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Should an Enterprise Architect Have an MBA?

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Todd Biske, an Enterprise Architect and SOA author, started a discussion on Twitter by asking the question “Should Enterprise Architects have/get an MBA?” Some of the enterprise architects who responded to the question believe that an MBA is not mandatory but it can be very helpful.

Mike Kavis, a former EA and currently a CTO for a start-up company, thinks that an MBA is secondary as importance “to having a wide range of IT knowledge across the entire enterprise.” He completes his statement telling how MBA can help. Before getting his MBA, Kavis worked for a company where he wanted to convince the management to apply an SOA initiative. He managed to convince a colleague which joined him in the eventually successful effort. He explains how that convinced him to get his MBA:

What I learned during the process is that my colleague understood how to speak in the language that each person understood.  He could sell to the accountants because he knew what they looked for and understood their jobs.  He  knew how marketing worked.  He could create business plans, financial models, calculate payback periods and more.  I quickly realized that if I had enrolled in an MBA program that taught me about marketing, economics, finance, accounting, organizational leadership, business law, analysis, and more, I probably could have sold this idea years earlier.  So when I finished my MS in IT, I immediately enrolled in MBA program.

Kavis’ conclusion is the an EA does not absolutely need to have an MBA, but it helps:

So do EAs need an MBA? No. But if an EA has never walked a day in the shoes of a marketing VP, a controller, a lawyer, a CIO, a Sales executive, an operations executive, and many others, an MBA can transform the EA from a smart IT person to an effective liaison between IT and the business.  My MBA was one of the best investments I ever made in my career.

Gagan Saxena, an IT manager and EA, added to Kavis’ blog post:

An MBA after being a tech superstar is certainly useful and will help in being a better EA. It will not get the EA a seat at the table automatically though. The EA still needs to earn respect with domain/industry knowledge, diplomacy and business leadership.

On the flip side, modern MBA courses need classes on EA so that we start moving away from the artificial boundary line. If you study basic Accounting, HR, Law and Operations there, why not EA? Each of these fields has dedicated professionals but a general business manager is expected to know the basics so he can speak with the professionals.

Aleks Buterman, a former EA and currently having a management position in a company, supports the idea that it is better for EA to have an MBA:

The responsibility of, and often the biggest hurdle to, successful enterprise architect is to be a trusted advisor to both business divisions and IT divisions.  That means being able to speak many languages - that of the business strategy, business operations, metrics (including financials), technology strategy, and technology operations - in multiple areas of both business and technology, which often have their own dialects.  Without either formal education in business administration or a significant amount of time on the ground managing business strategy and operations, I have a hard time seeing an enterprise architect appearing credible when discussing these topics.

This doesn't mean that people without MBA can't work in Enterprise Architecture, in fact actuarial background is just as good, if not better, than an MBA when it comes to understanding financials.  Nor does it imply that an MBA automatically allows someone unqualified with technology to be successful as enterprise architect.  At the end of the day, an EA must be credible as master of many trades, so I don't really see how an MBA would hurt that credibility.

Is an MBA really needed to facilitate communication with C-level executives, or the job of an EA is more technical and having an MBA does not hurt but it is not really top priority?

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