Enterprise Architects: Who Needs Them?

Loraine Lawson

It seems there's a backlash against enterprise architects these days.


As I've written before, it's a bit tricky to define exactly what makes someone an enterprise architect -- and what their duties are. Since they often must deal with integration -- and have sometimes been on record against the concept of SOA, I keep an eye out for EA-related news.


And lately, I've noticed some pundits are coming down pretty hard on enterprise architects.


It's not that they're against the idea, per se. For instance, David Linthicum wrote a piece in April, "Should We Continue to Invest in Enterprise Architecture?" in which he agrees, in theory, that there should be an EA thinking about the big picture. But he questions whether companies are really giving EAs the authority they need to make any real difference:

"Indeed, for most of the Global 2000 there is a lone architect, with a couple of staffers, that has no budgetary nor referential authority, thus no results. You can't 'influence' your way to success...Thus, there are groups of people drawing very nice paychecks that don't add value to IT, or the business, and don't have to deliver tangible results. Good work, if you can get it."

More recently, JP Morgenthal, the president and CEO of Avorcor and the former coeditor-in-chief of XML-Journal and chief services architect at Software AG, wrote a piece for .Net Developer's Journal arguing there is no need for any company to have a full-time EA on staff:

"I've worked for Fortune 500 companies engaged simultaneously in 50+ of IT projects as well as small companies with one or two products and I don't believe there is a need for any organization to have a full-time software architect....Once underway, 100 hours a month of time is enough for any architect to respond to most needs of all ongoing projects."

Again, Morgenthal isn't arguing against the need for an EA -- obviously, he thinks architects have their place -- but he just doesn't agree it's on-staff and all the time.

Not surprisingly, EAs have a different take on the matter. Mike Kavis, aka the Mad Greek, is an enterprise architect who writes an Enterprise Architect blog on IT Toolbox. He agrees there is a a bit of a PR problem with executives, who tend to think of EA as "nothing more then a think-tank for high priced architects who practice philosophy from their Ivory Towers." This perception has lead to one of three reactions to enterprise architecture:

  1. Companies outlaw it, believing it's a waste of time and money.
  2. Companies give EA a half-hearted effort that will most likely end in failure.
  3. Companies see the value and get behind EA, but fight an uphill battle against organizational anti-EA bias.

Obviously, he thinks the last approach is the way to go, but he also offers some advice on how to up your chances of success with EA. And, if you can stand slide shows, you might want to check out this post where Kavis published his presentation on "Explaining the Value of EA."


Clearly, enterprise architects need to be making their business value case loud and clear -- and they should be in a good position to do it. My guess is the real problem EAs face isn't whether they can add value, but whether they can save money, given that most companies are looking to trim expenses. Frankly, EAs look like an easy target in their relatively new -- and high-paid -- positions.


