17 years, 1 month ago

When does an Enterprise Architect become something else?



Once upon a time there existed in the land of IT the PMs, Analysts and Developers, roles were few, well defined, few solutions needed more than a handful of people to work together  and all was good. Change happened, complexity increased and people specialised into many different areas. Systems became more complex and started to inter-operate.


From the confusion arose the architect to bring order and standardisation. But this was not enough and the nay-sayers kept wailing that the business did not understand IT and that IT had no clear model of the value it provided to the business. Some even said IT didn’t matter any more.


The architect stood taller and looked broader and saw that Enterprise Architecture was needed. A bridge to understand where the organisation was today, where it was going to be and what needed to happen to get there. The role is complex and has one foot in IT and one in the business with fingers in many pies from benefits, programmes, business models, standards, patterns, strategies and priorities.



Enough of the creative writing.


Enterprise Architecture and the enterprise architects themselves have been on an evolving path for a decade now. Most organisations have one and there are certification routes that have moved up from being about the technology to really looking at the enterprise perspective. But after a presentation I saw yesterday on Enterprise Design I began to wonder where the next step in the evolution of this role will take us, especially as I see some organisations with Enterprise Architecture and IT Strategy operating under one person and some with the IT Strategy taking a technical perspective and the Enterprise Architecture being considered a candidate for a business unit outside of IT (but the technical architects staying in IT).


So here’s a few personal predictions:


If the EA work is focused on standards, patterns, integration activities and has a strong technical component from the Enterprise Architect then it will stay in IT and most probably be under a head of IT strategy & architecture. Why? Because no one outside of IT cares about these details.


If the EA work has a strong roadmap and future vision component with influence over the programme of work then it will likely also have ownership of the IT strategy (they become much the same thing at this level). The enterprise architect will probably also have responsibility for showing the value of IT from some form of a benefits mapping and have influence over the prioritisation of funds. Given this the role will be highly visible outside IT but will still be seen as a response to the business strategies.


If the EA work really engages with developing a model of the business, it’s capabilities and the information necessary to make the business successful then there will be much more of a potential for the EA to operate under the CEO/COO position as a part of the business strategy team. I suspect the enterprise architect will still have a lot of responsibility for benefits mapping and have a great deal of influence over the IT spend but the technical architects will still be in the IT unit. When this happens I believe we will see the emergence of the Enterprise Technical Architect – a role within IT that ensures a holistic view of the IT estate and the Chief Enterprise Architect who sits on the business planning team and operates with a business mandate to design the business capabilities for the future and the plan to get there using information technologies. When will this happen? When the enterprise architect can understand and assess the options for different future business configurations and be able to the communicate them to the board.


This last prediction is not creating a totally new capability in most organisations – there already exists the business  planning team – but in many cases the ability to identify and assess the future business models , in the context of what will be required to implement them spans many groups.  A CEA brings this together with one focus. Now I just need too think about what the difference is between this role and what a CIO should be doing – perhaps it’s just the fact that the CIO also has to run a department and the CEA is going to have their hands very full just doing a CEA job.


Will everyone end up with the same type of CEA?


I don’t think so.


Some organisations have an Intelligent Design approach to their business models where a CEA as I’ve described it would work well (probably sitting in a big leather chair, in a white suit just like the Architect in the film The Matrix). Another example for an effective CEA would be with organisations that integrate a lot of external capabilities or outsource heavily and the planned integration and reconfiguration of the supply chain is a necessity.


Others have a Darwinian Competitive Evolution model where many different business opportunities are created and only the most effective survive. In this approach the Enterprise Architect is more like a gardener, ensuring the seedlings are planted in the right areas, tended as they grow and stripped out when no longer right for the garden.


The crystal ball is growing cloudy again so time sit back and consider where these options might take us.