Do Enterprise Architects Have Value?

I love nothing more than a good debate, so when I read George Colony’s recent blog post “Enterprise Architects For Dummies (CEOs)” and then read the comments from infuriated architects I just had to chime in and post a comment.

I love nothing more than a good debate, so when I read George Colony’s recent blog post “Enterprise Architects For Dummies (CEOs)” and then read the comments from infuriated architects I just had to chime in and post a comment. My EA colleagues were the first to enter the fray, with Brian Hopkins posting a reply to many comments on his own post “It Doesn't Matter Where EA Lives - So Let's Stop Arguing About It.”

What’s interesting is that the most comments centered not on whether George was right in highlighting the importance of the EA role, but on whether EA should be seen as an IT role at all. And what is fascinating to me is that some folks believe EA should report to the CEO. The thinking goes that the CIO is too techie, and the EA role is much broader than IT because it involves business process and even org design. This seems to ignore the fact that George actually wrote, “Techies invariably screw up the business; business guys screw up the tech. For years (actually, decades) we've looked for someone to span both -- and that's what Enterprise Architects do.

This last sentence resonates with me because way back when — let’s just say in the early '80s — I studied for a degree in the UK actually called “Computing In Business” — described as straddling business studies and computer science. The aim: to produce graduates able to bridge the gap between business and technology. I like to think they succeeded — I became a CIO at Reebok in the UK at age 28, in part because I was able to successfully talk the language of business and technology. My role was as a member of the executive board first and technologist second. Fast-forward a few years (well OK, decades then), and the technologies we apply have changed but the leadership principles of successful CIO have not. In much of our research, we talk of the transition from IT to BT (Business Technology). This isn’t simply renaming IT for the sake of it. It is a reflection that more and more CEOs are now expecting their CIOs to be business executives first and technologists second; it is also a reflection that technology underpins every business strategy, and in some cases reveals new business strategies. (See my earlier posts on BT Strategic Planning.)

As technology in our organizations has grown more complex, IT organizations have expanded and in some cases become very focused on the effective optimization of technology. However, CIOs such as Dell’s Andi Karaboutis clearly understand the future of IT is not in the effective management of infrastructure — the future of IT is in enabling the business to achieve competitive advantage. Or to put it another way, the future of IT is BT. And in a BT world, the Enterprise Architecture role is essential to a successful CIO — good architects play a pivotal role in helping to guide business investment decisions, balancing process and technology optimization, business flexibility, risk and complexity against time-to-business-impact (T2BI). Good architects, like good CIOs, understand the language of business and technology.

by Nigel Fenwick

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