Enterprise Architects: Friend Or Foe Of Corporate Innovation?

Corporate Explorer
Enterprise Architects Friend Or Foe Of Corporate Innovation

This article was originally published on Forbes.

It’s hard to deny the buzz that comes from publishing a book. When I published my first book, Corporate Explorer: how corporations beat startups at the innovation game, I got invitations to speak from all over the world. I got to meet thousands of new people, all working on how to lead innovation inside an existing corporation. It’s clear that this is an emerging community of corporate explorers, engaged in the effort to set up new corporate ventures.

The most surprising of these invitations was from the enterprise architecture community. Paul Kurchina, John Gøtze, and others, reached out within the first few months after the book was published to talk about bringing the Corporate Explorer message to an audience of CIOs, IT directors, enterprise architects, SAP centers of excellence, and the like.

At first, I had to scratch my head in puzzlement. Mostly, my experience was that IT departments are part of the “silent killers” of innovation that plague Corporate Explorers. They impose unnecessary rules and insist on conformity, even though it is at odds with the need to move rapidly to cease an opportunity. Corporate Explorers are dealing with high uncertainty. They do not know if the business model they propose will work and it’s important for them to run small scale experiments to validate or invalidate their assumptions.

IT departments typically make it hard to run experiments. They impose rules designed for controlling cost and minimizing risk in large complex organizations. For example, one client we are working with has struggled to get the IT team to relax its approach to third party data usage so that it can learn how to build customer communities online. This is a vital part of an important business project, but the dead hand of bureaucracy stops an innovation team from learning safely what might be possible. They only see the need to conform to rules based on the risks of actions undertaken on a massive scale.

Corporate Explorers also incubate a new culture for many. They show how to work in agile sprint teams, making decisions based on evidence with frequent pivots. Instead of enabling these teams to use the latest collaboration tools, like MIRO, we have another client that insists on “e-whiteboard” products that lack the functionality required. This encourages the view that IT imposes rules to control cost, not to add value.

However, as I engaged with enterprise architects, I found a community deeply aware of some of these challenges. They see a need to adapt historic practices and find ways to facilitate innovation. They are aware that there is an inherent contradiction between an insistence on conformity and a commitment to supporting business experiments.

This is why Paul Kurchina and I want to invite the Enterprise Architect community to join the conversation on corporate exploration. We are kicking this off with a virtual community event in September, convened by Paul, with me as the guest speaker.

If you would like an invitation, please get your copy of the Corporate Explorer Fieldbook and answer 5 questions on how Enterprise Architects can enable Corporate Explorers. We will follow up with an invitation to the webinar in early September.