If you set out to write the most outlandish job description in corporate America, your classified ad might read something like this:

 

Wanted: Person or persons to chart IT and business transformation in a huge, old established corporation. Candidate(s) will model current and future states of business drivers, regulation and market dynamics along with the functional role structure of all business units and sub-units. Candidate must understand and relate technology projects and project portfolio, integration programs, application and information systems, business processes (and everything else we own) to business optimization for future planned market dominance. Salary TBD.

 

For those of you who know where I’m going with this, pardon my attempt at humor. For the rest of you, understand that enterprise architecture and enterprise architects are real enough and have been around for decades. There is plenty of documentation and organizations addressing the issues related to enterprise architecture at your Google fingertips. Over the years I have met perhaps a dozen EAs, as they’re called, from various conferences and meetings. A lot of big companies have EA and many others don’t. But I will admit to finding them a bit mysterious and that I understand little about the reality of their mission or future purpose, which is why I showed up at Gartner Inc.’s twice annual Enterprise Architecture Summit in Las Vegas last week.

 

Where else would a novitiate like me meet 500 people talking about the same things we write about, but in language I only partly understood? Three years ago we purposely drew interconnecting circles of data, integration and business process at DM Review and BI Review – and began to focus on the intersections rather than the circles themselves – in order to update the relevance of converging missions. As a result, SOA, BPM, MDM and other topics were upgraded in our old application/database construct. Our coverage since has been more program oriented, covering projects such as process-sensitive BI or federated data models. My mission in Vegas was to connect the dots between our increasingly interdependent coverage of information, integration and business process with the cathedral scope of Enterprise Architecture.

 

There is indeed a connection between the programs, projects and what are usually silos of people we cover and what EA represents, though a novice like myself couldn’t help but scratch my head at the sheer scope of it all. Just look up a definition for EA and you’ll see what I mean. In fact, EA addresses all the connections I mentioned and more with core domain expertise from various parts of the organization. The non-profit Institute for Enterprise Architecture Developments takes the familiar cornerstones of people, processes and technology and to that adds business to create a four-legged stool covering just about every angle of core goals and execution, both technical and not.

 

In fairness, EA is usually tackled in chunks, though the big overhead view is or will be required at some point in the future for all companies, which is really the whole point of the exercise. The migration of the CIO to the business side of the house and away from technology is plenty evident and plainly connected to business archiecture. For different enterprises it’s mostly a question of when, which is why EA appears so scattershot in its adoption or complete lack thereof.

 

It’s hard to unify a trend. We know the government and military are big on EA. I saw corporate programs represented by a single architect and others made of large teams. I met an international shipper with 35 people dedicated to EA and a large insurance company with 15 (I’m not using names since my chats were subject to a Gartner embargo on reuse). Their presentations were represented in top-down or dependency diagrams of huge complexity, many of which I saw in Las Vegas.

 

But generally, the aim of EA is about modeling the current state in order to plan and effect the future state more soundly. (Gartner actually suggests planning the future state before modeling the present.) Gartner analyst and conference chair Nick Gall explained to me that the goal of EA was not to own all the business and technology intersections. “EA needs to be a coordinator of many aspects, which by themselves are very specialized disciplines. EA just makes sure the SOA folks doing their stuff are talking to the BPM folks and the MDM folks. We’re not saying bring it all into EA and create some huge fiefdom, that’s a non-starter.”

 

So it is hard to identify where the rubber meets the road. Some presentations, (which I cannot cite), showed some interesting overhead work at aligning IT investment with business strategy, though it’s difficult to tell whether it was the result of EA or a domain competency center addressing the program in question. Most demonstrations I saw represented the incipient need for EA more than its result. You could say that EA is in part providing some insurance against future risk and some assurance that investments will make more sense going forward.

 

That accounts for another takeaway, that EAs are as much made of personalities and intuitive skill as they are of a given function. A lot of these folks are worldly, articulate and gregarious people, a cultural fit rather than a job description. As one vendor described, the perfect EA might be “half cowboy VP with clout, half academic.” It’s a situational role.

 

This also makes the future of a given EA advocate a risky business. Without a direct connection to a given P&L, EAs will be subject to program cutbacks in the event of any downturn. While I saw that sponsorship exists for some programs to continue for the long haul, I already know a few EAs who have lost their jobs because of economic circumstances. Let’s just say you won’t find many in the mortgage-backed securities business these days.

 

You can’t help but salute these individuals, their visionary companies and the work they are doing. Gartner sees a future to support with conferences, research and guidelines and frameworks for the EA of the future. We’ll learn and watch for still more intersections when demand and the economy ramp up again.

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