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The Role of the Enterprise Architect

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The round table moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, was opened by the statement:

The need for EA seems to be more pressing than ever, yet efforts to professionalize EA do not necessarily lead to increased credibility and adoption, at least not yet.

The participants at this round table, Jeanne Ross, Director and Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research, Dave Hornford, an architecture practice principal at Integritas Solutions and Chairman of The Open Group Architecture Forum, and Len Fehskens, Vice President for Skills and Capabilities at The Open Group, helped to further elaborate on:

... the shift of IT from mysterious art to more engineered science and how enterprise architects face the unique opportunity to usher in the concept of business architecture and increased business agility.

According to Fehsken, EA is currently where mature professions like medicine or law used to be 200-300 years ago. Not only there is no certification, but the EA body of knowledge itself is highly proprietary:

We’re at a state similar to going to a lawyer, and the lawyers try to sell themselves based on secret processes that only they had that would allow you to get a fair shake before a judge. Or similar thing with a doctor, who would say, "Come to this hospital, because we’re the only people who know how to do this particular kind of procedure".

Both Ross and Hornford agree that the stakes are currently very high. In digital economy IT is becoming more strategic and a proper architecture can easily change the game for a company. Ross continued by saying that:

The architect’s role is to make sure that there is a vision... So there is a lot of negotiation and envisioning that becomes part of an architect’s role that is above and beyond just the technology... there is an art to be able to take the long-term vision for an organization... we feel like this should all be about innovation...

Harnford elaborated on that by stating that successful architecture should be focused on a business value. According to him, different organizations can define value in different ways:

... but underpinning all of that is what is the business trying to achieve? What is their vision and what is their goal? Practitioners... have to be very clear on what is the end state... what is the business transformation, and how will the digital assets of the corporation the IT asset actually enable where they’re going, so that they’re able to move themselves to a target more effectively than their competition.

In his opinion, one of the fundamental requirements for being a successful EA is the ability to lead without actually owning anything:

If you don't have good leadership skills, the rest of it fundamentally doesn’t matter... If you do not lead and do not take the risk to lead, the transformation won’t occur. One of the barriers for the profession today is that many architects are not prepared to take the risk of leadership.

Continuing the discussion on architectural value proposition, Fehskens asserted that:

The authority of an architect ultimately comes from their ability to articulate a compelling value proposition for architecture in general, for specific architect in a specific situation... This is probably one of the biggest problems that architects coming from a technical background have. They'll tell you about features and functions but never get around talking about benefits.

The architect is charged with:

... making sure that whatever it is that they're architecting is fit for purpose... The architect’s approach to dealing with the architectural way of problem solving means that agility and cost cutting sort of are not short-term focuses. They are just built into the idea of why we do architecture in the first place.

Ross cautioned that compelling business value can rarely be delivered immediately, but is typically down the road:

It’s a matter of taking it a step at a time, showing the organization what IT can help them do, and then, over time, there's this natural transition. In fact, I'm guessing a lot of organizations say, "Look, we're more agile than we used to be." It wasn’t because they said they were going to be agile, but rather because they said they were going to keep doing things better day after day.

Gardner summarized the discussion by stating:

If we get back to the core of what an architect has to deliver, it’s understanding what is the business’s value, where are we delivering value to my customers?

The role of the enterprise architect keeps changing over time. While twenty years ago very few knew what exactly an architect was, today many companies consider enterprise architecture as a foundation of their functioning. Their duties also changed dramatically from technical responsibilities (super developer) to business architecture and leadership. The profession keeps changing and it is still not clear which route it will take at the end of the day.

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Community comments

  • Ok ...

    by Clifton Cunningham,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    All excellent points, but the fact that all this needs to be said (again - as reading articles about the role of an EA feel like I'm in groundhog day), along with the opening and final statements that highlight the immaturity of our 'profession' and many within it, is actually a little depressing given how long we've been at this! ... or is that just me?!

  • there is a certification: SCEA (Sun Certified Enterprise Architect)

    by Bojan Antonovic,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    see SCEA entry in Wikipedia

    So you can't say there is no certification.

  • Re: there is a certification: SCEA (Sun Certified Enterprise Architect)

    by Artur Karazniewicz,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Bojan. SCEA has literally nothing to do with enterprise architecture in fact, despite its name. It's actually a solutions architecture certification based on proprietary, underpinning standards (JEE).

  • Re: there is a certification: SCEA (Sun Certified Enterprise Architect)

    by Rodney Sculthorpe,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    There are certifications - FEAC and it's sibling for the commercial world.

    The definition and role of an Enterprise Architect continues to evolve just as business and technology continue to evolve. This and the fact that EA is still a relative newcomer in the business/technology world is a pretty clear reason to me why we have to keep repeating what an EA is...and what we will become. Technology exists to empower the business, so it should be aligned to the business. It's not just about the technology.

  • Enterprise Architect more and more like a general

    by 高 翌翔,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Before today, I feel that the enterprise architect like a military adviser.
    In order to solve the various problems, he gives ideas and suggestions.

    After reading the summaries of masters, I feel that the enterprise architect more and more like a general who leads the army in order to seize the city (the business's value).

    Perhaps the metaphor is not appropriate. But I think that the metaphor is more relevant and passionate than the traditional analogy with the construction industry.

    Comment: I am a programmer from China, thanks google translation (

  • Re: Enterprise Architect more and more like a general

    by Vikas Hazrati,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    You might be interested in reading the characteristics of an Agile architect and how Agile architecture would work.

  • Re: Thank you for your suggestions

    by 高 翌翔,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Although the hyperlink can't be accessed, but I found a similar link about "The Role of the Agile Architect" by google.

    Thanks again for your suggestion, my master.

    Yours respectfully, Arnold Gao :)

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