Enterprise Architecture and Sustainability: Meeting the UN’s Sustainability Goals

enterprise architecture and sustainability
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Michael D’Onofrio, CEO of Orbus Software, investigates the vital role of Enterprise Architecture in supporting governments to meet the UN’s sustainability goals

In 2015, the United Nations defined 17 goals for sustainable development. We’ve seen a greater emphasis on sustainability as of late in the current global environment and governments worldwide continue to lift sustainable development goals (SDGs) higher up their agenda. For organisations, this means that efforts to accelerate sustainable development are now a major focus point and Enterprise Architecture (EA) will be a crucial tool to achieving such goals.

By safeguarding the future of organisational change, Enterprise Architecture enables the execution of strategic development by mapping out the most effective and efficient path to reach a desired future state. While government organisations, in particular, are under more pressure to implement SDGs, there is an opportunity to leverage broader EA learnings from industry where similar sustainability efforts are being pursued.

SDGs, business objectives, and EA

The 17 SDGs are divided into a total of 169 metrics with targets to be achieved by 2030. From eliminating poverty to improving social equality and economic growth, each is uniquely interlinked to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Indeed, the responsibility to contribute to the targets — and the new possibilities for doing so in our digital and connected world — has begun to resonate. To that end, the SDGs also have a new champion in the form of forward-thinking business leaders as Corporate Social Responsibility rises up the workplace agenda.

This is where Enterprise Architecture plays a vital role. Although it does not specifically intersect with sustainability in all areas, it should be used as a critical enabling tool to achieve sustainability goals. With the UN’s goals of hitting all SDGs by 2030 looking lofty, governments around the globe have adopted Enterprise Architecture to address technology roadmaps. If a government develops a new system for energy management, for example, then they could then link technology roadmaps to help achieve SDG targets related to clean and affordable energy. This could help companies assist in achieving the climate action development goal, which currently risks moving in the wrong direction (2020).

However, the bigger issue at hand here is the direct approach to analysing, reporting on, and achieving SDG targets. Enterprise Architecture and its various sub-domains will need to learn to adapt to requirements for sustainable development. Given that some organisations already have various EA implementations in place, developing company-specific SDGs from scratch may be easier for some companies in contrast to others. This is because these enterprises are already aware of the principles of EA, and the immense opportunity that comes with the value of data to drive better business outcomes. In short, half of the work is already done – it’s a case of adjusting existing Enterprise Architecture practices to evaluate and map out sustainability-related operations.

Companies that invest in Enterprise Architecture for sustainability efforts generally find that improved resilience, better operational performance, and business success also follow. To that end, sustainability, digital transformation and of course, Enterprise Architecture, are becoming inherently intertwined.

Delivering sustainability driven by data

From a data perspective, Enterprise Architecture is well equipped to cope with and can help map SDG targets to architectural domains which reveal the portfolio requirements in terms of the information, processes, and business capabilities.

The Business Motivation Model (BMM) is well suited for this. With a BMM, organisations can determine the questions they will need to answer to meet each goal, and can then create an operating model which details the structures needed to achieve the outcomes. Essentially, leveraging this model allows architects to design a solution by identifying the people and processes they need, and establish how they can feed into the strategy for an SDG.

Another tangible way that EA enables the SDGs is via specific frameworks. As an example, the IndEA (India Enterprise Architecture) is a framework with several dimensions that address the SDGs. Included in such dimensions is the performance tracking model, a business model that maps services to goals, and a data model which determines what information an organisation needs to achieve the SDGs. Additionally, integration models – detailing how different aspects of the overall reference model feed into each other – need to be integrated to achieve the ultimate goals of the organisation.

The future of EA and sustainability

Although sustainability as a topic has gained significant momentum, we must admit that we are yet to make significant progress towards all government and business organisations setting and hitting SDGs. Nonetheless, sustainable development is undoubtedly an important area for Enterprise Architects to consider within daily practice.

Away from the fact that no one wants to see a future filled with poverty or wasted essential resources, national governments are likely to become more serious about achieving such goals leading up to COP26 in November this year while leveraging the tools available to them.

As such, will we see a future where companies increasingly leverage technology in the fight for sustainable development? Or the passing of regulations which compel better reporting and activity towards each of the goals? All functions within organisations have a part to play in aligning strategy, processes and capabilities to define how sustainable development targets can be achieved.


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