Pushing the EA agenda

By Aaron Tan Dani


Project management offices alone are not cutting it. At least, that is the sense that the enterprise IT scene In Malaysia seems to have. One popular belief that emerged is that the practice of Enterprise Architecture (EA) can overcome the high rate of IT project failures. But what is the EA landscape in this region in the first place? EA didn’t just suddenly appear. It has been around since as far back as 1963.

In the region of Southeast Asia so far, the number of governments that have implemented Enterprise Architecture can be counted on one hand; maybe one finger. Among MNCs, the EA software tools have been around, but these are usually driven by vendors who have self-interests to do so.
So the true picture of EA uptake in this region, is murky at best.  Across the pond, more specifically in North America and Europe, it’s a different story.
Gartner found that 50% of enterprise architects have had significant impact on enterprise IT budget activities, either as the “final decision maker” or “great deal of influence.”
Survey results further found that as much as US$331 billion in worldwide enterprise IT spend was a result of enterprise architecture practitioners’ final decision making, while US$774 billion was a result of EA influence. That’s a total of US$1.1 trillion worldwide enterprise IT spending that’s under the sway of enterprise architects.
So EA is recognised as important in another part of the world. And even though EA might pose a threat to technology vendors, opportunities are to be had as well, especially in this region, as enterprise architecture is picking up momentum in Malaysia.
Enterprise architecture in organisations
Prof. Richardus Eko Indrajit, President of IASA, Indonesia Chapter observed, “The cycle of IT is every 5 years. Before IT departments ‘go shopping’ they want to make sure everything is interoperable and they have to see the big picture. So they need enterprise architecture to help.”
Technology vendors had begun enterprise architecture first by producing the software tools to manage it. But organisations like IASA, the Global IT Architect Professional Body, feel that EA should be vendor-neutral and independent.
Organisations tend to have multi-vendor environments, giving rise to vendor politics as different technology brands jostle to gain eyeballs, mindshare and revenue from decision makers. Vendor politics becomes inevitable, because popular belief is that there should be at least two IT vendors for each category of different IT function.
The maximum number of vendors should be three, as beyond that will mean integration, service-level agreement (SLA) and operational-level agreement (OLA) challenges.
It is also one of the reasons organisations approach IASA.  “They have a mix of brands in their IT environment, and they want to make all these brands co-exist,” explained Prof. Eko
EA at work
As far back as 2010, CNN Money Magazine declared ‘Software Architect’ as the number 1 job in America. In comparison, the level of EA adoption in Malaysia still has a very long way to go.
Prof. Mokhtar Mohd. Yusof, a professor at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication at Universiti Teknikal Malaysia, Melaka (UTeM) opined, “The general feeling in local universities and the job market, is that EA is still considered as software tools, rather than as a framework or methodology.
Rather than just a job role or a set of technology solutions, it is really an integration of the two and further solidified by an expansive and growing body of knowledge contributed to by a community of like-minded people.
Prof. Mokhtar opined, “To raise the level of understanding of EA as a framework or methodology, requires a cultural change that may take time.” He did point out that organisations will look at alternative frameworks and methodology  that are easy and cost-effective to implement.
How could an organisation raise awareness about the EA alternative?
Prof. Mokhtar suggested, “Create a critical mass of enterprise architects in the organisation as a catalyst to any effort promoting EA gradually. Also, from tools to methodology and finally framework, institutes of higher learning and training institutions should sponsor showcase organisations as an example of how to implement EA.”
Just as important however, is equipping tech employees’ ability to understand and speak the language of business.
“It is business-as-usual for most organisations without EA. There must be effort from an Information Systems (IS) practitioner to create the need to embark on EA. It has to be by design and not by default! They have to find a business case to do it.”
Prof. Mokhtar admitted that UTeM does not offer any EA-related degree or diploma at the moment, but “there is possibility to use an EA approach to teaching subjects like software engineering and requirements elicitation for instance.”
Requirements elicitation is the practice of collecting the requirements of a system from users, customers and other stakeholders.
Expected benefits of EA
There are organisations in Malaysia that do already realise the benefits of enterprise architecture.
One example is the RM3.2 billion annual turnover FMCG company, F&N Holdings Berhad. Its shared service IT organisation of the company, consists of 55 IT resources and serves 2,000 IT users across Malaysia and Thailand in all IT-related areas.
Head of IT, June Ng shared, “I think we have reached a level of maturity with our IT organisation; and with our business as well; where we’ve got quite a large and complex systems landscape and architecture.
“So, we felt it’s time for us to get our application platforms, our systems and infrastructure a little bit more organised and streamlined. With regards to governance, it’s necessary for us to simplify as much as possible, so that we achieve agility and cost containment.”
For other organisations like RHB Insurance, EA adoption is still premature. But its newly-appointed Head of IT, John Shew who has been in the role since July 2012, is fully knows of its benefits.
John revealed that at the moment his IT department focuses on project management, business analytics and application development. “But I can foresee that the IT team needs to pay more attention to the direction of the business, and at the same time align IT strategies with business strategies.
“We have not implemented enterprise architecture as the organisation isn’t fully exposed to it. But I do understand the benefits it brings and my CEO is very supportive of innovative IT.”
“Nevertheless, I do plan to present EA to the management committee team. It would take some effort to create awareness and understanding at the management committee team level,” John explained.
AUTHOR BIO: Aaron Tan Dani is founder and chairman of IASA Asia Pacific, co-author of the IT Architecture Body of Knowledge (ITABoK) and chief architect of ATD Solution group of companies (Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Australia).
Aaron Tan Dani’s keen passion and selflessness to contribute sees him actively involved in setting up and leading IASA Chapters across the Asia Pacific countries. His close connection with industry leaders and government bodies in the respective APAC countries also gives him the edge and keeps him up to date with the latest technologies’ landscape

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