It helps business leaders to think of digital transformation with an analytical mind: “My industry is affected by digital transformation. My businesses will be disrupted by the changes. How do I make the most of this situation? What wheels should I put in motion to realize the benefits of digital?” Successful digital transformation enables the organization to embrace innovation, to develop new products and models, and to rapidly realize those to create value. Although there are no blueprints for success, we will examine three best practices that can allow businesses to increase speed and reduce cost, reach customers with an excellent user experience, and experiment with new products, features, and models.
Enterprise architecture (EA) can translate the transformational changes of digital in an industry to initiatives for adopting digital in a business. The cross-functional nature of EA makes it ideal to operate beyond an otherwise narrow technology focus and to be the origin of each of the following three best practices, which have been singled out for assisting with digital transformation:
- Establishing a common language
- Capability modeling
- Strategic product development
We can apply each to the effects of digital transformation, with the intent of creating value for the business.
Enterprise architecture has long advocated the use of a common language in organizations for the benefit of fostering communication between the business and IT functions. Collaboration is the source of most innovation in an organization. Discovering digital products and models is often hindered by the lack of a common understanding among participants; the issue is further magnified with the multitude and variety of functions involved. Cross-functional collaboration becomes significantly more productive, saves precious time, and speeds up planning when the parties speak the same lingo. The source of the benefits is largely cultural, including an intentionally designed business vocabulary, which becomes the foundation through socialization for analysis and design.
Mature organizations model new products and draw up associated processes early on. The power of a common language is most important when describing and optimizing such processes. Duplications and redundancy, in part or as a whole, become obvious when the vocabulary — as well as the method — for process definition is common across the organization. Early optimization of processes becomes much easier and lays the foundation for continuous optimization at a later stage. Beyond the vocabulary, technology standards and policies help establish commonalities in a similar fashion on different levels of abstraction. Design principles, decisions, and patterns help establish valuable practices and assets for the technology functions. They encapsulate many of the best practices and enable reuse of those across multiple projects.
Capability modeling, or mapping, enables business analysis and business/IT architecture alignment (for more details, see: “The Business Capability Map: The ‘Rosetta Stone’ of Business/IT Alignment”). If common language offers clarity, then capability modeling provides a focus for discussion in order to discover opportunities for innovation across the organization. The models also work as a communication tool and explain how technologies form new capabilities. Business functions then have a better chance to understand and make use of such technologies, while IT functions can focus on offering the capabilities most valuable to the business. This understanding is critical in making the best use of those capabilities by focusing on some of the core and divesting or partnering the rest. Moreover, capability modeling helps identify areas best-suited for automation — a major step in adopting digital and transforming a business.
Identifying the core capabilities also benefits the user experience by establishing the optimal user journey — the aspect of a business process that involves user interaction. The identified capabilities offer the focus for the experimentation that drives the evolution of the user journey and, subsequently, the user experience, which is then incorporated in the product strategy.
Strategic Product Development
The culture for experimentation at an organization scale and the application to product development could not be further from traditional waterfall planning and rigid budgeting practices. EA’s contribution to strategy and execution brings accelerated product development and faster technology implementation. It achieves this by introducing Agile practices for the entire product development lifecycle. In addition, strategically established roles and responsibilities support cross-functional collaboration and contribution in the organization. These can include a product manager with a focus on digital capabilities or a chief digital officer responsible for enabling all digital in the enterprise.
Experimentation is a beneficial practice in any organization focusing on agility and wanting to move fast with product development. It allows new ideas to hatch and to test them rapidly before investing significant effort and money in the execution. It increases the speed of product development by reducing excessive work from the early stages of product implementation. Another source of speed are industry models and blueprints that expedite the analysis and solution design. The IT architectures and appropriate governance used on projects accelerate development and offer technology assurance. Digital projects typically incorporate architectures of mobile, cloud, and analytics as building blocks of the overall product architecture.
[For more from the author on this topic, see "The Digital Transformation Journey: EA Best Practices."]