The Enterprise Architect - who are they, where do they work and what should they achieve?
Arguably one of the most influential areas in any organisation aspiring toward digital futures. Who are they, what do they do and why do I need one?
Traditionally the role of an architect is most familiar within the construction sector. however this title has many faces across industry. To me, what makes a great architect?
The person that:
Has an eye for ergonomics and proportions
Artistic style and flare
Strong appreciation of best practice, codes and what is expected by planners
The ability to appreciate, document and encompass a customer's needs and individual taste in work output
Sympathy with the existing landscape
A profound ability to clearly and concisely engage (negotiate) with all parties to ensure optimal outputs and solutions are realized
Somewhat of a visionary - someone that pushes the boundaries of every person, system, process and technology to achieve something different and better than before
(NB: this is the tip of the iceberg for a good architect but I feel these are really defining characteristics which make a great Architect)
Enterprise Architecture - the art of understanding how all systems and processes align within an organisation to efficiently realize the Strategy and Vision.
So what makes a great Enterprise Architect (EA)? It really isn't too dissimilar to the characteristics above. However the role of the enterprise architect is often misinterpreted. Often it is seen as an extension of your ICT function. Often it is seen as part of your ICT function and just more IT people in the room. This is not the case.
An Enterprise Architect's Role in an organisation is the role tasked with gaining business level appreciation of:
The organization's vision
Capabilities - What does my organisation do at the highest level of abstraction and how effective are we at doing it?
Processes - How do we go about fulfilling Capabilities
Systems/applications - The group of components that allow processes to happen end to end
Value streams - An understanding of the life cycle and value of all items above
If any of these 5 competencies are not present in the (EA) function it makes a recipe destined for disaster.
There are some great quick ways to ensure your EA function is working effectively and understand areas which may need some work. Ideally all of the points above are described in discrete set of documents and diagrams which can be discussed across a table, on a screen share or on a whiteboard. What is very important here is that documents are clear, concise and understandable by all parties. Less is more - this allows for more actionable efforts when programming works and projects to change.
If documents are not instantly demonstrable, then it is not complete. If it is not completed, your processes, systems and/or value streams are disconnected from your capabilities and overall vision - your organisation is tiller-less in the ocean. The combination of EA frameworks and a competent practitioner are key to realizing this cohesion.
Be wary of diagrams which align systems or applications directly to capabilities or vision. This can happen if the EA function is grown from an ICT area and extended as opposed to being an entity in its own right. In this case there is a substantial risk that EA output is somewhat skewed by technical debt which may be realized and confirmed by ICT staff if the optimal vision is depicted. This can also lead to broken, inefficient solutions in the long term. To ensure it is avoided there needs to be thought and management of culture within specific areas to ensure optimal long term solutions prevail.
Why is important to have this competency in my organisation?
Digitization and process automation are clearly areas with immense opportunity to unlock efficiencies and allow growth in business. The role of EA is to:
Understand the organisations aspirations over time
Map and plan a course over time which will allow successful realization
Ensure that potential pitfalls are accounted for and avoided
Ensure emerging options and technologies are explored and adopted if suitable/optimal
Create top to bottom cohesive alignment from the vision to all components which make up processes and capabilities
Track, trace and report all progress and change at a business level
Without an EA function, an organisation can operate in a silo'd fashion which is limiting across the business and can negatively impact progress.
A final observation.
Done is better than perfect and iterations are key
So many strategies, plans and outputs arrive late (or not at all) rendering them useless as the business was forced to move on. Release and Revise frequently, EA output in its incomplete form is still extremely insightful for an organisation that is currently and always will be in the middle of it's digitization efforts :)
Hope this was useful.