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The Evolving Role of the Enterprise Architect

  • November 05 2007, 12:26pm EST

Whether the appropriate technological foundation is laid in the beginning or later, the enterprise architect plays a critical role in the relationship between business and IT. As businesses transform to adapt to changing markets and economies to ensure their competitive position, the enterprise architect must also evolve in order to bridge the gap between business objectives and IT. A quote from Machiavelli’s The Prince resonates in this context, “He who has not first laid his foundations may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards, but they will be laid with trouble to the architect and danger to the building.” While Machiavelli was referring to an analogy between building architecture and organized government, I feel the same concept applies to today’s global business environment. Enterprises may have solid foundations, but in some cases they may be too solid - which presents a barrier to transforming the business to maintain or improve its competitive capability.

How can a company maintain or increase its competitive advantage? In order to do so, companies need smart and attainable business objectives and strategies in place from which to develop a solid IT foundation. Only then will they have the ability to function at maximum capacity across the enterprise and keep themselves afloat in the competitive landscape.


When examining the infrastructure of most large companies, functions have been departmentalized since Alfred Sloan, successor to GM founder William Durant, created decentralized divisions and departmentalized functions - improving on mass production in the automobile industry that Ford introduced - and subsequently dictating modern business as it exists today. Yet the true way to maintain or increase competitive advantage is the ability to break down the barriers in and between these organizations.


This concept of the boundaryless organization was pioneered by GE’s Jack Welch. It was a new way of thinking, creating new attitudes and not letting boundaries - within GE or with its business partners - get in the way of business. Since then, more organizations have adopted or evolved to embrace this concept, including many 300-plus member organizations of The Open Group that continue to work on this very issue. The challenge they’re now addressing is that, having broken down the people-related barriers, the IT infrastructure often remains a major barrier to success. If information continues to be isolated, we can’t achieve the full benefits of a boundaryless organization; yet companies must do so to gain agility, increase innovation and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.


Boundaryless is Within Reach


First and foremost, technical standards are needed to enable integration of legacy applications with each other and with new applications, a good deal of which now exists. Then, empowering the enterprise architect with the abilities and skills to take a “city planner” view across the entire enterprise ensures an organization will achieve competitive advantage. Finally, implementing standards that support the enterprise architect, such as frameworks, methods, models and tools, can help achieve a boundaryless organization.


Enterprise architects are in great demand right now, yet there are relatively few who can fulfill that need at the enterprise (city planner) level. Without enterprise architects, there’s a gap in the chain of business/IT alignment. It’s important to understand the profession’s evolution, examine the demands placed on enterprise architecture professionals and look at the myriad of industry certification programs, tools and frameworks that help architects and companies meet these challenges and find the right talent.


An Evolving Profession


Business transformation is a key executive management initiative that attempts to align the technology initiatives of a company more closely with its business strategy and vision. The degree to which a company can implement new initiatives to support changes in business strategy is known as business agility. Business transformation is achieved through efforts from both the business and IT sides of the company.


Within The Open Group member community, the number-one requirement, as it relates to the development of the next version of The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF), is greater support in business alignment and relevance to the business. As one of our members said, “… We need to understand from the corporate strategy what the IT function needs to deliver in the future and then link it with the enterprise architecture to answer the question of how we’re going to do it.”


With the emergence of enterprise architects as a prevalent IT role, these same architects find themselves increasingly tasked with one of the most critical roles in an organization. They’re responsible for bridging the gap and communicating in and between the different businesses as well as fostering adoption of effective enterprise architecture. In fact, today’s enterprise architect needs to be bilingual and bicultural to communicate effectively with the technical and business communities.


As alluded to earlier, in order to break down barriers within and between enterprises, enterprise architects must adopt a city planner perspective of the enterprise architecture to ensure the necessary and appropriately solid foundation is put into place. Figure 1 (below) shows a typical city planner diagram. In the case of the enterprise architect, a similar figure, replacing landscaping with technology, is a way to capture the complexities of a company’s enterprise architecture and communicate the company’s enterprise architectural needs in a manner that’s easy for everyone to understand. Only then can enterprise architects, with support from business and IT, proceed to drive business transformation. Through this process, companies are able to meet their businesses goals, mission statements and vision once they reach the future space - it’s then that the business has “transformed.” This is something that will keep the company and its shareholders looking to the future, investing in its existing value and acknowledging that the future will be sustainable - that is, until the business requires yet another transformation.


Today, we’re in the middle of the next information revolution that’s driven by the need to put the right information in the right people's hands at the right time. This new kind of information flow requires a technical infrastructure built on open standards - one that’s designed to enable individuals, and their distinct IT systems, to work together - and a new breed of professionals: the enterprise architect.


With great power comes great responsibility, yet enterprise architects pride themselves on embracing a generally more holistic enterprise view, as they’re held accountable and must make decisions addressing both business and IT benefits.


A Real-World Demand


At Con-way Freight and Transportation, a $2.8-billion dollar transportation and services enterprise, creating a solid foundation is all about enterprise architecture. In their journey to establish a successful service-oriented architecture (SOA), Con-way quickly recognized that the business didn’t care about SOA. On the contrary, it was chiefly concerned with IT’s ability to deliver what it wanted, when they wanted it - all while maintaining a cost-effective model.


