What it means to be an enterprise architect

Enterprise architects are not born. They’re made.

This was a key learning I took away from the Open Group’s 23 annual Enterprise Architecture Practitioner’s Conference,which took place in Toronto July 20-22. I only made it on the last day,but among the highlights was a panel discussion about what it means tobe an enterprise architect (EA) and how they fit within theorganization (read Sandy Kemsley’s takefor more). The consensus was that very few firms really have a handleon it, and even fewer have a straightforward career path to becomingone.

“They’ll tell you when you’re an enterprise architect,” said DaveFoote, a consultant to specializes in this area. “It’s when someone inthe business puts their arm around you and says you’re the enterprisearchitect. At the same time you’ll want someone from the IT side sayingthe same thing.”

This is because EAs, when they’re successful, become the locus ofactivity for all that alignment between technologists and departmentheads we’ve been talking about for the last 10 years. Like projectmanagers, they are appointed because no one else is creating theorganizational ethic that’s needed to make the most of data integrationor business transformation projects. Len Fehskens, an Open Group VP wholeads professional skills and capabilities programs for EAs, said manyHR professionals don’t really understand what the job entails. Withinthe IT departments, however, EAs are seen as big earners.

“What you see sometimes is companies handing out these titles toattract people,” he said. Not a great approach when you want to see theoverall performance of an enterprise to improve.

Much like the early days of CIOs, the industry is struggling todefine EAs just as the role is rapidly evolving. Fehskens said suchprofessionals may have started out by focusing on middleware, thenoverall applications issues followed by business process optimization.In some cases panelists said EAs report into the CIO, while others takedirection from the COO or even the CEO. Like the CIO (or even the ITmanager), the shift is from technical to strategic. So what sets themapart?

“EAs can make a lot of other professionals very nervous about whatthey do,” said Jason Uppal, chief architect, QRS Research and Services.That’s because by helping develop a plan for managing information andsystems to be more responsive to the business, EAs are sometimes seenas a threat to established powers in the company. “You need to developan almost priest-like sensibility that you don’t trample on otherpeople’s feelings.”

Foote agreed. “The best EAs I’ve known have all been greatcommunicators,” he said. “They set people at ease, making themcomfortable.” They also do a lot of work to translate the IT impacts onbusiness problems, and vice-versa.

Fehskens said he knew of one EA who got the ultimate compliment from a coworker. “She said, ‘You make me feel smart,’” he said.

Not a bad goal for IT professionals of all kinds, whether they one day become enterprise architects or not.

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