Enterprise Architects in the Modern Organization


Enterprise Architects in the Modern Organization

For more than 30 years. Enterprise Architecture (EA) has been practiced as a discipline to capture and convey the operational intent of an organization (the enterprise) as a strategic roadmap to align and sequence everything.  With an architectural framework in hand, system analysts fan out across the business, following the stipulations of top-down and end-to-end, to create an exhaustive inventory of the enterprise.  Architects pursue the end goal of aligning the organization’s business and technology architectures, with the resulting information accretion serving as the wellspring for business innovation.  Because of the encyclopedic nature of the task, enterprise architects inherently struggle with the reality that business objectives change frequently and critical processes often interweave across organizational boundaries.

While enterprise architecture is holistic by nature, the utilization of agile methodologies is changing how modern architects approach their work

EA is the last bastion of waterfall processes—EA projects are typically measured in months, potentially years, causing outside observers to view them as “boil the ocean” type of efforts.  In an environment of agile based processes, self-organizing teams, script-built cloud servers and instantaneous digital deliveries, EA wears the mantle of “dinosaur.”  This label is both unfair and untrue as the disciplines and skills of an EA practitioner are still valuable and unique to the enterprise.

The challenge is to reconsider deployment of the analytic methodology in such a way that it expedites delivering value to the enterprise.  This revised practice of EA must look for more nimble approaches to architecture than traditional EA has offered in the past, quickly focusing more on identifying and solving urgent business problems than on collecting extensive documentation.  In his article “The Enterprise Architect as Enterprise Ecologist,” James Urquhart presented the argument that “There is no way to precisely specify the design, implementation and integration of complex cloud-based application systems. So the role of the enterprise architect is no longer building and maintaining a stable computing model for the enterprise. In the age of computing as a single, global, complex system, that role has to shift.”  Part of his argument is that enterprise architects are no longer able to influence how the business will run on technology by building top down and linearly driven “blueprints,” instead, a reimagining of “architect” is needed.   In his conclusion he states, “… the term ‘architect’ really falls short of describing the complex systems nature of the modern enterprise and its information technology.

Architects may not be able to linearly drive a business anymore, but they aren’t a thing of the past. Through some innovation, they still can provide value to organizations.

In order to do this, it is time for the professionals in EA to look to other fields of analysis and diagnosis for more practical approaches.  One field that could provide an example is medicine.  For generations, healthcare was primarily delivered by general practitioners.  But as technology, techniques, and therapeutics began to grow exponentially, it was no longer feasible for the GP to keep up to date on everything in order to continue to provide the full spectrum of diagnosis and treatment.  Specialization emerged as the way to move the field forward and deliver new knowledge and procedures to patient care.  For the Enterprise, the last decade has seen a huge influx of new technologies, improved processes, novel/new best practices and massive streams of data.  

The speed of innovation is making full stack architecture difficult. Specialization is the emerging solution for enterprise architects.

The coming decade looks to be even more daunting for the enterprise with the maturity of cloud environments, artificial intelligence, and deep learning as well as the constant emergence of cyber threats.  It is not possible for the EA practitioners of today to assist the organization in understanding and digesting the implications of everything that is in front of them.  It is time for architects to expand the bounds of the practice by embracing areas of specialization within the field.  The introduction of EA specialists will not abrogate the roles and responsibility of the traditional EA practitioners, rather specialists can provide additional avenues of focused analysis allowing for more purposeful results and quicker feedback to stakeholders.  Organizations will be far better informed on the dependencies, feasibility, risks, challenges, costs, and alternatives than ever before.

In follow-on articles, I will present proposals for the first two EA specialties: Organizational Resilience and Risk Analytics.