I have been thinking lately about the differences between wants and needs and how they shape our lives. Most of us are pretty clear about what we want and go after it. What we need is a little less clear. Sometimes we know what we need but avoid it (“I want that chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream smothered in fudge sauce” versus “I need to lose some weight”) and sometimes we don’t know what we need and just let our wants drive us (I want to yell at my staff – so I do, but what I need to do is listen to them).

I think what drives many of EAs’ problems is not misalignment with organizational needs (though some of the more theoretical EAs certainly are misaligned as they seem to think architecture is the center of the universe). The real problem is not clearly understanding the difference between what an organization needs and what it wants and having the ability to manage the disparity between the two.

So what do organizations want? For the most part business units and the IT development teams that are aligned with them want to develop solutions that they are comfortable producing. This translates into using technologies and techniques they have been successful using in the past. EA wants them to do it differently and that difference always introduces risk. The risk may be real or imagined, but it doesn’t matter to the PM. Both are real to him. So bottom line, the organization wants to continue using the methods of the past because they are the best predictor of success they have.

What the organization needs is an integrated approach across business units and technologies to: drive down overall IT costs, reduce operational complexity, reduce future operational risk, and improve speed of delivery of future projects – all concerns of most CIOs. The organization also needs to create more adaptable business systems which should be a concern of business leaders but most business leaders have yet to face this problem and don’t have an appreciation of the need – yet. So the bottom line here is that the organization needs to evolve their methods to create more value and evolution is painful.  

EA teams most often try to drive the needs aspect without regard to wants and frequently confuse their own wants – for a highly coherent, elegant architecture design – with what the organization needs. Their goals are mostly in line with CIO concerns but not with organizational wants. CIOs get this and it is a major contributor to the CIOs’ reticence to giving EA teams carte blanch decision authority. This needs versus wants paradigm is what drives EA governance. If needs and wants were aligned there would be no need for governance, everyone would simply do the right thing because they saw it to be clearly in their own best interest.

What CIOs need EA to do is drive consensus among all the players on how IT should provision and operate business systems. To deliver on what the CIO needs, EAs must first understand that their job is not building architecture. It is using the architectural model to drive consensus in thought, strategy, and action. They also should have an appreciation of the needs versus wants gap and accept that it is their job to manage it – with their CIO as well as the rest of the organization.