Look in various business and technology architecture forums on LinkedIn and you will see hundreds of attempts to define enterprise architecture. The debate rages about whether business architecture is part of EA, what it takes to be an architect, and whether architects can even rightly use a title that is hard-earned by the ‘real’ architects in the construction industry.

Our professional community remains desperately fragmented.

It’s ironic. For a role that is supposed to bring clarity and order to business investment planning, as a community, we can appear as a motley crew. I’m often told that it seems anyone can slap the title “architect” on their business card and attempt to add a meaningful percentage to their asking salary.

Having spent the last 10 years assessing the performance of hundreds of architects in different parts of the world, I believe it’s time we brought this issue to a head. What can we do to formalise the enterprise architecture profession?

One key step is educating organisations that they should demand a formal qualification of their architects prior to letting them loose inside the organisation. While TOGAF® certification on its own won’t make an architect; it certainly helps get the basics understood before we press ahead.

So what is an enterprise architect? Here’s what I think.

Architects draw together and synthesise information from subject matter experts to provide informed and balanced recommendations for management decision-making – most commonly supporting business technology investment planning, program and project delivery.

The job family of enterprise architecture, which will usually include business architects, enterprise architects, data and information architects, application architects, infrastructure architects, and solution architects, all abide by this description.  However each role has a very specific set of prerequisite capabilities and experience required to be able to run the process and produce the right type of deliverables and advice.

For instance a business architect requires deep business domain knowledge to credibly interact with business stakeholders.  Similarly infrastructure architects require suitable technical know-how to understand how to shape an infrastructure investment roadmap that will support applications, data and business requirements.  And solution architects must understand how to identify and communicate the trade-offs between functional and non-functional requirements by bringing together a host of technical and non-technical considerations.

This is not substantially different from the role of the architect in the construction industry (I started out in ‘traditional’ architecture before pursuing a career in IT), where the architect must work with construction engineers, lighting specialists, builders, quantity surveyors, electrical engineers and town planners to synthesise a suitable design solution for their client.

My point is, when it comes to the various roles in the enterprise architecture job family, there are several things an architect must have in her armory.  Most importantly, the architect must be able to interact effectively with domain specialists and understand the opportunities and impacts of various design decisions; and produce and communicate the relevant architecture work products required by managers to make effective decisions. This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to taking enterprise architecture from a hit-and-miss initiative to a high-impact and effective decision support capability.

After 10 years of developing enterprise architecture teams I am sympathetic to those who continue to make these mistakes as one size does not fit all when it comes to building an architecture practice.  However, as is often the case, without a clear understanding of the key jobs to be done by architecture, the architecture operating model, the architecture services and capabilities required, and a detailed understanding of the prerequisite knowledge and capabilities required for each of the roles, it’s no wonder why some organisations feel short-changed with the value they receive from their architecture investments.

If an enterprise architect, or any of the roles in the EA job family, can create that ‘light-bulb moment’ for their customer, by bringing the right information to the table, in the right language, at the right level of detail, and truly engage them with a clear case for a way forward – we have a winner.  The customer wins, the architect wins, the brand of architecture in the organisation wins, and more broadly our almost-profession is on the road to becoming truly professionalised, where all organisations will come to demand a recognised qualification that ensures this kind of capability is put to effect every time.

Originally posted as 'A License To Work' on the Enterprise Architects website.

Comment