Finding a common language between the business and IT sides of the enterprise is one of the main roles played by the enterprise architect (EA).

And according to Sylvain Garneau, EA for Resolute Forest Products, “aligning business strategy with IT action” is both a key part of his day-to-day work and among the most important ways to enable the long-term evolution of his company’s technology landscape.

Understanding how applications and systems work, as well as how to operate and maintain them, is only one critical IT function that the EA provides within an organization. Increasingly, EAs must also be cross-functional communicators, translating IT capabilities into meaningful business solutions, and delivering value to both business colleagues and customers.

At this week’s ASUG Tech Connect conference in New Orleans (Nov. 7–9; register here)—this fall’s destination event for the North American technology community and a go-to occasion for developers, practitioners, enterprise architects, and global IT leaders in the SAP product ecosystem—Garneau will reflect on the EA’s evolving role in a variety of educational, interactive settings.

First, Garneau will join Peter Keller, Enterprise Architect at SAP, to lead a peer discussion around how the EA can support the planning and execution of transformation activities to adopt SAP S/4HANA, SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), and other SAP solutions. Then, he’ll participate in a community session led by members of the ASUG Enterprise Architecture Alliance, a year-round opportunity for EAs to stay up to date with the latest industry trends and best practices while networking with other professionals.

Ahead of ASUG Tech Connect, ASUG sat down with Garneau to discuss his experience as an enterprise architect, both as an invaluable asset to Resolute Forest Products and as a thought leader for the ASUG technology community.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

ASUG: How does your EA practice support the planning and execution of transformation activities at Resolute Forest Products?

Garneau: The enterprise architect aligns the strategic objectives of the business with what IT provides as a service; that’s the main task of the enterprise architect. You can think of this alignment in three areas: motivation, process, and technology.

  1. Motivation explains how and why we pursue modifications to IT landscapes: the objectives, assessments, challenges or issues, and expected benefits.
  2. Process refers to business processes and capability layers, within discussions of what’s involved in those modifications and how it will change the work that people do.
  3. Technology refers purely to IT objects: Systems, applications, integration, database servers, and others.

It’s very important that business and IT teams have a common understanding of where we are. This is why I’ve established an enterprise architecture map, which includes those three layers of information representing impacted objects and dependencies between them. This visual map serves as a powerful communication tool to demonstrate the current status, targeted status, and changes required to meet business requirements. This target architecture must bring value to the company and respect the standards in place.

ASUG: What challenges have you faced in building an EA practice and aligning enterprise and IT strategies?

Garneau: Without hesitation, time. One of the challenges I always face is having enough time to properly design the best solution. Today, changes are required by our business more and more quickly, and the time allocated to designing each solution is as a result greatly reduced. Another challenge, of course, is to continuously update documentation and train our IT teams, in order to provide adequate support for the business.

ASUG: Finding a common language between the business and IT sides of the enterprise is one foundational challenge for the EA. What techniques have you found helpful in closing this distance amid managing day-to-day operations?

Garneau: The EA map I mentioned can be presented with more or less detailed versions. This map shows motivations; therefore, it is useful to discuss the map with managers, because they can see the strategic objectives on which they work and by which they are evaluated. Businesspeople are able to understand this map because we can discuss it in terms of process and capabilities. And, of course, IT people can see technological objects on the map.

What allows us to reach a common understanding are the links between objects included in these layers. If, as an example, the business requirement is to improve the efficiency of an inventory management process, everyone will be able to refer to the objects of the layer or layers they control and thus see the impacts of any changes on those sets of objects. I started that map last year. The biggest challenge of maintaining it is to find people who have knowledge of all the objects and links between the objects.

ASUG: What challenges have you faced from new technology on the market? How do you handle that challenge of orienting the business toward transformation?

Garneau: Monitoring, research, and prototyping can all be full-time jobs in the process of evaluating to what extent a new technology will or will not bring value to the company, and the extent to which that technology is aligned with the business strategy. That’s too often the case in situations where companies have lean IT teams or are tasked with a combination of day-to-day support and long-term project tasks.

ASUG: How do you navigate the question of whether to pursue cloud-first transformation or implement on-premises software?

Garneau: I believe that we should not fall into the trap of placing our choices only on one side or the other. I start from the principle that businesspeople will express their requirements in terms of functionality, and it is up to us in IT to find the best technological solution—cloud or not—to meet their needs. The request is rarely that the business wants “cloud.”

We must consider all the scenarios that will be impacted by our final decision to move to the cloud or stay on-premises, such as the workforce currently in place and the one yet to be trained, the process of purchasing technologies such as servers, available support, the need for integration, and so on.

Based on market trends, the SaaS model is becoming more important, and the advantages are in many cases greater than the disadvantages. In that scenario, you only need to pay for the use of the solution. You do not manage the technical aspects of the applications and, moreover, the roadmap and future development for features within all of the applications is shared by many companies. Staying up to date is easy, because no matter what you are dealing with within your business, you’re moving forward at a set pace.

ASUG: For companies that do not run SAP end-to-end, and that have legacy systems in place alongside one SAP or S/4 instance, what are the challenges of driving the overall software portfolio of the enterprise?

Garneau: If you only run one SAP software, whether it is SAP S/4HANA or SAP ECC, it’s easy, because everything resides inside one software. It becomes more complex the more you add software application systems to that, because you are suddenly dealing with mixed technology, vendors, contracts, and requirements. This causes complexity and adds to a variety of items inside that heterogenous landscape. Managing different systems is the biggest challenge, and integration is the key.

For integration, we rely on SAP Process Orchestration, and we have knowledgeable people throughout the business, handling integration and taking the subject seriously. As an enterprise, your overall IT system landscape is only as strong as your integration tools and their performance.

ASUG: What role does the EA practice play in the planning and execution of transformation activities on the way to SAP S/4HANA and SAP Business Technology Platform migrations?

Garneau: One role the EA plays is to make sure that IT projects of that scale are co-piloted by businesspeople, and that there is a clear commitment from management. IT is in service to the business. And alignment with business strategies will ensure that the project will involve the right people, that it will be planned and executed at the right time, and that it will therefore provide value.

ASUG: In joining peer discussions like the ones you’ll participate in at ASUG Tech Connect, what kinds of questions do you seek to have answered? How do you approach these types of sessions?

Garneau: I’m trying to find people moving along the same evolution path as myself. I’m always participating actively by sharing my experience and expertise, trying to find solutions to challenges presented by others. This is the biggest benefit, for me. I also need to be sure I’m sharing my information, because it’s important to give back to the community and connect with one another.

ASUG: What benefits have you gained from the EA ASUG Alliance?

Garneau: I’ve always said we have to find ways to continue our conversations outside of events. That’s really important, and the ASUG Alliances are one way to do that, which is one reason I truly believe in them. People can connect frequently through them. I hope to get to a point where we have monthly meetings, at the same hour and on the same day; currently, it’s only four times a year. But I truly believe in continuing the conversation and sharing content with other people. It’s a major benefit for me.

Do you have questions for Sylvain Garneau? If so, you can connect with him on LinkedIn—and remember to meet him at “Enterprise Architecture Peer Discussion: Adopting SAP S/4HANA, SAP BTP, and other SAP Solutions” and “Discover Community with the ASUG Enterprise Architecture Alliance!” during this week’s ASUG Tech Connect conference in New Orleans.

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