The Role of the Enterprise Architect

The enterprise architect wears a multitude of hats to perform a very demanding job.

by Guy Hoffman

The renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "The architect must be a prophet … a prophet in the true sense of the term … if he can't see at least ten years ahead, don't call him an architect."

He was speaking of the traditional architect who plans structures of brick and mortar, but the statement holds true largely for modern enterprise architects. Traditional architects, however, have the luxury of working from a clean slate, while enterprise architects often work under the burden of a year of legacy application and database development that must be delicately assembled into the architecture of record.

Additionally, today's focus on centralized business operations puts further strain on the role of enterprise architects. No longer are individual silos created to address one specific line of business considered a best practice. Instead, in today's highly competitive global economy organizations are intent on providing a central focus for common functionality, sharing skills, expertise, best practices, and processes across business units, forcing the enterprise architect to be more business oriented than ever before.

Like the prophets of old, enterprise architects must foretell the future to anticipate changes in technology and standards to help the organization compete in today's dynamic business environment. They must regularly justify their worth and function within the organization, constantly promoting the value of their role to the business. With limited budget and often less authority, today's enterprise architects must serve as the all-knowing sages to CIOs and CTOs, advising them on the best course of action to create efficiency through deployment of applications and technology while protecting the bottom line of today and tomorrow.

While at first it may sound like a role few would suffer to endure, the winds of change are beginning to impact the enterprise. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, in the five years prior to Y2K, organizations spent $1.2 trillion on information technology alone. A considerable portion of this figure was used to replace applications that couldn't address an organization's compliance road map with a wealth of new applications designed to meet changing business demands. The aftermath left companies struggling to make sense of the myriad of stand-alone applications.

Many enterprises are now seeking to rationalize these applications and reduce maintenance and resource demands. These organizations are readily recognizing enterprise architects as crucial to the rationalization process as these individuals have the skills to analyze current requirements while considering future issues. Enterprise architects can evaluate capabilities, capacities, and orchestrate the intertwining of all the various assorted application, data, and informational architectures that exist in the enterprise. Their role is critical to maintaining an organization that is software lean, functionally strong, and operationally agile.

The Makeup of an Enterprise Architect

At its most basic definition, the role for today's enterprise architects involves conceptualizing and creating development and operational models that encompass all aspects of an organization's application and data infrastructures, including the creation of a "blueprint" by which to guide future development and decision making. Perhaps most importantly, the role requires a leader, and it also calls for equal parts visionary, evangelist, strategist, devil's advocate, and consultant. These characteristics are crucial for an architect to affect change, articulate and sell a vision, conceptualize a solution, evaluate approaches, and provide strategic advice to those implementing a solution.

Visionary. As visionaries, modern enterprise architects must be on top of current technologies and understand how they might be used to solve challenges today and in the future. They must be able to identify and work with stakeholders to collect, aggregate, and evaluate requirements in light of current and future technology, resources, and budgets. They must also understand the overall business strategy of the organization to ensure components of the architectural vision align with those of management and other stakeholders. Finally, enterprise architects must be able to articulate their vision to effectively inform and demonstrate support for the organization's primary business objectives.

Evangelist. As evangelists, enterprise architects must express their architectural vision across numerous internal and external stakeholders. This expression can call for diplomacy, tact, salesmanship, and tenacity. Successful enterprise architects are attuned to organization politics and adept at navigating the channels necessary to gain critical adoption of their concepts by the organization's business audience. Rarely holding responsibility for budget, architects serve as mediators among the business requirement generators and those responsible for executing IT solutions. This role calls for tolerance of ambiguity in requirements and translatory skills to be able to convert business objectives to technical strategy that will guide IT to solutions.

Strategist. Enterprise architects must also take an overall system view of the business that encompasses all application and data domains, relevant technologies, and development processes. The fact that individual business processes span applications and technologies requires a broader perspective than the myopic view of a single application, on a single technology. Like the architect charged with designing transportation thoroughfares in a city like Boston, enterprise architects can soon find themselves in the middle of their own Big Dig. It is in this area that the lines are often blurred between development management and architecture. Problems for enterprise architects, however, are less defined usually and often unstructured. They are more focused on the ramifications of changing or introducing new code into the overall ecosystem and how it will affect the business stakeholders.

Devil's advocate. In addition to playing a key role in the software delivery process, enterprise architects have to ensure all needs are being met and thus play the role of devil’s advocate. There are times when adding an application or functionality is simply not in the best interest of the organization. Enterprise architects must weigh the value of the functionality against the impact of the change to the application ecosystem, resources at hand, and future of the technology landscape. Architecting a good solution and architecting the right solution for the organization may not be the same thing. For example, it may not be prudent to automatically execute on the business's request to build in complex features to an existing legacy application if the future direction is to drive applications to the Web. In this instance, it would be the responsibility of an architect to weigh the current business implications that would result from developing the new features on the legacy platform against the benefits of architecting the functionality on a newer more agile platform.

Trusted advisor. The real value in the role enterprise architects can play are as consultants during the planning stage. All too often enterprise architects are asked to fix a problem, such as the rationalization of a dysfunctional application ecosystem. The more that architects are involved up front in the planning and strategy stages of a project, the more apt the project is to fit in with existing and future frameworks. Additionally, by establishing their presence as trusted advisors to the business and as interpreters for development, enterprise architects create value for their roles both upstream and downstream in the organization.

What's Been Missing?

Despite these valuable assets, to date the enterprise architect's role has not generated the appropriate level of hierarchy within organizations. With the advent of new solutions that address the very specific needs of enterprise architects, their role is destined to evolve.

For example, there are new tools on the market that provide actionable insights such as software dependency mapping and impact analysis, enabling architects to document and maintain living, cross-technology maps of the enterprise. These solutions automate discovery and impact analysis processes, putting speed and accuracy into the architect's hands. No longer do application changes that took hours to write take months to implement. No longer is critical application knowledge isolated in the minds of employees. These solutions convert individual knowledge to institutional knowledge. Before the first line of code is keyed architects will know what resource will be required to make the change, the impact the change will have on all other applications in the enterprise, and exactly what test cases will need to be run to validate the new code.

The evolution of the role of enterprise architects will continue as more businesses seek to automate and write their mission-critical processes into the logic of their architecture. Every day, application knowledge is being lost to turnover, retirements, and rightsizing. Mergers and acquisitions continue to grow exponentially, driving the need for application-integration initiatives. Alignment and close proximity to the business will drive their value higher up the food chain as they become the critical link between business and development.

There will come a time when the blurring of lines will not be between architects and development, but between architects and CIOs. This rise in stature will be accelerated by the introduction of solutions that assist architects in providing actionable insight that helps align the business requirements with IT development.

Courtesy of FTPOnline

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Guy Hoffman is president and CEO of Metallect. Guy is a successful strategist for emerging markets, with over 20 years of executive and venture capital experience. Prior to joining Metallect, Guy served as a venture partner for TL Ventures, a leading venture capital firm with $1.4 billion under management. You can read the author's blog at