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Changing enterprise architect role enables business, software agility

EAs must be the innovators pushing organizations to adopt new technologies that allow business capabilities to change along with new opportunities.

The enterprise architect role has evolved from being the primary enforcers of technology standards to key enablers of business agility. If a business is behind the software technology curve, it's because the EAs are stuck in old roles.

Today, enterprise architects (EAs) must be the innovators pushing organizations to adopt new technologies, like service-oriented architecture (SOA) and cloud applications that allow business capabilities to change along with customer behaviors and business opportunities, according Forrester analyst Sharyn Leaver. An EA needs the skills to harmonize relations between IT and business.

Martin Owen, CEO of EA products and services vendor Corso, said being able to effectively communicate with both sides is a special skill that can help break down barriers. "Most of the people we deal with have business analysts that understand the business process, but don't necessarily know the IT," he said.

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Owen believes it is important to fold an EA into the business structure, rather than just bring one in. "It is as important as having an accountant or sales staff," he said. "People outsource EAs because they don't really understand it. The most successful organizations put EAs directly into the business."

Social and work behaviors are evolving. With businesses becoming more integrated and IT services being commoditized, EAs need to be responsive to changing business models, according to Group CEO Hugh Evans at Enterprise Architects, an EA professional services firm. "More importantly, people are looking for more integrated and seamless experiences from technology, bringing together personal and business use in an easier to consume fashion," he said.

When to bring in an EA

It's best to bring on an EA early in the SOA adoption process. Leaver explained that bringing in EAs from the start can help ensure everyone is on the same page and goals are met. "High-performance EA programs serve as a connective layer between technology and business that guides planning, decision making, innovation and governance activities," he said. 

There are many factors which can trigger the need for an EA. According to Evans, typical triggers include:

  • Market landscape change (macro-economic, industry and competition);
  • Change, review or optimization of business strategies (products and services model);
  • Assessment of ways to reduce complexity and drive a simplification agenda, introduce market differentiation or pull efficiency and effectiveness levers;
  • Change in program planning, execution and governance;
  • Preparation or response for an internal audit; and
  • New business cycle planning.

Microsoft Consulting Services senior strategy consultant Nick Malik said an EA is always needed in a medium-to-large-sized organization, but particularly so when a business goes through change. "The real value the EA brings is in connecting a change to its execution in the organization," he said. "Can it lift the right muscles that address a competitive threat? And if it does so, how does it do it in a hurry?"

Getting the biggest benefit from working with EAs

The biggest challenge in working with an EA lies in being clear about management's goals and the EAs expected deliverables, noted Roger Sessions, chief technology officer  of ObjectWatch, an EA consultancy. The chief information officer might have one set of expectations and the EA another, potentially leading to a major mismatch.

Definitions of the role of the EA run the gamut from understanding how the whole enterprise works together to finding the most efficient way to use the IT budget. Sessions believes a good definition of an EA is the disciple of minimizing the complexity in IT systems while making sure they are aligned with business systems.

The most successful organizations put EAs directly into the business.
Martin OwenCEO of Corso

If the goal is to help address complexity, Sessions recommends using the Simple Iterative Partitions (SIP) framework. He believes SIP is best suited for incorporating clouds into descriptions about IT and business systems. He noted, "The cloud is an important platform. We need to know how to leverage it, which means we need to know more about how the apps are structured and relate to the business processes."

Another challenge lies in getting a handle on the projects in the business. Owen explained, "In the past, an EA would report to an IT manager. Now, organizations are finding the need to do proper business planning and bringing it together with the IT function."

Leaver said there are several deliverables one can expect from good EAs. Capability maps can help identify goals in a language that business stakeholders can understand. The EA might also prescribe the future state using target architectures and create road maps to guide transitions.

It is also useful to have the EA describe changes in the architecture using a consistent language, such as Open Group's ArchiMate, said Owen. Frameworks like TOGAF describe the basics of the enterprise architecture by documenting business processes, whereas ArchiMate describes what the architecture should look like. With TOGAF on its own, one person can describe the infrastructure in one way and it is easier to interpret it differently than with ArchiMate.

"The more complex you get with SOA and the cloud, the more people you have to communicate with," said Owen. "If you can learn the language once, it lowers the barriers to communicating about an infrastructure."

Evans recommends defining a clear mandate with roles, responsibilities and scope. In his experience, the step is frequently overlooked. It is also important to be pragmatic. "The 'enterprise' is large," he said. "Take a concern-based approach to architecture, focus on the specific concerns and do just enough architecture to address the concerns."

A deep sense of trust with the EA should also be cultivated. "The EA is facilitating. He is like a catalyst that encourages, monitors, measures and occasionally governs," said Malik. "He is there to make sure the GM [general manager] is able to express his strategy in a way that shows up in his people."

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