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It’s almost a cliché lately that we are in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. But it’s no less true. Organizations worldwide are coping with both increasing financial headwinds and a turbulent social and political landscape. Economic stress leads to a desire for efficiency, but too much efficiency leads to brittleness, as we have seen in the case of the supply chain recently.

Our research indicates that customer-centric organizations remain more competitive and profitable than their peers; such organizations drive their tech strategies to become more adaptive, creative and resilient. Toward these ends, organizations are transforming their old IT operating models into modern technology delivery capabilities, including:

  • Agile and DevOps: Evolving for the past 20 years, these new methods of delivering software-based systems have proven their superiority and are increasingly influencing nontechnical domains.
  • Product and platform teams: We’re moving from a focus on software method to fundamental transformation of the IT operating model, and product-centric approach is being adopted by organizations large and small around the world.
  • The revival of enterprise architecture: The rise of agile, DevOps, and product centricity imply more autonomous teams, but this can lead to sprawl and an unmanaged attack surface — increasingly, Forrester customers are renewing architecture practices, not to slow down innovation but to establish guardrails and define strategic platforms.

Agile and DevOps have been key influences for some time now — two decades for agile and 10 years for DevOps. This is long enough that they are starting to show up in the data. Forrester’s Modern Technology Operations Survey clearly indicates that digital high performers are more likely to be pursuing an agile or DevOps transformation, in terms of both culture and technical practices. This data is supported by many other industry studies. In my mind, there is simply no reasonable doubt anymore about the superiority of these practices for delivering IT products.

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One of the important evolutionary directions of the agile and DevOps worlds is the trend to product teams: Autonomous, empowered, multiskilled and long-lived delivery groups. Moving to this new style requires more than just software methodology or framework: It requires a new operating model, with adaptations along multiple dimensions of organizational practice and priority. Large enterprise organizations such as Disney, JPMorgan Chase, Shell and Target have been switching to this new approach for some time now, going back to 2016 or even earlier. They seek a model that is more suited to the continuous experimentation required for delivering delightful experiences to demanding customers in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world.

Organizations must revisit traditional operational practices

This transformation is not an easy one. Organizations must revisit much long-established, traditional operational practice. They must question their assumptions around specialization, process management, workflow and collaboration, coordination, measurement, funding, culture, governance and much, much more. They must accept an increased degree of autonomy in their product teams, all while still seeking to maintain alignment across larger enterprise goals and value streams.

This need for alignment is resulting in a recent, notable uptick in interest in enterprise architecture. A typical recent inquiry goes something like this: “We disbanded enterprise architecture five to seven years ago because it was high-handed and of unclear value. Now we are reforming it. How can it avoid the ‘ivory tower’ trap?”

Yet there are few capabilities in modern technology more conflicted than enterprise architecture. EA groups, in too many cases, have not been able to articulate the value of their activities. Stories also abound of EA organizations being disbanded because they cared more about ivory-tower architectural purity than about delivering for customers.

And yet, for every tale of an EA team coming to grief, I hear two of companies instituting (or reviving!) their enterprise architecture practices.

Why are companies instituting — or reviving — their EA practices?

Forrester believes that enterprise architecture remains a critical capability for companies looking to operate at scale and stay competitive over extended time horizons. The first phase of agile and DevOps transformation has resulted in far more effective digital delivery. But agile teams’ local optimization has also resulted in a fragmented system landscape.

As one executive recently interviewed by Forrester put it: “Agile teams work wonderfully and creatively; we’ve given them lots of tools where they can get things done quickly and pragmatically. However, I tend to find they make me less resilient.”

Another exec concurs: “In the new agile model, classical IT architectural considerations such as availability, reliability, robustness and supportability often take a back seat to the pure functional considerations.”

Uncoordinated teams may use whatever tools they choose, which translates to expanded attack surface. Related concerns around technology lifecycle management and technical debt are seeing a resurgence in interest. Through techniques such as capability analysis and portfolio management, architecture provides the necessary discipline to address these issues.

Next steps for high-performing EA teams

Ultimately, high-performing EA teams must connect their work clearly to business value and business outcomes and remain grounded in core principles. Only then can EA translate its capabilities into clear services that add real value to digitally transforming organizations. Our goal is to help the modern architect influence complex digital-delivery organizations toward greater sustainability and long-term agility.

The modern technology leader needs to consider whether their organization is adaptive, creative and resilient enough to cope with today’s increasingly volatile world. Your digital operating model may require intervention in order to deliver innovation at the speed that this market demands. Assess your current capabilities and practices, and if innovation has been stifled and overcontrolled, consider a product-centric, agile and DevOps-compatible operating model, in partnership with a revitalized EA capability to maintain overall alignment.

To access further Forrester insights for technology executives, visit here. Learn more about how tech leaders can overcome EA struggles at Forrester’s Technology & Innovation North America Forum, taking place September 29–30, 2022.

Charles Betz

Charles Betz is a VP and Research Director, leading Forrester’s enterprise architecture priority. His research lies in the transformation of the IT operating model, in particular the impact of agile, DevOps and product thinking. He has previously led Forrester’s DevOps and enterprise service management coverage. Prior to joining Forrester, Charles was a chief architect with ATT’s Signature Client Group, where he was responsible for technical strategy with Fortune 100 clients. An author of two books, Charles has a BA in political science and an MS in software engineering, both from the University of Minnesota, and is adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota).

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