Can Enterprise Architects Align IT to the Business? Yeah, Right.

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"Well - well look. I already told you: I deal with the *** **** customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?"
-Tom Smykowski, "Office Space"


For decades now, IT has been trying to bridge the communication/alignment/culture gaps between its staff and the business. I can only go back so far, but I know at various times, CIOs, CTOs, business analysts, project managers, consultants and occasionally IT as a whole have all been heralded as the position to change things: to explain technology in plain English, to ensure tech initiatives support business goals, and so forth.


Before integration, I wrote about IT/business alignment for IT Business Edge. I devoted at least a year, maybe two, of my life solely to this topic, exploring university programs devoted to graduating business-savvy techies, discussing whether an MBA could help CIOs, writing about what CIOs could do to develop camaraderie between IT and the business, and so on. That doesn't even count the years before, when I wrote about alignment and communication difficulties as part of a broader coverage of issues relating to CIOs and IT managers.


And yet, guess what? Despite all the years and all the bytes, we're still talking about IT's Holy Grails. In fact, IT Business Edge's Ann All still writes about these issues in her Business of Tech blog.


Of course, you know all of this. But I just wanted to remind you so you'd understand why, when I saw this headline from IT-Director, "New era enterprise architects need sweeping skills to straddle the IT-business alignment chasm," I just wanted to beat my head against my keyboard.


At the risk of All once again calling me the Queen of the Pop Culture reference on Twitter, it reminds me of those Rocky and Bullwinkle skits where Bullwinkle tries to pull a rabbit out of his hat: ""This time, for sure! Presto!"


The IT-Director piece is an edited transcript of a panel discussion during the The Open Group's 23rd Enterprise Architecture Practitioners and Conference. Dana Gardner hosted it, and you can also listen to the podcast or view the complete, 18-page transcript online-but frankly, Gardner's edited version encapsulates the best of it.


I don't want to trivialize their discussion, because there's a ton of really great advice and insight in the discussion. But parts of it seriously made me want to scream.


Besides, they're not the only ones discussing how enterprise architects are the right people to tackle-this time for sure! - this business alignment/communications problem. This week Gartner issued a list of 10 enterprise architect mistakes, and you won't be surprised to learn that the number-one reason for a failed architecture is having the wrong leader for the project. And why, exactly, is the leader wrong for the task? Poor communication skills. A lack of passion and guts.


Quoth R. Scott Bittler, vice president of Gartner's IT research division and expert of enterprise architecture at Gartner:


""I know lots of architects who know architecture very well but are ineffective because of these other weaknesses. That's the person who talks in a monotone, and nobody listens to them because they're not very good communicators. You need someone with guts and passion. If they know architecture, this is very good too. You can teach someone architecture relatively quickly, but you can't teach this other stuff."


I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but I have to ask: When has this ever worked? CIOs who came from the tech trenches were switched to CTOs for this very reason and replaced by business leaders who "knew tech." But now, as the panel discussion points out, enterprise architects are taking on the role of creating a strategic technology vision because apparently many CIO haven't and can't, according to panelist David Foote, who heads Foote Partners, an IT research firm specializing in IT compensation and qualification issues:


"They're (enterprise architects) out there doing the strategic planning. The CIO is head of strategic planning in these companies. Maybe not in your company, but they don't know what to do."


And yet, CIOs continue to make anywhere from $25 million a year to $80,000, according to Foote.


And Gartner's number two and three reasons why architectural projects fail? Essentially, a lack of people skills.


People skills? Again-when has IT ever been known for finding workers with great people skills?


I think EAs can add value-again, more on that tomorrow-and play a key, strategic role. But I'm skeptical about how well they'll be able to transcend IT and work with the business - not to mention re-architect the business or create IT's ever-elusive business alignment. I just can't see where these business-sophisticated enterprise architects, with their detailed understanding of IT systems and applications, are going to come from.


No doubt, we'll soon see stories about how an EA rescued a company from the brink of destruction by strategically aligning the business and so on. But are there enough of those guys around to make a difference for this evolving job title to make a difference in a significant number of companies? Let's do a little expectation management right now on EA. Here's what Foote says about the successful EAs he's met.


"In the total group of enterprise architects I've met, to a T, every one of them was a great communicator. They were able to really make people feel comfortable around some very abstruse, very abstract, and, for people who are not technical, very technical concepts. They just could communicate. They could set people at ease. They were nonthreatening, and by the way, most of them, I think, were really close to genius or ber already."


Genius or ber? Well, if that's all it takes to be an EA, then definitely every company should have one.


And here's another qualm: Some people are already arguing this position needs to be located outside IT and report to the CEO - but why should business leaders believe EAs are better positioned than all the leaders who came before to solve these persistent problems? Do organizations really need to create another high-paid executive IT position?


Or should businesses first determine why the CIOs, business analysts, and sundry others aren't delivering what they promised?