Archive for March, 2011
A constant battle seems to wage on around what is Enterprise Architecture, and what skills does an Enterprise Architect need to be successful. The dialog is rich and varies widely, leaving one to easily surmise that perhaps none of us know what we are talking about. Alas, enterprise architecture professionals if nothing else provide a diversified perspective.
Enterprise Architecture (EA) is often aligned with technology, even though most agree the business architecture aspect is an imperative component for EA. I believe some of the confusion is created because EA teams manifest themselves within different parts of an organization making their focus biased to certain aspects of EA. Of course, others just stay in the ivory tower, and never really practice their craft, making many wonder why they exist in the first place. Regardless businesses in general are increasing their operating complexity, more importantly the rate of change is increasing, insisting that EA must evolve to move companies from good to great.
Another confusion factor beyond organizational alignment is that technology is growing past just being an enabler to business operations, and now is an integral part of business operations, even for businesses we consider non-technology companies. Meaning without the technology the product or service just does not exist, or its profitability is drastically reduced. For example, renting movies went from a physical store front, to mail-order, to streaming Blue Ray 1080P HD video over the internet on demand. The same thing happened to books and music; physical store front, to mail-order, to stream it over the internet to the device of your choice. It’s occurring in health care, as physicians conduct patient exams or even surgery remotely via technology. Technology is more than supporting business processes; it is woven into products and services via conduits of social media, information sharing, or on-demand remote delivery. Technology enables partnerships that could not exist before, and by opening up corporate information for others to innovate on top of, new businesses are created, along with enhancing the value of the existing business. Thus, technology is drastically changing business models and operations; it’s entangled with the core business offering.
Because technology is invading every possible space, enterprise architects are not immune to the trend. Enterprise Architecture is a fusion of technology architecture, business architecture, and leadership that defines how the business should organize and execute. An enterprise architect can no longer just understand general business or general technology concepts to drive down operational expense; they must be knowledgeable in both and understand how to drive top line revenue growth. So the constant diverse debate is not driven by confusion so much as the expanded space of enterprise architecture. It’s a tall order to demand so much from an individual role, however, companies that strive to create a diverse skill set in their enterprise architects will survive well into the 21st century; those that do not will fade away.
Until such individuals can be groomed, enterprise architecture teams should be staffed with a diverse set of enterprise architects with their currently siloed knowledge bases. Encourage them to collaborate, communicate, debate amongst themselves, and then deliver a single continuous message to all the business and technology teams. Most of all, a single message crafted with multiple views for a variety of roles is critical, and a successful delivery achieved not by the quantity of communication but quality. The delivery of a message crafted specifically for a role or domain of roles, is much more effective than a frequent broadcast of generalized, homogenized, corporate messages that carry little concrete meaning to the receiver.
Technical enterprise architects need to learn the language of business, and specifically the dialect of the industry they work. Business enterprise architects need to understand technical architecture and systems engineering beyond the level of vendor product brochures. Then combine all that with great leadership and communications skills, molded to accommodate the corporate culture. That is the enterprise architect of the 21st century. I also see the enterprise architecture team being led by what in the past has been the Chief Operations Officer (COO), and if an organization does not have one, perhaps it’s time to create a Chief Architecture Officer (CAO).
Enterprise architecture is needed now more than ever in the past to accommodate the rapid rate of corporate change and complexity. However, the current body of knowledge and experience of enterprise architects has to expand quickly if they are going to provide any meaningful value to a 21st century business.
Let’s bring all the hype into perspective; cloud computing, service oriented architecture, event driven architecture, agile methodologies, etc. should not be the objectives. Focus on sound systems/software engineering and one will find they are already embracing the best of the branded hype, and the nomenclature is little more than marketing, not the next big thing.
So why do we need all this hype? Same reason we need marketing and sales teams, without it nothing moves. Try to practice the best enterprise engineering as the foundation for enterprise architectural efforts without the marketing hype, and few want to adopt it. Advanced degrees, subject matter experts, and great engineers are just the price of admission to leading in the 21st century corporation. All have to learn to market and sell great enterprise engineering to drive down operational expense, and great enterprise architecture to drive new revenue streams. Learning how to communicate to market and sell these ideas is paramount to achieving “what’s next.” So the hype is not the objective, but it is the catalyst to transform vision into reality, so we must embrace it and create it, if we want to achieve great things.