But if Morgenthal's right, the good news is that EAs might find a new career at the same company, but this time as a high-paid consultant.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 2, 2008 12:05 PM Scott Lawson Scott Lawson  says:
The two quotes you use as proof speak about two different types of architects. Linthicum is correct in the first quote, EA needs to provide value, but value comes from the practitioner, not the concept. I have seen architects that do provide value by consolidating applications, correctly guiding business to select tools that deliver a strong ROI, and guide an organization to a position of innovation. The second quote is specifically about software architects, a different type of "architecture". EA is a master planning discipline not only focused on one area like building software. Building an enterprise is like building a concert hall or factory and for that one needs a person planning the whole structure. Software architecture is like designing the HVAC system for the concert hall. The person in charge of that does not need to know about the geology of the site, lighting quality of the windows, but only about part of the needs of the building's users . . . but the EA needs to know about all aspects and help design all aspects of the enterprise (building).EA is valuable if you put value into it and allow the EAs to specify most of the business elements like applications, processes, and infrastructure, etc. Reply
Jun 3, 2008 8:33 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says:
You're right about the second quote being about software architecture. My mistake. Although, I should add I've seen other articles about this topic questioning EAs. Reply
Jun 3, 2008 9:41 AM Dave Oliver Dave Oliver  says:
Odds on the same people that complain about Enterprise Architects are the same ones that complain if there isn't a plan. Reply
Jun 5, 2008 10:14 AM Bob N Bob N  says:
One problem with EA is that, because it is a master planning exercise, it is inherently political and requires executives to seed some of their planning power to an architect who may not have a given exec's specific agenda at heart. This is a big part of why enterprise architects will almost always meet resistence at the "C" level (CEO, CIO, etc) and end up fighting a losing battle. In addition, many technology execs (CIO, CTO) believe (mostly wrongly) that they possess all of the skills and knowledge to do effective EA and will want to retain control of the EA space partly because of ego. After all (so the logic goes) if they have to hire an "expert" to develop their architectural vision, what good is the exec? It is stupid logic to be sure but I've seen it in action more than once. In short, there are political reasons that EAs are set up to fail. Reply
Jun 5, 2008 2:55 PM Dimitrios Bairaktaris Dimitrios Bairaktaris  says:
Effective, enterprise architecture is 70% sales and marketing, and 30% strategy planning, process, application, information, infrastructure, standards, governance, integration and so on. The best and most effective architects are the ones that understand business best practice, have street credibility with operations, are directly involved with project delivery, and can engage and sell at "C" level. Of course, it is all about politics. That's why they get paid well. They stick their neck out above individual agendas and business silos to champion what is best interest for the enterprise. Occasionaly, their head detaches from their neck.Typically, these people come from 10+ years of consulting background with strong vertical industry experience and software vendor exposure. They operate as an internal consulting unit with the enterprise, earning their living by charging for their services. The question as to whether they sit inside or outside the enterprise payroll is not-important. However, for large corporates with significant transformations underway, I recommend an in-house approach.For those with an interest in the future of enteprise architecture, may be worthwhile reading "Enterprise Architecture as Strategy" by Ross, Weill, & Robertson. Reply
Jun 5, 2008 6:10 PM Bob McIlree Bob McIlree  says:
A great deal of the problem with EA center around its definition, or lack of it. I run an ongoing piece on my blog (http://enterprisearchitect.typepad.com) that lists all of the definitions I run across. Reply
Jun 5, 2008 6:19 PM Ray Allen Ray Allen  says:
The challege with EA as role, is that cutting it out, does not cause immediate pain. It's a pain prevention exercise. Bad enterprise architecture is like bad eating habits, eventually the results will show and it will be too late to correct without a lot of pain. Many EAs have the knowledge and information and make good recommendations, but they lack the salesmanship for convincing leadership to follow their advice. Advice that isn't followed is absolutely worthless. Reply
Jun 6, 2008 9:00 AM Scott Clark Scott Clark  says:
I am a chief architect and certainly question EA. We act like we invented all this. Strategic alignment, effective models, corporate standards, reuseability and convergence all existed before EA. All we have done is repackage them and sell them back to our clients, again. With a 70% failure rate its safe to assume those people who failed in the solutions space before are now failing under the guise of EA. Even people who boast EA success are not transforming their businesses the way we suggest. EA is a principle that we have translated into a program. We also say we are the transformation agents but have not changed in 10 years. I do oppose the notion that we are anti SOA......we take credit for it along with anything else we can loosely connect to EA. Reply
Jun 6, 2008 3:05 PM John Schmidt John Schmidt  says:
EA only has value when its applied. Plans that sit on a shelf are a tremendous waste of time and money. The problem is that many architects do indeed put too much emphasis on strategy, planning, selling, etc. and not enough on execution and taking accountability for the quality of the operational systems in production.There are a significant percentage of EA groups that act as ivory tower functions that simply produce plans and standards and then try to police them. It is these groups that are a drag on the profession and give everyone a bad reputation. Reply
Jun 9, 2008 10:49 AM Nick Malik Nick Malik  says:
Interesting article. The distinction between solution and enterprise architects is an interesting one. I recently blogged about the roles and managed to get a rather interesting exchange going in the comments. Apparently, a great many people are very confused about this distinction.As for being anti-SOA, I guess that makes me a rare bird, being both an EA and one of the lead proponents of enterprise SOA in my IT organization. Personally, I haven't met any Enterprise Architects who have graduated from Zachman who oppose SOA. As for saving money: EA saves money if the EA has the right to challenge the EXISTENCE of a project. I did that, and saved my organization a great deal of money... but it cost a great deal of political capital. The other responders have hit it: CIO's don't want to delegate the authority to others to decide if a project is strategic, or non overlapping, or in keeping with principles, especially if in doing so, a fight ensues... because it may be a fight that they would not have chosen.In the words of WOPR (film: War Games): "Strange Game, Dr. Falken. The only way to win is not to play." Reply

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