Enterprise architects break out of the box

Once regarded as IT-focused, enterprise architects are becoming integral to business strategy

When you think of the term "architect" -- as in someone who designs buildings -- you think of a person in a business suit, meeting with clients, understanding their needs and budgets, looking at the surrounding environment, creating a vision clients get excited about, and then working with engineers and builders to turn it all into reality.

But when IT people imagine an enterprise architect (EA), they picture a technology expert who can write code and spends his or her time deep in projects. The building architect creates a vision and turns it into reality, while the EA fills a role closer to that of an engineer, whose principal job is to ensure things are built to according to plan, rather than to create that plan in the first place.

[ Has your business been enhanced by an enterprise architecture initiative? Then tell us your story and throw your hat in the ring for the 2011 InfoWorld/Forrester Enterprise Architecture Awards. ]

Fortunately for IT and the businesses it's part of, the EA's role is now starting to incorporate the responsibilities of both businessperson and planner. That conclusion derives from several key indicators:

  • Forrester annually surveys architect managers on their enterprise architecture programs. Business architecture is a relatively new area for most of them -- and we've been tracking its rise to where almost one-half of EA programs have a business architecture initiative. We also track the level of support of the EA program -- from "unaware" to "hostile" to "actively supports" -- across IT and business. When you look at the level of support by business management for those with a business architecture initiative, active support doubles, unawareness decreases by two-thirds, and hostility declines to almost none.
  • We ask these managers to tell us their priorities and drivers. The primary drivers for EA programs in 2010 were better planning, better IT-business alignment, and increased business agility. Technology consolidation and project design, which used to be near the top of the list, are far below these drivers.

To find examples of this trend, look no further than the InfoWorld/Forrester Enterprise Architecture Awards. The 2010 winners included an EA program charged with consolidating multiple business area strategies into a consolidated business strategy road map and the technology plan to support it; another that facilitated planning collaboration among business units, governance, risk, and compliance and in-country technology teams; and a third that was responsible for planning a business and IT transformation program.

Early submissions for the 2011 EA Awards show an even greater diversity of ways architects help their businesses succeed. I've talked with pharmaceutical firms that report crafting a much more blended business/IT operating model, a telecom firm whose EAs help business understand the scope of business transformation programs, and a manufacturer where the EA team is helping the business to understand how to utilize existing capabilities when venturing into new business areas or geographies.

The shift to the business and away from technology raises the question: Where is EA going? My colleague Gene Leganza paints a likely scenario: Over the next 5 to 10 years, the business-focused aspect of the architecture function will become embedded in business areas, while the technology-oriented pieces will stay with IT. And while the IT-resident role will still be called "IT architecture," the business-embedded role will take on a new title: planning and innovation management.

The EA role has already come a long way from its roots in engineering. Soon, across a broad swath of business, the EA profession will enjoy all the visionary status implied by the title "architect."

This story, "Enterprise architects break out of the box," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in enterprise architecture at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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