Whither the Enterprise Architect?

Loraine Lawson

Dana Gardner poses an excellent question this week at e-Commerce News. Do businesses see enterprise architects as saviors or door stops in the current economic climate, he asks.


Any time someone asks a question like that, you already suspect the answer won't be good. The fact that the article never actually answers the question, but rather talks about how enterprise architects need to change their approach, tends to confirm those suspicions.


A recent SOA World Magazine article, however, leaves no room for doubt as to the dire situation facing many enterprise architecture departments. In that article, Nagesh V. Anupindi, an expert in enterprise architecture and IT strategy, writes that after 30 years, enterprise architecture should be widely established as a practice-but it's not.


Anupindi argues that EA is becoming an endangered practice, based on his personal experience and the assessment of Greta A. James, a Gartner research vice president who focuses on EA:


"For 2009, Greta has predicted that more than half the existing EA programs are at risk and will be discontinued in the near future. Remaining ones that survive this economy, per Greta, will struggle with framework and information management problems. Many of my friends who didn't already get cut are now hoping that their EA departments won't be eliminated."


Anupindi offers a simple explanation for why, asking, "If EA is cut, who will feel the pain?"


Who indeed? If the goal of EA is to translate business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change, as Anupindi writes, then you can see why business might be disappointed. Thirty years is a long time, even if you shave off 20 for getting up and running. And yet, last time I checked, there was still a lot of chatter about how IT hasn't aligned with the business. At what point do you say-hey, this isn't working?


But, as you might expect, both articles focus instead on how EA can salvage itself from certain doom. The key, it turns out, is to stop being your own worst enemy and do your job:


  • Know the business and its processes.
  • Balance short-term with long-term goals.
  • Identify what the business needs to change and how to change it.
  • Become a tool for strategic growth.
  • Create key requirements and models that reflect your business.
  • Define how the enterprise architecture should evolve.
  • Explain the value of what you're doing.


In other words, the usual stuff. It's all good advice, but to me, it still begs the question: If you haven't done this stuff by now, why should the business fund your turn-around?


I thought the best suggestion for demonstrating real and immediate value came from Mike Turner, enterprise architect at Capgemini, who basically suggested EA should focus on business business integration:


"One of the real opportunity areas that EA is uniquely placed to deal with is working across silos. IT could be one of those silos, but there's any number of other silos within the business, across HR, finance, and different parts of operations. EA is a fantastic tool to be able to consult a wide variety of stakeholders about a particular market change, get a consensus viewpoint about that, and really have to define the responses across the whole organization."


EA has been accused of living in an ivory tower. So, I'll close with this architectural metaphor for you: Even ivory towers can be demolished, and the materials recycled elsewhere for more practical structures. In fact, that's exactly what happened to the marble of ancient Rome after the empire's decline.


You don't have to give up the big picture thinking, but frankly, if I were you, I'd think about leaving that tower for now to head up the rebuild team forming on the ground.

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