Con-way ultimately identified three important steps for delivering business value from their enterprise architecture: using a systematic approach to results in software components’ reuse, automated uncoupled business processes initiated by triggered events in an event-driven architecture (EDA) to enable real-time operations and using published business events to provide a look at the current state of affairs via complex event processing.


Con-way’s success was a result of their enterprise architecture implementations and can be seen in their ability to reduce Canadian/U.S. border crossings from two to three hours to less than a minute. This kind of tangible result is evidence of the power of enterprise architecture.


Marriott International, with more than 2,800 hotel properties in 67 countries, recently established an enterprise architecture practice as well. Marriott technology executives realized that by embracing enterprise architecture, they’d achieve the necessary business transformation to solidify preference leadership, drive profits and optimize the company’s growth. This meant that IT would need to gain efficiencies via centralized processes and systems, deliver the right information to the right people at the right time and help enable multiple, customizable options for customers to use the Marriott network.


In Marriott’s case, its enterprise architecture practice was able to author and publish revised principles and frameworks, adopt relevant operating and maturity models, architecture frameworks and complete initial SOA proofs of concept as part of the overarching enterprise architecture. Ultimately, the company achieved business and IT convergence and made enterprise architecture a core tenet of its future.


Many organizations have similar goals for their businesses. They strive to provide better quality products and services in a faster, more cost-effective manner. They must be able to respond faster to business problems, anticipate customer needs and identify and act upon revenue-generating opportunities before their competition.


The commonality in both of these examples is that while the need for technology is still great and will never go away, the need for information to flow freely across an entire organization is even greater.


The champions at the heart of all this success are the organizations’ enterprise architects.


The Role of Architectural Frameworks


In general, an enterprise architect needs the right set of tools. One such example is architectural frameworks. These frameworks transform the enterprise architect’s vision and city planner view into a viable, long-term enterprise architecture that can be clearly defined so everyone can embrace it. There are several useful ones, including:

  • The U.S. Department of Defense’s Architecture Framework (DoDAF),
  • Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF),
  • TOGAF, and
  • Z achman Framework.

An enterprise architect’s framework ideally should include a standard set of functions, such as a way to describe methodologies for defining IT systems as they relate to the necessary building blocks. It also should demonstrate how these blocks should fit together and contain a set of tools and a common vocabulary. These architecture frameworks should include an overview of recommended standards and compliant products that can be used to build the “house.”


Another important consideration is the architecture development method (ADM), which typically is used to develop the enterprise architecture but is always tailored to meet a particular organization’s needs. ADM also is used to manage the actual implementation of architecture activities, and is one of the enterprise architect’s most valuable tools.


TOGAF at a glance. TOGAF, a detailed method and set of supporting tools for developing an enterprise architecture, is free to any company wishing to use it; more than 60 percent of the Fortune 50 and more than 80 percent of the Global Forbes 50 businesses have downloaded it.


The Open Group, composed of representatives from end-user organizations and vendors alike, first published TOGAF in 1995, basing it on the Technical Architecture Framework for Information Management (TAFIM), a series of architecture guidance documents provided by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). At the core of TOGAF is the ADM.


DoDAF at a glance. DoDAF was developed to support interoperability between systems whose architectures are described with this framework. It’s easier to determine how to integrate systems when they’re modeled in a common language so system interfaces, data formats and exchanges, implemented standards, etc. can be analyzed with the operational and system behaviors and structure.


DoDAF is focused on architecture description via a set of views without specifying any methodology. It prescribes a specific set of models that illustrate the architecture of concern. This particular framework defines more than 25 products that reflect three different architectural viewpoints: operational, systems and technical standards.


Certification Programs: The Power of Knowledge


Another way to ensure an enterprise architect possesses the appropriate skill set and knowledge base, from both an educational and hands-on perspective, is through certification programs. There are a number of programs available for both the individual enterprise architect as well as the organization that employs these individuals. Some may question the value of such programs, but the industry numbers put the questions to rest. Certification provides assurance of conformance and is based on the proven industry best practices; sets an independent, industry-wide standard for enterprise architects; and creates a foundation for trust between suppliers and customers.


The old expression “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” often springs to mind in an IT environment - people often are so focused on the projects at hand that they do not embrace their own technology or tools available to make their lives easier. With the evolution of the enterprise architecture profession also comes advancements in all of these tools - and unlike other professions, enterprise architects realize the value of utilization. Not only does it help them do their jobs more effectively, but it reinforces the city planner perspective that is key to bridging the gap between business and IT.


With a strong enterprise architecture foundation as the basis for the house that IT builds, enterprise architects could potentially rest on their laurels. The quality of the work can speak for itself based on the actionable ROI that’s typically generated. However, with every great structure, there are ways to hone their implementations - producing future iterations that improve upon the current architecture and match technological advancements.


As enterprise architects increasingly shoulder more responsibility for this critical and core IT foundation, the role will continue to evolve. As they continue to build relationships that bridge the gap between business and IT, enterprise architects will continue to gain ground as the go-to leaders for the next IT generation.



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