Three Unusual Places to Find Enterprise Architects

Loraine Lawson

Enterprise architects-and architects in general-are the hot ticket item in IT these days. Theoretically, enterprise architects should understand your IT infrastructure and your business, inside and out, so they can help make business functions more efficient and build an infrastructure to support it.


And, hopefully along the way, they'll solve some of your more business-debilitating integration problems.


That's the theory. The reality is businesses know enterprise architect is a hot title now, but they don't really understand what it means. So, they're handing out the title as a recruitment tool, without defining the job function or setting the right requirements, according to David Foote, who heads Foote Partners, an IT research firm focusing on IT staffing and benefits.


Foote was part of a recent panel discussing the evolving role of enterprise architects at The Open Group's 23rd Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference in Toronto. Dana Gardner, a consultant and blogger, led the questions for the panel and published the discussion recently both as a Briefings Direct podcast (complete with full transcript) and as a column for IT-Director.


The panel members also pointed out that even when companies do define the role, the EA job description and responsibilities varies wildly. Some EAs still only handle infrastructure rationalization, which is where the job started, but others have evolved into more strategic roles. Others report to CIOs, CFOs and at least one even reports directly to the CEO, according to Jason Uppal, a chief architect who participated in the panel.


So you can see why the EA community is trying to nail down its job description a bit more. By doing so, they hope to cut down on people holding the title without actually being able to do the job, which obviously would help hiring companies.


And not to put too fine a point on it, but it could help EAs keep their jobs, an issue alluded to by James de Raeve, vice president of certification at The Open Group:

In this time of increased pressure and constraints on budget and focus on results, there's ever-increasing need to have more coherence and more commonality and the idea of what EA is as a discipline, what it should be as a profession, and what skills and competencies enterprise architects need to display in their job to succeed.

And they'd like to see the job evolve into a more strategic role that can step outside the bounds of IT, much the way project management begin in IT but evolved into a useable function across the business. Since yesterday I vented my frustration with that aspect of the EA conversation, today I thought I'd focus on the positive.


A number of immediately useable tips emerged during the course of the discussion. In particular, the panel-along with a recent list by Gartner-cautioned that social skills are a requirement, not a "nice to have." I know you're always being told this, and it's hard to find techies with people skills, but seriously. This is not optional with the EA position. Enterprise architects should spend a good amount of time talking to business people, even executives. The panel agreed this is a key part of the EA job description.


But it's not just about being able to explain things-they also have to be likeable when they do it. They need to be able to be a team player, put people at ease and listen. Uppal said EAs need to be "almost a priest-like sensitive person so that you don't trample on somebody's feelings." It may veer a bit toward hyperbole, but it's still a valid point.


Obviously, IT has had a hard time finding these people in the past. You could try to hire them in, but that's not necessarily the best approach, since a key requirement of successful enterprise architecture is understanding the business.


The group offered three unexpected ways you might find your future enterprise architects:


  • Check your program mangers. It turns out, there's a lot of skill overlap in program managers and EAs, according to Len Fehskens, vice president, Skills and Capabilities at The Open Group. "In the architecture group at Digital ... we used to joke that if you had a program without a program manager, the architect filled that role. If you had a program without an architect, the program manager filled that role," said Fehskens.
  • You might also find a future EA among your consultants-but make sure it's a consultant you've worked with, not someone you just hire in. It's an approach many companies have successfully used, according to Foote. And it makes sense, because in many ways, EAs act like internal consultants, looking not just at the technology, but the entire process the technology will support.
  • Look outside of IT. Many EAs come from engineering. Uppal also recommended you consider looking internally in other areas, then develop your enterprise architects. He compared it to a similar, successful program used at one of his previous employers. The company found people who had the skills it was trying to develop in engineers, established an apprenticeship and then trained the workers in the technical skills.
... if we want to develop architects in IT, we have to step outside of IT into some of the other areas and learn from it," Uppal said. "If you can somehow figure out how to show respect to the person who is doing the work today, we have a much easier time in developing the architects.

And what all these EA titles companies are creating? Foote suggested you partner with HR, rather than letting HR lead on hiring EAs. To stop the title EA from being used as a recruitment tool, work more closely with HR to develop a proper job description.


"You should have a representative to the HR organization that was selected by the CIO or the IT management there to represent them to HR," Foote said. "That person should be the person who advocates also for HR, so that they never are handed job descriptions that do not exist in the company. Then, a compensation person tries to figure out what to pay that person."


Frankly, I think that's good advice no matter what IT role you're trying to fill.

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