Today’s projects, tomorrow’s bigger picture: an examination of Enterprise Transformation

By Allen Brown, CEO, The Open Group

Enterprise Transformation seems to be gathering momentum within the Enterprise Architecture community. It’s a term that seems to have originated in the EA community but which could be quite strange to senior executives or others in non-IT functions. Although Google finds 39 million web search results for the term, almost all of them reflect an IT perspective. The Journal of Enterprise Transformation is an official journal of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) and the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). While the systems engineering community’s notion of systems is based on general systems theory and is thus inclusive of much more than IT systems, the EA community has a tendency to see the world though “IT-colored glasses;” and this in turn colors its understanding of Enterprise Transformation.

A search in Wikipedia for enterprise transformation returns a page headed, “Business transformation” which says that it is “a key executive management initiative that attempts to align an organization’s initiatives relating to people, process and technology more closely with its business strategy and vision.” So it’s all about alignment, is it?

Well, of course not. It is, in fact, the process of fundamentally changing an enterprise, a process which starts with a vision and the formulation of a compelling and achievable strategy to realize that vision. While this is sometimes driven by the need to respond to disruptive change, it can also be about betting the company on a new path, just as Kimberly Clark (owner of the Kleenex brand) did when they sold their paper mills.

IT has become a key driver in transforming industries. But it takes strong and visionary leadership (Amazon) or the emergence of a critical mass of individuals joining an effective movement (open source, file sharing, etc.) to get there.

IT is also a critical tool for competing in many existing industries. In some cases the transformation needed is beyond the capabilities or resources of the enterprise — record retailers and book stores have found that out. Sometimes the transformation is dramatic but for most of us it is a steady process. When Sam Walton was asked what made WalMart an overnight success, he replied that it took 25 years of hard work. Jim Collins‘ book, “Good to Great,” goes to great pains to emphasize that this level of transformation is a long, slow, steady process.

The risk inherent in conflating Enterprise Transformation and Enterprise Architecture is that it blows up in our faces. If we told a senior executive that we are going to transform the enterprise, we might be told that simply catching up would be good. There are many senior executives out there who see IT as holding them back rather than being an agent of transformation. If we promise transformation, are we setting expectations too high? What happens when the project is delayed, costs over-run and the outcomes do not quite live up to the promise? Will others think that this is just another one of those IT fads? What happened to rapid and agile anyhow?

I know they are still there. I am just looking at it from the other perspective.

In some cases the projects we are working on may not seem to be very transformative but taken together with other projects, over a period of time, a transformation, for better or worse, will have taken place. The great thing about the term “Enterprise Transformation” is that it makes us consider today’s project in the context of that bigger picture. And when we understand that bigger picture, perhaps we can offer ideas that would add more value.

With this post, The Open Group celebrates its 100th blog post since launching 10 months ago! Thanks to all our bloggers, subscribers and readers for getting us to this milestone.

Enterprise Transformation is a subject that will be discussed in depth during both The Open Group Conference, Taipei, Oct. 24-26; and The Open Group Conference, San Francisco, Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2012. Join us for standards and case studies on Enterprise Architecture, Cloud Computing, Security and more, presented by preeminent thought leaders in the industry.

Allen BrownAllen Brown is the President and CEO of The Open GroupFor more than ten years, he has been responsible for driving the organization’s strategic plan and day-to-day operations; he was also instrumental in the creation of The Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA), which is now known as The Association of Enterprise Architects. Allen is based in the U.K.

One comment

  1. Hello,

    Agree. Transformation is a journey. Too make sure we don’t get stock in the middle of this journey, we might not sell too high expectations from the begining even if our deepest willing are those high expectations.

    One who wants to travel far, steady wins the race.

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