30 October 2009

The EA Identity Crisis

As business architecture gains a foothold as a tool for enabling the delivery of business change, Enterprise Architecture (and more specifically the Chief Architect) is experiencing an identity crisis.

IT’s Coming Home
With the fairly recent and somewhat belated recognition that Enterprise Architecture is not a purely IT focused activity (the clue is in the name), architects are finding themselves more involved with the alignment of IT architecture with business strategy. In some organisations, there may even be the recognition that Business Architecture is key to this transition.

Why this is considered to be something new is beyond me. Why IT would consider alignment with the business to be an add-on or a refinement to what they currently do is extremely worrying. The history of how IT became something separate, and how the need to “align IT to the business” arose as a task that people needed to be reminded of is a vague one that I will not discuss in this post.

I need to stress at this point that I do not accept that an amorphous reference library containing all the compartmentalised business information and design in any way represents a true Business Architecture; no matter how many times people try to call it one.

The emergence of Business Architecture as a formal activity should not be in an issue in itself. It is a fairly simple matter to realign architecture to the business needs, and use existing Enterprise Architecture skills to articulate the Business Strategy as architecture, and then derive the technology oriented elements of the architect from this...

...but it is an issue.

Get your Filthy Hands off my Business!
Despite the addition of the “enterprise” qualifier, architecture is still considered in many organisations to be purely the domain of the IT department, whilst business strategy is considered to be something that IT may be interested in, but should not interfere with. It is here that the dilemma exists.

The main cause of the confusion is the alignment of many Chief Architects to the IT Department coupled with a reporting line up to the CIO. It is difficult for such an architect to be considered as anything other than an IT focused individual, and it is then even more challenging for this individual to get a seat at the business table. However, for many problems, IT forms a major part of the solution, and in developing an enterprise architecture, the Chief Architect will need to have a working knowledge of the emerging technologies that so dictate the art of the possible in the modern world.

Now we need to address another misconception. Apparently, IT people don’t understand the business. This is as unreasonable and offensive as saying women can’t drive or white men can’t dance (and more seriously, it is a form of discrimination that can damage careers). Of course, some IT people do not have the business savvy to become enterprise architects, but similarly some non-IT people do not have the engineering mentality that is core to the development of a simple, well structured architecture (and vice-versa).

However, this discriminatory belief that IT people aren’t fit for business matters, often excludes architects who have grown up through the technical ranks from contributing to, or guiding the development of Business Architecture. (I have seen job adverts for Business Architects that explicitly request that candidates must not come from a technical background).

So we have two questions to answer. Firstly, who is the Chief Architect for the enterprise as a whole, and secondly, who does this person report to?

Who Am I?
I am aware from my conversations on twitter that some people have come to the conclusion that the CEO is the Chief Architect. In my opinion this conclusion is not a practical one; despite the fact that it is supported by more than one person whose opinion I respect. For me, the CEO is chief visionary (or strategist) and of course has control over the architecture, much as he or she has control over all elements of the Business.

But the CEO is no more Chief Enterprise Architect than he or she is COO or CFO. Architecture is the next step in the process that takes the CEO’s vision and formulates it in an unambiguous and concise manner to guide the “doers”. (See my previous article What’s in a Name?). In any organisation large enough to need an enterprise architecture, for practical reasons the role of Chief Architect needs to be a delegated post.

Where Am I?
If the Chief Architect is aligned to IT through a reporting line to the CIO, then discrimination may prevent them from including Business Architecture in their remit. If the Chief Architect is outside the IT domain reporting directly to the CEO, then there is a danger that they become separated from a core function that will be involved in a large element of each business change (the IT part).

For me, there is no ideal solution, but in the current climate of business discrimination against the technically minded, I believe may be necessary for the Chief Architect to be recognised as a direct report to the CEO.

If the discrimination can be overcome, and if the business has a strong technical element within its solutions, then there is no reason why the Chief Architect should not report to the CIO, and the role of CIO be recognised as more than just an IT centric one.

What Am I?
As far as hard skills go, the Chief Architect must have a broad range of practical experience, aligned to the typical proportions found in the business solutions. Inevitably, where businesses are adopting highly technical approaches to their problems, the implication is that the Chief Architect should have a rich technical understanding, and if this means they come from the ranks of IT then this should not be seen to be a problem. As far as soft skills are concerned, here is a brief (but not complete) list of those that I feel are important:
  1. The ability to communicate at all levels and to a variety of audiences in a variety of ways.
  2. The ability to influence by recognising the needs and motivations of others.
  3. The ability to see the big picture quickly and intuitively.
  4. The ability to work with uncertainty and create certainty for others to work with.
  5. The ability to rapidly assimilate new information (no-one knows everything, but an Architect needs to know everything that is relevant).
  6. The ability to make decisions (a surprisingly rare skill).
  7. The ability to solve a problem in a manner that is beneficial to the needs of all parties.
  8. The ability to recognise simplicity at an aesthetic (instinctive) level and avoid complexity.
“But techies don’t have the necessary soft skills!” I hear you cry. There we have the generalised and unacceptable discrimination again. Of course, the Chief Architect does need many soft skills, and these skills may not be abundant in the technical community...

...but that is because as a set they are not abundant in any community. What is more, close inspection of the list should reveal that all apart from the first two skills in my list would be recognised by most engineers, technologists, and IT practitioners as core to their profession.

In Conclusion
Get rid of the anti-tech discrimination (techism?) and the problem goes away. Changing reporting lines will not solve it. Perpetuate the discrimination and you prevent a significant number of excellent candidates from contributing to a key business focused activity in your organisation.

Place all your architecture activities under one single Chief Architect and thus centralise and coordinate one of the key activities you have at your disposal to transform your business. Allow this architect to embrace all elements of the Business (IT included) to develop a truly enterprise wide, fully inclusive architecture.

Before you can truly decide who the Chief Architect reports to you need to fully understand what the true role of the CIO is (and that, my friends, is a whole new topic).

The Enterprising Architect

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