Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Should a company’s annual report be required reading for Enterprise Architects's?

I was recently reviewing the Annual report published by my employer (Syngenta - link) and began reflecting on why it should be among required reading for Enterprise Architects. Most publicly listed companies have to publish an Annual Report, copies of which are generally available to shareholders, stakeholders and public on the company’s website. The format, structure and Table of Contents may vary, but most reports contain financial and non-financial information and also details on strategies and successes. Per the SEC, an Annual Report
is usually a state-of-the-company report, including an opening letter from the Chief Executive Officer, financial data, and results of operations, market segment information, new product plans, subsidiary activities, and research and development activities on future programs. Reporting companies must send annual reports to their shareholders when they hold annual meetings to elect directors. Under the proxy rules, reporting companies are required to post their proxy materials, including their annual reports, on their company websites.
A few reasons why an Annual report is a handy reference for Enterprise Architects
  • Data and Information: Annual reports generally contain a treasure trove of financial and non-financial information one can use. Companies typically include regional and business unit related information including growth, profitability and other details. Referencing such data in analysis and discussions can minimize ‘noise,’ as one can point back to the Annual Report as the source of truth.
  • Validate your understanding of strategy: Many of the strategic initiatives, investments and programs that EA’s review will be aligned with strategies publicly stated* in annual reports. Such a periodic review should help EA’s validate “strategic initiatives” being worked on vis-a-vis those communicated to external stakeholders. The execution of some of the strategies, especially those spanning many years may also be highlighted in consecutive reports to emphasize its significance to external and internal stakeholders.
  • Refresher on business ‘Buzz’ words: Annual reports are filled with buzzwords, acronyms, product information, and terminology that business leaders and executives may echo in their discussions. EA’s and technology executives should find it easy to catch on to those, and also continually refer back to the handy guide.
  • Onboarding external SMEs: Enterprise Architects periodically engage with external Subject Matter Experts for specific projects and to bring in external ideas. An abstract of the Annual Report can be a handy reference for onboarding external SMEs too, and can generally be done without a risk of giving away internal information.
I picked on a few obvious benefits of reviewing Annual Reports. But I don’t want to over-simplify the context and its limitations, especially since the document is intended to be publicly available. One can think of it as an individual’s Linkedin profile that highlights the background details and perhaps some of the recent achievements without giving specific details of the project/s the individual is working on.

There are bound to be obvious reasons why details of a strategy, tactics or execution may not be mentioned in the Annual Reports. Details of business intelligence, competitive analysis, tactics for execution or innovation and new product development may not be available. As should be apparent, some of the statements may feel like looking back in the rear-view and may seem obvious to those in the organization.

Enterprise Architects continually debate the need to have a seat at the table, and aspire to engage business stakeholders. A periodic review of the company’s annual report should be the first step in such executive engagement. Interestingly, review of Annual Report seems to get little mention in EA discussions and forums. Perhaps one reason is that fellow EA’s already have this in their toolkit, in which case the discussion is moot?

Cross post from my linkedin Pulse article

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