just makes people angry and frustrated," Porterfield warns. "Instead, EAs must approach the project or program as a collaborative partnership always geared toward delivering business expectations."
Roadmaps are the middle part, not the beginning or end
It's incredible how much time senior leaders spend on multi-page enterprise architecture strategies and roadmaps – arguing over colors, chevrons, ovals, and other nit-picky elements. Then, they declare it’s done, drop the mic, and move on. Porterfield argues that this is a mistake.
“In my 24 years of working in technology, not a single multi-year roadmap delivered by me or my organization has been realized perfectly. This is because industries, business models, and the overall economy do not sit still. They change, and roadmaps must have a regular review and update process to stay aligned to the evolving needs of the business.”
Good EAs know how to address every need, requirement, and change while maintaining the integrity of the overall strategy. They demonstrate industry and business expertise that drives their ability to craft a good story and visuals, align with the customer mindset, and foster the courage to innovate and change to deliver clear business value.
And Porterfield is an EA veteran who understands the power of that role. To learn more about these tips and hear his stories about his experiences in the field, watch his LeanIX Connect Summit Americas session, "Creating Outstanding Enterprise Roadmaps."
From Boston to Berlin - Next up for me is the LeanIX Connect Summit Europe in Berlin on September 20-21 of this year - more great insights at this free in-person and virtual event for Enterprise Architects. Plus we will have a special meetup session for SAP Customers at this Berlin event.
What are your thoughts on these four tips in this article as well as other tips that you may have?