Take an Outside-in Perspective

15 February 2014

As an enterprise architect, I ask myself continuously the question how I can contribute to the creation of business value for the enterprise. How can we design or improve structures that enable the enterprise to create more value?

The basic model

If we look at an enterprise from a very high level, the basic model of an enterprise is to turn the money of investors in business value for customers, in collaboration with partners in the supply chain.

If we want to take the word ‘enterprise’ in our job titles seriously, I believe we should change our mental model from an inside-out oriented perspective to an outside-in oriented perspective. How can we connect the investment value chain with the operational value chain to create more value for the customer?

Outside In Architecture

Shape and structure

I still see a lot of enterprise architecture efforts that are mostly focused on the internal structure of an enterprise. But how can you design an optimal internal structure if you don’t understand how the enterprise operates in his external environment?

Sometimes I make the analogy between the black box view of the enterprise - how the enterprise shows itself to the external world – and the white box view of the enterprise – how the enterprise is organized internally to implement its desired behavior on the outside. Or the external shape of the enterprise and the internal structure of the enterprise.

Enterprise architects should come up with solutions that connect the external shape with the internal structure to create value in the most efficient way.

Shape and structure

Why shift?

Changing your mental model to an outside-in perspective, is not a cosmetic change. It really means that everything you do starts from your passion on how the enterprise creates value for its customers. Putting the customer central stage, is a complete shift in the way you think, act and feel.

  1. Thinking outside-in also means combining your engineering spirit with an enterprising spirit. Designing structures that create ROI for investors by creating value for customers. Instead of designing structures for the sake of the structure itself.
  2. It also means that we can measure the contribution we make as an enterprise architect. Companies with ‘good’ enterprise architecture manifest shapes and structures that encourage value creation. Companies with ‘less good’ enterprise architecture manifest shapes and structures that constrain or even inhibit value creation.
  3. It also means that we can drive our enterprise architecture efforts from the challenges in the structural performance of our enterprise, and as such become a professional goal-driven discipline.

The outside context

Another (and maybe even more important) reason for changing our focus to outside-in architecture, is the market context itself.

Enterprises do not rule the world anymore.

It is the outside market and the consumers outside who will determine the context. And enterprises will have to think how to appear in this context. Companies that want to survive and grow in an ever changing world, need to continuously innovate their business model taking into account disruptive trends and forces.

Enterprise architects need to constantly analyze the impact of disruptive trends and forces on the shape and structure of the enterprise.

Disruptive forces

If we want to generate real business value from our enterprise architecture investments, we should take an outside-in perspective on our enterprises. Because at the end, the real business value is created outside.

Johan Merckx

Written by Johan Merckx

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