Enterprise Architects Can Be Indispensable in the Boardroom

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Read more about author Wilko Visser.

Enterprise architecture (EA) can be a confusing term. To supply a business executive with a working definition, you might list that EA comprises the business functions, capabilities, processes, roles, physical and organizational structure, data stores and flows, applications, platforms, hardware, and communication. You might throw in any number of impressive acronyms and abbreviations: TOGAF, EIM, EAM. If the individual is still awake and truly seeking discernment, you might be asked to distill it all down into a more simplified, relatable nutshell. This might be a start:

“Enterprise architecture involves the entirety of a business. It’s not just about IT. It is derived from the business vision. EA is the development of business and technology strategies designed to align IT with business goals. Enterprise architects convert the business strategy into an actionable plan, translating it to the technologists and ensuring that everything aligns with the goals and delivers the projected outcomes.”

If EA initiatives are to achieve understanding and success, they must be concepts that are understood by all, and not perceived as a foreign language to all but those within IT.

Claiming a Spot at the Boardroom Table

The value of EA cannot be fully appreciated unless it is demonstrated and clearly understood. An enterprise architect must be a passionate, yet careful evangelist in order to earn a place in boardroom discussions and decision-making. The pitch for EA representation in the boardroom will require some groundwork, but time and patience will lead to significant payoffs for all stakeholders. 

Here are four approaches to consider for ensuring enterprise architects become invaluable in the boardroom.

1. Forget the jargon. Speak in relatable terms: Enterprise architecture is not a secret society, and the aim here is to demystify and simplify. A fruitful dialogue occurs when all participants can speak and comprehend a common language. Different stakeholders will need different messages if you’re to catch their attention. With marketing, you may speak of benefits around quick-time-to-market digital products. The head of IT will respond to conversations regarding updates on the lifecycle of IT components. And remember that executive management pays attention to a clear and concise dialogue about lowering costs, decreasing risk, and increasing agility. Create opportunities to meet managers and executives in department meetings, interviews, and informal settings to build relationships. The whole organization is your mission field to spread the value message of EA.

2. Become a collaborator and consultant: Show the benefits of EA’s consultative capabilities by supporting teams with knowledge of the organization’s entire landscape, processes, and vision. Encourage stakeholders from across the organization to participate in a collaborative, integrated approach. Help teams and individuals solve real problems. Advise the CIO on which apps to divest or invest in within the portfolio. Supply security teams with updated overviews of applications that handle critical customer and employee data. Provide the data and insights needed based upon the function, department, and issue at hand. You will win allies and enhance buy-in for EA initiatives.

3. Know your data and when and where to use it: Data is enterprise currency, and executive management discussions in the boardroom are data-driven. A knowledgeable enterprise architect can show the board how data for business requirements are translated into technological specifications. EA can provide timely reports on the status of the current application landscape and IT inventory to provide data that addresses crucial boardroom evaluations and decision-making. Use reports to tie EA into business processes during regular meetings. Data can be used to illustrate real issues with simple diagrams and use cases, demonstrating options and concrete results. EA overlays on top of the business model can help boardroom members visualize cost, revenue, risk, and performance metrics to support decisions and track alignment with initiatives. The enterprise architect is the data guru of the boardroom.

4. Foster executive sponsorship: If you want to have a game in the boardroom, you must get to know the players. You need the sponsorship of executives who wield real influence and can promote engagement of EA initiatives. Executive sponsors influence factors that impact the effectiveness of EA strategy – like budgets, vendor selections, and acquisitions. The enterprise architect needs to understand the business side and dynamics. Who is open to change and who isn’t? Who has the most clout and where are the factions? Be prepared, with appropriate topics at the ready, to engage executives in meaningful conversations that build rapport and make you memorable as an ally and helpful consultant.

With the right networking and preparation, EA can provide a compelling business case for its permanent place in the boardroom. From the business side to operations and technology, EA can demonstrate game-changing value in productivity, timeliness, revenue growth, cost reduction, agility, and scalability for all stakeholders. 

The Expanding Role of Enterprise Architects 

The enterprise architect is a business enabler who uses AI technology, data, and analytics to plan, manage, and track digital business investments. Enterprise architecture involves every department, policy, and process of an organization, and hence should be viewed as a collaborative and holistic framework. An enterprise architect acts in a multidisciplinary role with technical expertise, market sector knowledge, and skilled consultative capabilities.  

EA now plays a key role in providing invaluable and ongoing feedback and data to determine whether applications should be retired, re-hosted, or revised based upon current objectives. Architects can evaluate the fitness of platforms in real time to provide business leadership with data on whether their initiatives are on track. 

The enterprise architect of today is no longer an independent force operating in a siloed manner. Architects should be valued as team players who contribute to and collaborate across all areas of an enterprise. The boardroom benefits from varied voices and holistic input. Enterprise architects effectively tie operations to this chamber of decision-making, thus earning a rightful place at the table. 

The value of enterprise architecture will gain buy-in when its initiatives are shared using a common language, to increase the knowledge base of board members through collaborative relationships, and with data value delivered in a clear manner. 

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