Prepare Your Organization for Disruption

Disruptive events require a nonlinear approach to enterprise architecture.

Disruption comes in many forms and affects all organizations. It’s up to enterprise architecture (EA) professionals to design organizational structures that can deal with such changes and new realities, no matter what they entail.

When disruptive, rapidly evolving events occur, organizations must already be in a position to capitalize upon the disruption

“Big disruptions can be hard to predict, seem to happen more frequently than ever, and often have a complex ripple effect, impacting the whole ecosystem of customers, partners, suppliers and even societies,” says Phil Allega, research vice president at Gartner. “To cope with this, we predict that 55% of organizations will have a continuous and integrated business and IT strategy planning effort by 2020.”

Allega makes several initial recommendations to build a world-class EA capability that is able to cope with most of the disruptions your organization will face.

Take a proactive, nonlinear architectural approach

Traditional IT and EA organizations focus on existing and emerging business processes, technology investments, people skills and more. The assumption for planning and funding is that there will be a continuous forward evolution — a linear approach to the change of all these elements.

EA leaders must be engaged in trendspotting

When everything is running smoothly, this approach works well. But when disruptive, rapidly evolving events occur, organizations must already be in a position to capitalize upon the disruption. In other words, the key to capitalizing on disruption is the ability to quickly pivot toward the optimal business outcome.

This means EA leaders must be engaged in trendspotting. Trendspotting allows enterprise architects to help their leadership teams quickly assess rapid changes. In turn, this allows for insightful considerations and options to enable a rapid change of direction.

Determine the degree to which your organization can reverse investment commitments

EA practitioners often design for indestructibility, or at least stability, assuming there will be no changes to agreed-upon commitments. They start with a target state and map the path to get there, creating deliverables that guide and inform the journey to the future state.

The problem is that when conditions change — from environmental laws and social norms to political leaders and economic partnerships — much of the work and capabilities put in place can become redundant. It is for this reason that EA leaders must take a proactive — rather than tactical or reactive — architectural approach to: understand the impact of unwinding commitments, plan for an exit, and communicate changes to both the business and IT landscape.

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Create a high-velocity decision-making capability

In response to Brexit, a banker said that preparing for it was, “No different from the daily analysis we do on our portfolios anyway.” This is the crux of how organizations should prepare themselves for potential, massive disruptions.

EA leaders must build processes to monitor the state of change when disruptions, and the impact of those disruptions, are moving fast. This means proactive engagement with business and IT leaders to support EA decision-making capabilities via the implementation of a management command center to quickly address changing concerns.

Apply scenario planning to forecast risk and opportunities

Nonlinear responses require EA leaders to map out scenarios in advance. This discipline may be new to many. A few tips:

  • Prepare scenarios for the top two to three disruptive events that could affect your business over the next 12 to 24 months.
  • Use these scenarios to inform strategy and tactical planning efforts, and also to help educate peers on the power of scenario planning.
  • Invest in education and training for your EA team on scenario planning as a practice and discipline.
  • Consider using a real-world threat or opportunity as part of a collaborative team activity.

Focus on “good enough,” rather than “ideal,” as deadlines loom

Many massive disruptions have regulatory and legal impacts with specific dates that cannot be altered. Even when there are no hard deadlines, a disproportionate amount of time and effort is spent perfecting nonessential functionality.

It’s important to make trade-offs relative to the delivery date, and to communicate these in advance. Use assessment criteria to communicate the state of existing solutions relative to the future impact of the impending disruption. As the deadline comes closer, some options for robust solutions are no longer viable.

Gartner clients can read more in "Massively Disruptive Events Require a Nonlinear Approach to Enterprise Architecture" by Phil Allega and Betsy Burton.

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