The Rising Importance of the Enterprise Architect

With equal parts technology expertise and business savvy, today's enterprise architects are connecting silos and enabling the enterprise vision.

By Diann Daniel
Sat, March 31, 2007

CIO — Enterprise architecture focuses on four crucial C's: connection, collaboration, communication and customers. Imagine needing to manually log onto five different systems to create and track an order, or putting in 20 hours researching a project because you didn't know the information already existed in another department. These situations result from fragmentation and siloed thinking; the goal of enterprise architecture, on the other hand, is to create unity.

In its simplest terms, enterprise architecture is the process of aligning a business's strategic vision with its information technology. It connects different business units for synergistic communication and collaboration, creating a more seamless customer (or end-user) experience. The enterprise architect, of course, is instrumental in this process.

Enterprise architecture's goal is IT that enables business strategy today and tomorrow, says Peter Heinckiens, chief enterprise architect at Toyota Europe. "The 'tomorrow' part is especially important," he says. The enterprise architect must map, define and standardize technology, data and business processes to make that possible. This means that the architect must have both a macro and micro view: He must understand the business strategy and translate this into an architectural approach (macro view), but he must also be able to work with individual projects and deliver very concrete guidance to these projects that focuses on the successful delivery of the individual project within that macro view. The enterprise architect transforms tech-speak into the language of business solutions, and he knows what technology is needed to enable business strategy, says Heinckiens.

In other words, he knows how to bridge silos. An oft-used metaphor for the enterprise architect's role is that of the city planner, since he also provides the road maps, zoning, common requirements, regulations and strategy-albeit for a company, rather than a city. And this role is increasingly important as enterprise architecture itself becomes more important.

The Rise of Enterprise Architecture

The field of enterprise architecture has moved away from reactive one-off projects to becoming an increasingly structured field. With the government's formalization of enterprise architecture after the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and its increasing prevalence in the private sector, participants are discussing what components enterprise architecture comprises and how to develop best practices. "Only in the last couple years are people converging about what [EA] means," says Gene Leganza, vice president at Forrester Research.

Enterprise architecture's roots are in the desire to serve what is best for the enterprise versus the individual department or project, says Campbell Soup Company Vice President of IT-Shared Services Andy Croft, who has the enterprise architect role at Campbell's. He speaks of the days when employees within the same company were unable to share information via e-mail, because of incompatible e-mail systems. Each department thought it needed its own brand of PC, even its own network or security system. Finally, Croft says, "People lifted their heads and thought, maybe it's more important to be able to work together rather than me having the 'best.'" Enterprise architecture gained traction from the bottom up. The first big projects were typically CRM or ERP ventures.

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