Upgrading the EA Role

Why the EA role is changing

Late last year I wrote a post on the Cutter Blog, entitled EA to Reflect On and Upgrade Its Role, as part of the Cutter predictions series. A recent comment asked said that “EA is mainly perceived as IT discipline and so far largely failed to establish Business Capability Evolution and organizational change.” The author, Peter Jetter, then asked “Why do think this going to change? Which blockers towards that goal do you perceive as diminishing?”

The questions highlight a dilemma that enterprise architects have faced for years – how to get a pragmatic balance between two almost opposing perceptions about our discipline! Here is my response:

On the one hand we have people who perceive EA to be a largely IT-based discipline, and this often goes hand-in-hand with a view that their role is simply to fix an immediate short-term problem. On the other hand there are those who believe EA to be about the big picture that puts local, short-term change into the broader long-term evolution of the architecture.

Why do I think things are changing?

Firstly decision makers are more aware of this dichotomy – they know when they really need EA, rather than treating architects as the latest incarnation of IT specialists. This is an important change; put simply it means that sponsors increasingly recognize that they shouldn’t employ architects to do IT work.

The second point is that the scope of EA is getting wider and more complex as individual enterprises depend more and more on their social and environmental ecosystem. This has made it easier to architects to explain and justify their true role, which again is changing the nature of their engagements.

In third place – architects used to struggle to the value they added. A common argument was that value only occurred when an architecture was delivered – meaning that there was no measurable value until the end of a project, and this might be a long way off in the future. Modern practice recognizes that the EA team add value throughout the strategy/execution cycle. [See, for example, my Cutter Executive Report on “Value, Benefits, Outcomes, Results, Returns, and Options: Justifying Architectural Overheads“]

There are other changes, but these three changes are removing many of the blocks that prevented EA from truly leveraging its unique qualities to improve capabilities.