What will enterprise architecture look like in 5 years?

From the data mining gold rush to the algorithm economy, executives risk playing Jenga with critical systems – and that will never be a good strategy

EA crystal ball

When we look back from 2020 how will the world view enterprise architects? They're currently some of the most senior and well paid IT professionals, but will they have a seat at the strategy management table for the business as a whole?

I believe in 5 years' time the hype over the IoT (Internet of things) and big data and even, dare I say, the "basic" business intelligence that is derived from that data will have morphed into twin concerns.

First, how to keep on top of continual business transformation. Second, how to refine the best algorithms to manage business ecosystems well (or at least better than your competitors are doing!).

The next gold rush

Gartner's Peter Sondergaard makes a great point when he says: "The next digital gold rush will be focused on how you do something with data, not just what you do with it. This is the promise of the algorithm economy."

The question I've been asking myself is, where does EA (enterprise architecture) fit in all of this? And the answer I've come to believe is, right at the center if it plays its cards right!

At the moment, on one side of the table we're seeing a consolidation of the EPM (Enterprise Portfolio Management) offerings.  The ITSM (IT Service Management), ITPM (IT Portfolio Management) and PPM (Project Portfolio Management) markets are merging. PPM tool vendors are acquiring ITPM tool vendors, and ITSM tool vendors are climbing up the stack by starting to capture the "how" not just "what" in their repositories.

On the other side of the table lives BI (business intelligence), with its glossy user interface and focus on the aggregation and trending of business data -- sales per product line per region per quarter, customer satisfaction trends etc. BI is trying to find the forest for the trees by moving into descriptive models and predictive and prescriptive analytics.

More than meets the eye

EPM and BI can tell you how your business is performing and might perform in the future. But they can't capture a business substructure or reason with deterministic confidence about how to re-engineer your business for digital transformation -- and that's where EA shines.

Without structure, the vastness of the data we'll be dealing with (at least 25 Billion connected devices by 2020) will make it impossible to identify a mission-critical system from a nice-to-have one, to prioritize them, and ultimately to have a strong conviction about which path will be best to take for each.

EA is a discipline focused on capturing structural relationships within a business. That is the horizontal relationships, such as owns and uses, not just the vertical ones, such as aggregates and decomposes. EA allows us to understand and analyze the interconnected nature of a business -- the organizational structure, the process structure, right down to the infra-structure. It's not just about drawing pretty box and line diagrams.

The algorithm economy

This is also where algorithms come in. A structural model is exactly what you need to be able to run meaningful analysis on a complex business ecosystem. EA models can be analyzed using a whole variety of equational and structural algorithms for KPIs, such as TCO, ROI, compliance, risk, re-use, complexity, and availability.

CIOs -- particularly CIOs of consumer-focused digital businesses -- are also finding that they need to be able to build up and tear down new architectures at pace as business ecosystems evolve. Five-year plans have become two-year plans and are morphing to a system of rolling updates.

Sidestepping chaos

Without a forecasting process which imagines and selects the best future business structure according to the priorities set by the business, this rapid change descends quickly into chaos.

The eyes of the team building the enterprise roadmaps that guide this process will need to be trained on a continually-evolving set of future state options. Enterprise Architects will demonstrate -- at speed -- how they can crunch the data, build models, roadmap future states and present the transformation process clearly.

Enterprise Architects will be in demand to engineer and re-engineer the increasingly complex systems that in 2020 deliver power to run your hybrid vehicle (will they be driverless yet?), manage the complexity behind the IoT-connected office and home, and ensure the smooth running of communications, banking, and an increasingly digitally-based health infrastructure.

Job titles might change, but the core "model and analyze" skills required for EA will be in demand. EAs might become Digital Transformation Specialists, Enterprise Change Agents, or Enterprise Options Analysts. And they will reporting to the Chief Digital Officer .

But their advice will be central to well-informed planning. Without it, executives risk playing Kerplunk or Jenga with critical systems -- and that will never be a good strategy!

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