EA: It’s all about communications

After sitting in one of our focus groups yesterday afternoon (and getting a thoroughly “realistic” assessment of ICT from the perspective of some of our customers!) I am reflecting on the added value that an EA programme is likely to bring to people on the ground, who are struggling to deliver vital services to citizens. Whether those final customers are road travellers, schoolchildren, vulnerable adults or even tourists it can sometimes be difficult to join up and communicate the value that someting quite abstract like an enterprise technical architecture can give them!

Our last ICT strategy essentially gave management the mandate to set up an EA team as a mechanism for making IT a full business partner to our directorate customers. Of course, it takes two to tango, and I have to ask if our directorates want, need, or are even ready for such a partnership. This emphasises communications processes in building the relationships, and indeed Gartner recommend the creation of a communications plan and to create a stakeholder management strategy which grows as the relationship with the business develops.

As this story unfolds I also am coming (slowly – I’m not the sharpest tool in the box sometimes!) to the conclusion that the Gartner architecture process that I diagrammed in my first blog post here is not just designed to deliver an accurate new set of architectural models (and therefore better ICT) but is also designed such that, if followed along with the communications plan and proper stakeholder management, to engage the right bits of the business at the right times.

In fact I now believe that, in making ICT a full partner to the business, the EA process is ENTIRELY about communications. Our EA methodology is a sideshow in this process, which is the story of our relationship with the key players in the business and how that can engender a new understanding in the business of a different way to plan its ICT investments and strategy as well as drastically realign ICT’s understanding of the key priorities in the business and how they are going to deliver them.

Of course we have technical skills, strategic principles, and models – and these are the things we bring to conversations. But the point of the conversations is to educate, to build bridges, to raise understanding on all sides – the better ICT is a result of the better relationship, not the end in itself. If the relationship goes, so does the planning!

Looked at from this point of view, if we sometimes struggle it’s because we don’t make the communication the central plank in our approach. And this also means that we need better skills (I certainly do!!) in communication, influencing, politics, assertiveness, tact, diplomacy, and charm – not skills traditionally associated with an ICT department. Gartner say that most EA programmes fail because they don’t “do the comms” properly – a particular tendency with fundamentally technical people – but I now want to take it a stage further and say that EA programmes fail if they do not put the communications aspects front and centre.

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