Enterprise Architects…who, what & where?

February 10, 2010

Enterprise Architecture and Enterprise Architects (EA) are the hottest IT business words. The Open Group during their Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference attempted to define the role of an Architect. Their goal was to help the EA community clearly define this job description. The panel said by doing this “they hope to cut down on people holding the title without actually being able to do the job, which obviously would help hiring companies, while providing some level of coherence and commonality. ” The current financial climate is unfortunately dictating business strategies centered on budget and immediate results, putting aside real strategies for long term sustainability. Don’t misunderstand me; “coherence and more commonality” as used by the panelist are components to long-term survival. Clearly defining what an EA is and the professional characteristics of the Architect will insure the right match is made and is in line with the strategy of the enterprise plus will go a long way in helping organizations that have hired EA’s to the level of incompetence.

At the time the article was written, the group fell short of the mark for defining the role. The discussion turned into where EAs can be found. I took a little time to think about what an EA really does, did a little research and drew on iqu’s industry experience to offer a role description and characteristics of an Enterprise Architect.

Enterprise Architects work with stakeholders, both leadership and subject matter experts, to build an inclusive view of the organization’s strategy, processes, information, and information technology assets. The role of the EA is to take this knowledge and ensure there is an alignment of the organization and IT by linking the mission, strategy, and processes of an organization to its IT strategy. The Enterprise Architect, using multiple architectural models or views, documents this knowledge to show how the current and future needs of the organization will be met in an efficient, sustainable, agile, and adaptable manner. (Compliment of Wiki)

Below are some skills and competencies I believe EAs need to be successful.

  1. Possess an understanding of the strategy of the enterprise; its goals and objectives with the ability to strategically align business units and IT based on the latter. This is number one.
  2. Understand processes, information technologies and other assets of the enterprise, and the role each has in the recursive relationship between business and IT,
  3. Ability to interface with those who work the value chain and manage processes,
  4. Ability to provide business people with professional guidance and recommendations during planning and cross functional team meetings,
  5. The EA needs the business savvy and soft skills to strategically work with cross functional departments such as Marketing, HR, Customer Care, office of CEO, board members, etc. to build the relationship between IT, business and stakeholders.

The final determination of the skills and competency of the EA rest with the enterprise, either the focus will be on budget restraints with immediate results or healthy long-term sustainability of the organization. The answers will determines how the role of an EA is defined. If the organization’s focus is long-term sustainability the latter skills and competencies should be considered. If the focus of the enterprise is budget and immediate results, then anyone with an IT background will do.

As mentioned above, the group’s discussion turned into suggested places to find EAs. They are as followed, to include iqu’s opinion.

Open Group: Check your program mangers. It turns out, there’s a lot of skill overlap in program managers and EAs, according to Len Fehskens, vice president, Skills and Capabilities at The Open Group. “In the architecture group at Digital … we used to joke that if you had a program without a program manager, the architect filled that role. If you had a program without an architect, the program manager filled that role,” said Fehskens.

iqu: The architect could fill the role of program manager based on the definition and characteristics. It does not go the other way. Just because he is a Program Manager does not mean he has the understanding or knowledge of IT and its recursive relationship with business or possesses any of the EA characteristics. A Program Manager is just that – a manager. Do you really want your managers interfacing with the business units on a daily bases or managing the program and putting in place tactics for program success?

Open Group: You might also find a future EA among your consultants – but make sure it’s a consultant you’ve worked with, not someone you just hire in. It’s an approach many companies have successfully used, according to David Foote, who heads Foote Partners, an IT research firm focusing on IT staffing and benefits. And it makes sense, because in many ways, EAs act like internal consultants, looking not just at the technology, but the entire process the technology will support.

iqu: Ok, I can go for this, the reason is obvious. The professional recommendation would be to look at an IT_BPA/BPM consultant with architecture experience.

Open Group: Look outside of IT. Many EAs come from engineering. Jason Uppal, a chief architect and panel participant also recommended you consider looking internally in other areas, and then develop your enterprise architects. He compared it to a similar, successful program used at one of his previous employers. The company found people who had the skills it was trying to develop in engineers, established an apprenticeship and then trained the workers in the technical skills.

iqu: Keep in mind what the EA is…the architect has to have a sound knowledge of IT, be business savvy with soft skills. With the advance of IT along with state and federal regulations on the management of business assets just in the last 10 years, it would take a bit of financial resources and time to develop a worker to take the task of EA. My professional view is to look within IT, particularly at network engineers and IT project managers (PM).

The network/system engineer has functioned as an EA since system connectivity has been a part of the business infrastructure. They design and manage a lot of the information infrastructure to include connectivity and system interfaces; they cross point with the various system components such as Database and Telecom systems and their administrators. The PM not only has the technical knowledge he also possesses the soft skills for working with stakeholders and has an understanding of the goals and objectives of the organization. To develop either of these professionals could be cost and time effective. If there is pressure and constraints on budget looking outside the domain would be costly and results could be long-term.

A professional opinion, the best strategy would be to hire an IT_BPA/BPM consultant with architecture experience. Consultants are costly, most charge by the hour, the effort balances out the cost when you think about the risk associated with hiring someone who does not poses the experience and knowledge or promoting from the latter IT positions that will need a back-fill and all that is involved in the hiring process. If the consultant works out, hire him. If hiring is not an option use him to develop the job description and include him in the interview process.

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