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The Enterprise Architects of the New Era

By Dana Gardner
Aug 17, 2009 4:00 AM PT

The role of enterprise architecture (EA) is in flux, especially as we consider the heightening interest in cloud computing and in the fluid sourcing options for IT applications, data services and infrastructure, not to mention business processes that fall outside of IT entirely.

The Enterprise Architects of the New Era

The down economy has clearly focused IT spending and analysis on priorities and doing cost-benefit types of activities, with an eager eye to seek out faster, better and cheaper means to acquire and manage IT functions and business processes.

We've already seen a great deal of interest and activity around Platform as a Service (PaaS) and the application development and testing phases of an application's life cycle. Many of us expect to see a great deal more of the application life cycle, from design time and long-term production and integration across different aspects of processes inside and outside of the organization to become more part of a mixture of services.

These will become internal, external and hybrid, and a lot of different sourcing innovations are yet to come. Soon many of these will skirt IT altogether.

So, as these service components shift in their origins and delivery models, the task of meeting or exceeding business requirements based on these services becomes all the more complicated. The new services era calls for powerful architects who can define, govern and adjust all of the necessary ingredients that they must creatively support and improve upon during a life cycle over many years.

Who or what will step into this gulf between the traditional means of IT and the new cloud ecology of services? These demands will be extended, of course, across different organizations and the requirements that they have.

The architect's role, still a work in progress at many enterprises even today, may well become the key office where the buck stops in this era. What then should be the role and therefore the new opportunity for enterprise architects?


Listen to the podcast (42:55 minutes).

Here to help us lead the way in understanding that complex and dynamic issue set, we're joined by Tim Westbrock, managing director of EAdirections. We're also joined by Sandy Kemsley, an independent IT analyst and architect herself, and by John Gotze, international president for the Association of Enterprise Architects.

Let me go to Tim first. What are you seeing as a general set of what we would now consider architects? What are they doing?

Tim Westbrock: On average, you have two different kinds of enterprise architects. One is a very solution-oriented enterprise architect. They're ones that do try to keep the breadth of the enterprise in focus, but they are focused on individual solutions. They're focused on it holistically, meaning they're not just looking at a specific technology or a specific application.

They're bringing that holistic advantage, but they tend to be less transformational. They tend to be driven by operational goals. They tend to be driven by immediacy. That is one of the biggest reasons that we don't have a lot of reuse, because of the lack of breadth at the solution layer.

The other one is still not in the main. The more strategic enterprise architects depend on the strategic nature of the executives of the organization. If we're going to bring it into layers of abstraction, they don't go more than a layer or two down from strategy. They tend to be the ones that do develop a community of practice that has solution architects involved in it. Their takeaway from that is the EA's perspective, and they have to take that down to the solution layer. That's what I see in the main today.

Gardner: Does that mean we're primarily dealing with tactical issues?

Westbrock: In the large, enterprise architects are still more tactically oriented.

Gardner: Sandy?

Sandy Kemsley: I absolutely agree, I see that a lot. I work a lot with companies to help them implement business process management (BPM) solution, so I get involved in architecture things, because you're touching all parts of the organization then. As you say, Tim, a lot of very tactical solution architects are working on a particular project, but they're not thinking about the bigger picture.

Gardner: John, it seems that the economy has focused people's attention at looking at the bigger picture. If you stay tactical, you can control and manage costs. You can manage complexity. You can't transform very well. How, in your perception, is this down economy and these new pressures, shifting this role?

John Gotze: Actually, it's helping to change the focus in EA from the more tactical to the more strategical issues. I've seen this downturn in the economy before. It's reinforcing the changes in the discipline, and EA is becoming more and more of a strategic effort in the enterprise.

There are some who call us enterprise architects by profession, and this group at The Open Group conference is primarily people who are practitioners as enterprise architects. But the role of EA is widening, and, by and large, I would say the chief executive is also an enterprise architect, especially with the downturn. ...

Gardner: Okay. Sandy, we talked a little bit about the economic pressures, but this is happening in tandem with some other large technology trends: a greater emphasis on services orientation, more emphasis on governance, and trying to bring in services from a variety of sources.

Looking at what should be core and internal and what might be outsourced or provisioned from a cloud environment, whether it's yours or someone else's or some combination, where does the authority shift from an IT department when we start bringing in these larger external organizations?

Kemsley: That's an interesting question. We do see a shift in terms of who has authority for making the architecture decisions. You also have to look at the authority. Who has responsibility for keeping the lights on -- for running the systems once they are in there?

In many of the companies that I work with -- and maybe this is just a Canadian perspective -- architecture, in many cases, means mostly IT architecture. There is this struggle between the IT architects and or the enterprise architects, who are really IT architects, looking at, how we need to bring things in from the cloud and how we need to make use of services outside.

But, as they speak to the IT masters, of course, they're vowing to have all of that come through IT, through the technology side. This puts a huge amount of overhead on it, both from a governance standpoint, but also from an operational standpoint. That's causing a lot of issues. If you don't get EA out of IT, you're going to have those issues as you start going outside the organization.

Gardner: So the authority, the governance, the managing, the decisions about which sourcing option should be ultimately pursued, does that just get shoehorned into IT? That doesn't sound like it's going to scale. John, where does this new office reside? Is it something that grows out of IT, or is it something that comes down from some other aspect of the organization at large?

Gotze: More the latter, I think, but the IT department will not disappear, of course. It's naive to say that IT doesn't matter, as Nicholas Carr said many years ago. It's not the point that IT is irrelevant or anything, but it's the emphasis on the strategic benefits for the enterprise.

The whole notion of business-IT alignment, as we saw in the survey here, is still the predominant emphasis and concern. I actually think that it's yesterday's concern, in the sense that business-IT alignment is really about capturing business needs and designing better IT. We've done that for 20, 30, 40 years now, and it's time to move on.

It's more about thinking about the coherent enterprise that everything should fit together. It's not just alignment. You can have perfectly well-aligned systems and processes, without having a coherent enterprise. So, the focus basically must be on coherency in the enterprise.


Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: The Open Group sponsored this podcast.


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