Digital disruptor: now keywords in enterprise architects' job descriptions

Enterprise architecture proponents say it's time to fill a gaping void in digital enterprises.

Gartner's official definition of "enterprise architecture" includes an interesting phrase:

"Enterprise architecture (EA) is a discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces by identifying and analyzing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes. EA delivers value by presenting business and IT leaders with signature-ready recommendations for adjusting policies and projects to achieve target business outcomes that capitalize on relevant business disruptions."
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Photo: Joe McKendrick

As Gartner sets the tone for IT's perceptions of its place in the world, it's noteworthy that EA -- and its practitioners -- are seen as agents of "disruption."

Let's face it, disruption has displaced innovation as the go-to phrase, Everyone wants to be a digital disruptor --CEOs, VPs, managers, line employees, and just about everyone across organizations who cares about the fates of their organizations.

What is disruption? It's not just tweaking or redesigning a product or service. In the view of Clayton Christensen, who first defined the term more than a decade ago, disruption means upending markets by delivering solutions that create entirely new markets -- often with unserved or underserved segments. Companies aren't just asking for people to simply help improve what they're doing, They want people who will create new businesses that could potentially destroy an existing business.

So, who is going to guide the way into the land of digital disruption? CEOs, who don't have the time or understanding of the details of what digital disruption involves? IT managers, who don't necessarily have an inside view of what the business is aiming for, or is even capable of achieving?

This is the ultimate opportunity to advance the roles of enterprise architects. Jeanne Ross, research director at MIT Sloan School of Management, for one, sees enterprise architecture as a necessity for organizations seeking the holy grail of digitization.

So how does one become the advocate for disruption -- essentially tearing down an existing business and replacing it with something different -- and keep his or her job? By showing organizations how various technologies and services can be brought together to accomplish far more than any startup is capable of accomplishing.

Ross was interviewed by Myles Suer, chief platform evangelist for Informatica, who reported on her views on EA's latest evolution in a recent post on The Open Group site. The ideal digital organization -- with its integrated channels and seamless end-to-end transactions -- "of course means architecture."

A digital enterprise is one that takes advantage of a constellation of technology platforms and strategies -- including cloud, mobile, social, data analytics and Internet of Things. At the core of any successful approach is customer engagement and digitized solutions.

Ross makes an interesting observation: the famous startups that are creating so much pain within established markets -- you know, the Ubers and Airbnbs -- do one thing really well. More established enterprises are capable of doing multiple things well. The key is doing all those things well, in an integrated fashion -- something only established companies are in a position to do. "Competitive advantage will come from taking capabilities that others may or may not have and integrating them in ways that make something extraordinarily powerful," Ross is quoted as saying. "Integrating business capabilities provides a whole value proposition that is hard for others to copy."

This takes a holistic view of enterprise technology assets, and how they fit into the big picture. Plus, businesses need to be responsive to their customers. There's never been a more exciting team to be an EA. Never before have businesses required EA.

Jason Bloomberg also picked up on this theme, urging EAs to take the lead as change agents within their enterprises. The outcome of change, of course, is greater and more responsive digitization. While EAs have long seen themselves in this role, the specter of digital disruption adds an incredible urgency to this role. "The EA should play a central role in this pursuit of greater business agility, as there are many different types of change that require different approaches. Taking a difficult, multifaceted problem and breaking it up into its core pieces in order to apply appropriate solutions, after all, is a core strength of the EA."

The gist of Ross' and Bloomberg's statements: enterprises feel threatened as they never have been before in this digital economy, and are hungering for leaders to step up and show them how they can leverage all the technology around them. This is a natural role for EAs.

(Disclosure: I am a contributor to the perspectives site of Informatica, mentioned in this post.)

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