From Designing for Efficiencies to Designing for Intelligence

Laura Mendoza
Experience Matters
Published in
6 min readJan 15, 2021


An enterprise architect’s journey to creative thinking

I started my journey onto becoming an enterprise architect in the late 1990s during the time when companies were undertaking business process transformations through the adoption of ERP systems. SAP’s Business Suite gave me the tools and know-how to prescribe the best solution to my customers. My customers who adopted SAP’s Business Suite achieved excellence in business operations through process automation and simplification. The proofs were in the achievement of key performance indicators (KPIs) that generated tangible business value tied directly or indirectly to the achievement of the company’s business strategies. The intersection of business and technology to find the right problems and create the right solution is what I love about the practice and discipline of enterprise architecture. Stewardship of the information architecture to achieve and sustain operational excellence was the added challenge that kept me motivated to advance my expertise in enterprise architecture.

A Mindset Shift

The purpose of a company is to create a customer — Peter Drucker

We all know that the customer is essential to every business and it is what keeps an enterprise in existence. The value propositions inherent from the goods created and services performed by enterprises are what creates customers. Excellence in customer service is what creates a customer for life.

The emergence of digital technologies such as Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud , Internet-of-Things (SMACIT) and the customers’ growing demand for digital experiences have resulted in immense pressure for traditional goods and services companies to create value propositions that were beyond their mandate and outside of their core competencies. Many internet-born organizations who have created unique and innovative value propositions using these digital technologies were posing grave threats for some company’s survival. The competitive landscape is changing in ways that the traditional companies have not anticipated nor even imagined.

All of these factors have led many companies down the path of digitally transforming their businesses. Companies have to re-imagine their business operating models in order to create new value propositions for customers. Business processes are shifting from transaction processing to AI-infused workflows giving way for innovative ways to achieve operational excellence. And with that shift in business process execution, the nature of work itself shifts from data processing to data consumption giving way to the knowledge worker.

Designing solutions using these technologies to re-imagine business operating models, to re-imagine business processes and to re-imagine the way company’s work require a new way of thinking. Creativity is required to imagine the ‘art of the possible’. Putting user’s needs based on their individual experiences to understand a myriad of oftentimes vague and ambiguous problems is the essential first-step to solving the right problems. The practice and discipline of enterprise architecture to deliver a ‘right-sized’ technology solution that is scalable and sustainable remains relevant in the design process.

SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation

At the Customer Innovation Team in SAP, we have created a methodology that combines the principles and values of Design Thinking and Enterprise Architecture. This combined methodology is called the SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation (HCAI). With Design Thinking, the enterprise architect can overcome ‘fixedness’ in thinking and ‘fixedness’ in the organizational structure by focusing on the end-user’s needs. It helps to eliminate biases and preferences on perceived problems as well as potential solutions. With enterprise architecture thinking, the enterprise architect can fulfill its traditional role of reducing complexity in the application, data and technology domains, thus ensuring no new technical debt is incurred from the introduction of new and modern digital technologies.

The intermix of the 2 methodologies and the interplay of tools and frameworks produces a solution rooted in the desired user-experience matched with what is technically feasible and what is viable in terms of business strategy.

SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation (HCAI) Phases and Outcomes

Designing for Intelligence — Need for a new technology platform

By 2023, 60% of EA practices will design intelligence into their business and operating models. — Gartner

Data is the foundation of intelligence. But data without context is useless. It is only through context that knowledge is gained and insights are discovered. Just like the human brain, it is through layers of data stored in memories and layers of associations combined with the process of synthesis, analysis and reason that intelligence is expressed.

Designing for intelligence requires a new technology platform that is separate and distinct from the operational platforms that supports the business operations. The SMACIT (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, Internet-of-Things) digital technologies is the suite of tools that can mimic how the human brain stores data and processes information to gain knowledge and insights required to solve problems.

For SAP, the intelligence in intelligent enterprise is the SAP Business Technology Platform. It provides unified data management capabilities to connect, discover, orchestrate, and manage both internal and external data; provides services for the use of intelligent technologies (e.g., Machine learning, Artificial intelligence) and data analytics capabilities to improve analytical and transactional workloads; and application services to simplify extension and integration across the intelligent suite.

For a company to become an intelligent enterprise, it has to build capabilities and competencies in collecting and understanding the data, predicting and recommending actions. and acting on recommended actions. The Business Technology Platform has all the tools, business content and services to support all these processes.

The Shift from Creative Thinking to Architecture Thinking

Whether an enterprise architect’s role is to design for efficiencies to support business continuity or to design for intelligence to support the digital transformation and business innovations, the enterprise architect will find value in the combined methodology of design thinking and enterprise architecture.

An illustration of the shift from creative thinking to architecture thnking

The creative design thinking process starts with a dedication to understanding the problems through various user-research methods and tools. Synthesizing findings from the user-research together with the results of the technical discovery is where the solution ideation begins. The shift from creative thinking to architecture thinking happens at the point when the desired user experience through the prototype is validated with the feasibility of the technologies under consideration. The result is a Proof-of-Concept that is technically feasible and can be scaled easily into production.

The business viability factor is consistently considered throughout the design process. It is heavily considered in determining the scope of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once the MVP scope is clearly defined and understood by all stakeholders from business and IT, the shift to architecture design is complete.

The key to become a great enterprise architect is not to have the right answers. Instead, it is about knowing the right questions to ask — Laura Mendoza

Key Take-aways

  1. At SAP, our Human-Centered Approach to Innovation shows a clear connection and value from combining the 2 methodologies of design thinking and enterprise architecture. If I may use the brain analogy — our brain has 2 sides — the creative side (left side) and the analytical side (right side). We have IQ and EQ. All of this makes us intelligent. The same is true with software development. You need the both the left brain and EQ (Design Thinking) and the right brain and IQ (Architecture thinking).

Click on this link to SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation for more details

2. Designing for Intelligence will require a different platform that is separate and distinct from the operational platform where the goal is to continue pursuing operational excellence. The SAP Business Technology Platform has pre-built integration content that can accelerate the company’s digital business process transformation as well as business and technical services to kick-start your digital business innovations. For inspiration ideas on the application of digital technologies to implementing innovative business solutions on the SAP Business Technology Platform, check out the Discovery Center

3. And on a very personal note and speaking from my experience both as a long-time practitioner of EA and a student of design, the last take-away I want to leave you is this: “The key to become a great enterprise architect is not to have the right answers. Instead, it is about knowing the right questions to ask.”