Enterprise Architects are More Than Just Modelers

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New opportunities are emerging for enterprise architects (EAs). EAs will work in conjunction with technology innovation leaders to help their organizations select, create, and implement the right business- and technology-based platforms to support their business ecosystems.

“By 2021, 40 percent of organizations will use enterprise architecture to help ideate new business innovations made possible by emerging technologies,” says Gartner.

The tools and techniques of enterprise architecture will still be used, “but the real contribution of enterprise architects is their ability to consult, coach and mentor, and drive business outcomes.”

EAs today generally aren’t seen as exclusively tech specialists, but creating, validating, refining and expanding, managing, and governing the architecture are primary functions. They’re supporting IT portfolios and strategy meta-model and standards development.

But the EAM Initiative references EAs as the voice of organizational innovation and sustainability, a role that requires skills related to fostering dialogue, applying system and system-in-environment thinking, and facilitating larger-group collaboration.

Enterprise Architects in Context

About ten years ago, EAs had a more rigid role than they do now. “They were viewed as very IT-oriented, they were seen as the academics who told the business no — that they couldn’t have something they wanted,” says Daniel Hebda, Chief Strategy Officer at MEGA International. The company explains its work as sustaining IT and business transformation with an integrated and business-driven enterprise architecture practice.

Hebda said that in the last few years things have changed, with more businesses beginning to see that EAs add real value to business transformation. After all, they are the experts who understand data in context — where it comes from, where it’s stored, how it’s protected and secured along the way, what the company is doing with it or what it could be doing with it — so that the company can make better business decisions in a way that’s in-line with the expectations of the market and the requirements of regulations, said Hebda.

There’s real risk to companies that make a misstep on regulations, but “How do you assess risk if it’s independent of the context within which you are looking at that risk?” he said. “You can’t.” That holds true for multiple commercial risks too — whether a company is equipped to seamlessly manage a move into a new market, for instance.

The Enterprise Architecture Umbrella

MEGA sees enterprise architecture as being the umbrella for contextual visibility into business’ operational tools — BPM, CMDB, and so on. “It’s the concept we are calling ‘operational assurance,’” Hebda says. This all feeds into providing enterprise with trust in models, in abstract but formal representations of reality so that business decisions can be driven from enterprise models. “If we can have this ecosystem of those operational tools, and our technology sits above it with an integration point down to those tools, we can validate certain aspects of the model to start driving decisions.”  

It can go further than that, going beyond the view of the operational world to a business architecture or capability tier where a common vocabulary can be used in context for Data Modeling so that business and IT can communicate in the same language. “Now, you can speak to the business, to IT, to executives, to whomever is at that capability tier, and everybody understands,” he said. That speeds the process of assessing issues such as entering a new market, giving everyone the same language so they can work together to assess what it will mean in terms of what new skills or processes are required for success, for example.

“The architects present a vision in context. If you get into that business, here are the capabilities, processes, people, and some of the technologies required to support the move. Here are rough order costs and a rough timeline,” Hebda said.

MEGA has worked with customers who brought EAs into the picture for just such a purpose. The company saw success moving into a new business line because EAs brought attention to the need to meta-tag the different processes and technology and how they intersection with new regulatory requirements.

“Then, they could track things as the regulation was updated. They looked for those keywords — the meta-tags within the regulation updates — and they could pinpoint what area of the business is affected and push out notices to relevant groups so they make the changes in order to stay in compliance,” he said.

When architects are embedded into project teams, they’re not seen as that other group that is always saying no. “They’re the people sitting next to you that are guiding you through the project,” he says. 

Morphing Business and EA Relationship

In these times of change, the business has also come around to understand that architects aren’t just providing back-end foundations, but also can act as front-end advisors. Architects are doing a lot with tracking emerging technology, Hebda said, which requires understanding the data connection with those technologies.

Now when the business comes and asks for more information about blockchain, for instance, the architects are in the position to give them a coherent picture of what it is and what implications it has for the company and on its data practices.  

Even more interesting to Hebda is that EAs are themselves actively looking to delve into where business opportunities lie. They’re thinking about how they can translate what they are learning about emerging technologies to identify new possibilities and propose them to the business. Perhaps they can make a connection between how they can get better use out of their data with new technologies — maybe by enhancing the customer experience or creating new revenue-generating services or even increasing operational efficiencies.

“It’s really presenting opportunities that are now technology-led to say, ‘We can innovate the business and let us explain how, why, the cost implications, and risk.’”

Architects are also becoming more valued for what they can prevent by raising architectural visibilities and putting them in context, not just by what they present. For instance, separate parts of the organization may be working on projects that each touch the same system, but never realized the connection. That could have created a multitude of problems around data and system touchpoints, but instead opens up a discussion about how to better align project goals with the same systems and with each other.

“MEGA has been so focused on context, and the value thereof, for so many years,” Hebda said. It’s been exciting for MEGA to see that the market is finally getting the value of context. “Hallelujah,” said Hebda.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

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