What Does ‘Enterprise Architect’ Mean to You?

Our topic today surrounds the issue of the enterprise architect (EA) — the role, the responsibilities, the certification and skills — both now and into the future. The burgeoning impact of cloud computing, the down economy, and the interest in projecting more value from IT to the larger business is putting new requirements on the enterprise IT department.

So who takes on the mantle of grand overseer as IT expands its purview into more business processes and productivity issues? Who is responsible? Who can instrument these changes and, in a sense, be a new kind of leader in the transition and transformation of IT and the enterprise?

To help us sort through all of that, we’re joined by our distinguished panel. Please join me in welcoming James de Raeve, vice president of certification at The Open Group. We’re also joined by Len Fehskens, vice president, skills and capabilities at The Open Group. And, David Foote, CEO and cofounder, as well as chief research officer, at Foote Partners. And Jason Uppal, chief architect at QRS.

Listen to the podcast (49:28 minutes).

Well, let’s look first at this whole issue of the down economy in the changing environment. Let me take that first to you, David. What is afoot, if you will, in the field? Why so much change all of a sudden?

David Foote: We’re always in flux. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no doubt about the fact that, when money is scarce, people get scared.

You have a lot of very frightened IT departments out there and a lot of frightened business lines with customers bailing out right and left. Everybody is just focused on the moment, thinking reflexively on how do we possibly save money. How do we renegotiate our vendor contracts in IT? How do we not lose customers? This is probably the thing I hear about the most.

IT does not want to be in a position of being responsible for the loss of market share in any way, because the business loves to blame IT, as you know, for a lot of things — most recently, challenges to market share and revenues.

But it’s the greatest time possible to be talking about things like enterprise architecture (EA) and transformation, because transformation tends to happen in times like this. It tends not to happen in times of prosperity.

As I’ve been telling everybody, this is the greatest opportunity you’ll have personally in your career, if you’re a manager in the management ranks, and especially as an executive, to start raising issues that you were afraid to ask for. These are those plans that were shelved at times when you were making so much money that nobody was listening to your conversation. Right now is a tremendous opportunity. I want to be very positive about that, because you’ll probably hear about some negatives today too.

Dana Gardner: Let’s go to James. Why are these forces around us forcing the change on the definition of the enterprise architect?

James De Raeve: There’s been a realization, hopefully a growing realization, that the term “enterprise architect” means something different to everybody who uses it. In this time of increased pressure and constraints on budget and focus on results, there’s ever-increasing need to have more coherence and more commonality and the idea of what EA is as a discipline, what it should be as a profession, and what skills and competencies enterprise architects need to display in their job to succeed.

Gardner: Moving from a mismatch of definitions and application of EA, to a more standardized approach or perhaps more fragmentation?

De Raeve: I think there is increasing convergence. There is increasing realization that there is a need for a common understanding. I wouldn’t say a standardized approach, because you don’t have standardized problems and people aren’t standardized, but there is a growing realization of the need for common core skills and competencies.

We develop certification programs, but the reason we do it and the reason we have one in the architecture space is because that’s what our members wanted us to do. They want us to do things for good, commercial, self-centered reasons. As organizations, they need this kind of concentration and increased commonality of understanding of skills and competencies.

Gardner: Well, if we’re not moving towards a standardized definition, perhaps we’re moving to a more strategic role for the architects. Is that fair?

Len Fehskens: That’s always been the case. In many respects, strategy is sort of the last frontier. One of the things that I’ve seen over my career in architecture is that the focus of architects has moved up the stack, so to speak. Initially the focus was on rationalizing infrastructure, looking for ways to reduce cost by removing redundancy and unneeded diversity. It’s moved up through the middleware layer to the application layer to business process, and now people are saying, “Well, the place where we need to look for those kinds of benefits is now at the strategy level.” That’s inevitable.

The thing to understand, though, is that’s it’s not moving forward in a linear front across the entire industry. The rate of progress is locally defined, so to speak. So, different organizations will be at different points in that evolutionary path.

There are still organizations where the primary role of an enterprise architect is, in fact, to rationalize the infrastructure. On the other hand, we’re starting to see lots more places where they’re playing a major role in strategy development.

Gardner: As we move up the abstraction, based perhaps on the maturity of the technology and its importance and its role in the larger enterprise, do we see a stratification of sorts among the architects? If so, how do we rise up this pyramid to more of an ber-architect, if that makes sense?

Fehskens: There is some stratification. Again, the people working at the highest levels are not going to be making decisions at the lowest levels, they have to pass those decisions down the chain. They may get passed down and passed down. So, just as we talk about a layered architecture, there is a layer of architecture of enterprise-wide responsibility at those various levels in the overall stack.

This gets into a lot of interesting questions about governance, as a result of this. The ideas of architecture purveyed organizational structures from the bottom to the top. Issues of governance are going to become increasingly critical. You talk about the change in the skill profile. A couple of years ago, governance was something that an architect could get by just knowing about.

Now, an architect has to have full-blown competence in the governance area — how to turn it into decision-making and implementations that conform to the architecture, both across the enterprise and then vertically through this structure of architectures that go down from the strategy level.

Gardner: Jason, one of the least comfortable positions is to be responsible for something, but without authority. How is the role of the architect from your position as a practitioner reaching up this stratification towards a higher level of strategic overview, but gaining authority at a commensurate rate?

Jason Uppal: Several things have happened. Especially in the economic downturn, there are a lot of people who are very sensitive and are afraid about their positions and the power that they have accumulated. Or, it’s just the normal nature of protecting their own turf.

As role of the architect starts to ascend in the organization, an acceptance has place to some degree, but it also made a lot of other professionals very nervous about what we do. In this day and age, do you have to be very good at what you always did in the rationalization technology, doing this and doing that, and you also have to be very much almost a priest-like sensitive person so that you don’t trample on somebody’s feelings.

Another layer that I saw come into architect skills in last 6 to 12 months is how you make sure that you don’t trample somebody else along the way, because without them, you’re not going to go very far. Otherwise, they’re going to throw a lot of stones along the way.

So, that’s another a huge challenge that we have from skills of the architect as you’re going up — considering everything else, but having this soul who would be sensitive to the other professions that are going along.

Gardner: Is it fair to say that the skill set of an architect, at perhaps a solution level or a technology level, is quite different from the skill set at that higher strategic level you mentioned, a priest-like bearing? How do you transition when the skill sets are different?

Uppal: Well, you need those skills at lower level. Those are just part of the game. They are no longer sufficient for you to do your job. Now, you have to have all of those skills, plus on top of it, you have to have more, and that’s where it’s more of a challenge for the architect, as we’re going up. We’re being accepted when we go up, but if we don’t succeed there, being insensitive to all those other issues around, we will be sent back very quickly.

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: The Open Group sponsored this podcast.

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