Are enterprise architects too snugly aligned with IT departments?

A seasoned enterprise architect says the profession needs to break out of the IT box, and assume its necessary role as high-level business consultant.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

Enterprise architecture has not been delivering as much business value at it could. That's because it's trapped within the confines of information technology, and needs to take a more expansive view of the business.

That's the gist of a recent post by Tom Graves, a seasoned enterprise architect and self-described "business-anarchist, confusionist." He emphasizes that enterprise architecture needs to more boldly go after the "enterprise" side of its designation, versus what he calls "the tiny, often-near-irrelevant, IT-obsessed subset that still so often purports to be 'enterprise-architecture' -- that disastrous term-hijack that's crippled this discipline for decades now."

Fair description? Enterprise architects often find themselves trapped between two worlds. IT managers are consumed with system performance metrics, integration challenges and server loads, while business managers are consumed with time to market, customer insights and organizational politics. EAs need to see and understand and be open to both perspectives. But they may be viewed more as an adjunct to the IT department, versus high-level business consultant.

Enterprise architects need to rethink their roles and push the business in new directions, says Graves. He outlines what should go into the ideal job description of an enterprise architect:

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Think differently, and urge others to do so as well: "Too often I find my clients locked-in to a way of thinking, or a client-owned method that focuses on the 'how' and the 'who,' but rarely the 'why,'" he says. His successful engagements come from understanding the 'why' and finding "a way to bring 'big-picture thinking' to the work."

Focus on the "practice of the practice" of enterprise architecture: A vital part of the enterprise architect's mission is "helping people within organizations to develop an enterprise-architecture practice, and to lift their skills, their maturity, at the disciplines of enterprise architecture."

Develop tools and techniques for sensemaking: Every organization has different requirements and ways of doing things, The EA needs to identify -- or even create -- the tools and techniques that will make things happen, Graves says.

Conduct training: Enterprise architects need to "help people make the best use of those tools and techniques," says Graves.

Create clarity: EA is "about building capability to enact a continual, collective process of sensemaking / decision-making to support action, on purpose.: Avoid "imposing a prepackaged 'solution,'" Graves says.

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