Is Your Enterprise Out of Control?

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Before answering this question, consider for a moment: What does “out of control” mean? Someone responding with a broad, long winded answer might refer to Kevin Kelly’s most excellent and timeless book titled Out of Control (1). In a simpler context, please consider the building of a high rise office building or the addition of a large family room, sunroom, patio and pool to an existing house without the benefit of a “blueprint” developed by an architect? Does “out of control” come to mind? No matter how well you organize the building materials and the construction teams, nor how talented the construction personnel are, chaos will develop without the blueprint and the architect! And Kelly talked about this type of “out of control” in his book!

Sometimes employees struggle in an “out of control” environment assuming it is the enterprise norm! Many also assume that the definition of “out of control” means chaos, things have just gone crazy or that a state of corporate turmoil is the status quo. In today’s business world we operate in an environment more technically complex than at any other time and it is getting more complicated every day. This causes some employees to feel “out of control,” awash in the daily chaos of quick fixes to convoluted problems that eventually degrade process efficiency, cloud initiative effectiveness, affect product quality, render poor customer service and ultimately wipe out profit. There are no quick fixes for these faltering enterprises. If there were, these enterprises would have already implemented solutions. So, how can any C-level executive lead their company without the corporate blueprint; a Business Architecture built by a Business Architect?

Consider this! Enterprises are consistently built and rebuilt with inherent architectural design flaws, which create enormous inefficiencies, missed opportunities, and cause havoc within the enterprise. The proof of this is found in the frequent corporate reorganizations, layoffs, failed corporate initiatives, project cost overruns, and numerous business unit failures. In almost every case the current enterprise linkages and relationships are not formally documented, well articulated, sufficiently detailed, well engineered, tightly integrated, nor adaptive enough to respond to ever changing market forces and opportunities. There is another alternative to this “dark side” existence!

Many overlook another characterization of “out of control” discussed in Kelly’s book. To get “in control”, Business Architects must design control into the enterprise and not let it suffer the consequences of misaligned functional management. Ironically, the enterprise is “out of control,” in this context too, since control is designed into the enterprise, but this is a good thing! As just implied in the construction analogy, another corporate reorganization is not required, nor is another round of layoffs of talented experienced people who are “too expensive” to keep around! What is needed is a corporate blueprint, a Business Architecture built, designed and maintained by Business Architects guided by the strategy. Either the enterprise is controlled by its vision and strategy, executed through the Business Architecture or the enterprise is engulfed in unpredictable chaotic events.

Most enterprises are viewed in functional terms rather than through its integrated cross-functional business processes that focus on the customer. Think about it for a moment; the functional view which has dominated corporate behavior for decades looks at the enterprise from a perspective of “inside-out;” describing the enterprise and measuring its success in functional terms. However, an “outside-in” view measures success in customer terms. Sarah Jane Gilbert in a Harvard Business School article states that companies with an “outside-in” perspective aim to provide solutions for customers. Those with an “inside-out” orientation, on the other hand, just focus on products, sales, and the organization (2).

An enterprise that is “out of control,” most likely has an “inside-out” perspective, and this is a bad thing! To get “in control,” an enterprise has to focus on customer solutions, taking an “outside-in” approach. Maybe some are not sure about taking the customer’s view, questioning if it is the right strategic objective to pursue. A review of almost any corporate annual report will find many references to the importance of customers and the intent of the enterprise to delight their customers. However, the purported corporate blueprint seldom formally aligns with the customer! Perhaps in some cases, the C-level leaders talk from an “outside-in” perspective, but they continue to operate from an “inside-out” perspective. Is this conflicting behavior confusing the employees and customers, perhaps leading to an “out of control” enterprise? That is why a customer centric strategic initiative is the right one and so very necessary! This new and evolving corporate blueprint requires a different organizing principle or schema; a purposeful reason for integrating and for the Business Architecture that is a focus on the customers of the enterprise. And of course, the focus on a client, consumer, guest, passenger, patron, citizen, end user, stakeholder and other similar terms are just as valid as customer. We need the long-term view, a permanent fix and an adaptive design that is fully integrated throughout the enterprise and its external domain.

There are no guarantees of success here or hyped-up promises of glory. Only a choice between staying put in an unstructured, chaotic, inherently flawed system, or engineering the enterprise out of this kind of mess with the Business Architecture. It is a tough decision, one made only by visionary leaders with a commitment to creating their view of the future and understanding the opportunities for success from a customer centric Business Architecture perspective.


1. Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. 1994). 2. Harvard Business School, “The Outside-In Approach to Customer Service”


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