​Tech jobs: Why the enterprise architect is your new secret weapon

​Enterprise architect role is now key to successful projects, but there are changes ahead for this role.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Video: Top IT jobs and hiring trends for 2018

Technology might be the underlying constant across all business areas but that doesn't mean the benefits of IT are widely understood. Evidence suggests organisations need a new generation of enterprise architects who can engage with the business and help their companies make the most of data in a digital age.

Two thirds (61 percent) of CIOs responding to last year's Harvey Nash and KPMG IT leadership survey said technology projects are more complex than they were five years ago. To help deliver digital strategies, organisations reported significant demand for enterprise architects, up 26 percent compared to 2016 and the fastest growing IT skill.

Jonathan Mitchell, non-executive director at Harvey Nash and former CIO at Rolls Royce, says the role of the enterprise architect is evolving in line with the changing use of technology. "We're seeing a move of skills demand away from traditional IT support areas and towards workers who can help the rest of the business to understand what's really going on in terms of technology and information," he says.

ZDNet speaks to four experts to find out what this new generation of enterprise architects looks like, how their business makes use of this capability and how the role of the talented IT professional is likely to evolve in the future.

Organisations need IT staff who make complicated things simple

Andrew Marks, former CIO at Tullow Oil and now a digital advisor, says it is crucial for IT leaders to understand how the role of enterprise architect is evolving. He suggests there are, in fact, two separate types. The first is the traditional, TOGAF-trained architect, who links the business aims and processes of an organisation to its IT strategy.

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The second, newer type of enterprise architect helps translate between business need and technological innovation. This talented IT professional is an expert in bringing various themes together and presenting the best ideas in a coherent way. Marks suggests demand for this new type of architect will continue to rise.

"A CIO cannot do this work on their own -- they need a trusted lieutenant," he says. "The whole environment is so much more complex than it has ever been before. Modern, digital applications and services are so easily integrated and interoperable that it's actually more complicated to bring everything together."

Marks says the new enterprise architecture role should include responsibility for data, too. "These digital tools, that are easily connected, are all about moving and using information," he says. "The ability to get a real-time response is key -- if you haven't got that edge, you're in danger of falling behind the competition."

Businesses need great people who ask tough questions of IT vendors

Aaron Powell, chief digital officer at NHS Blood and Transplant, thinks there will always be a need for talented IT staff who understand the underlying technology. "None of the systems and services we use are as simple as they pretend to be," he says.

"Whether these people will need to understand the underlying technology to the point of being able to fix these tools on a day-to-day basis is a different question. Understanding and insight will be the key requirements for the technology professionals of the future."

Like other experts, Powell recognises the future of the IT organisation is likely to depend on a much broader ecosystem, where businesses buy technology on demand rather than spending months developing systems in house. He says IT professionals will need to develop an awareness of technology to the point that they are able to ask intelligent questions to the providers of those systems and to request the necessary changes.

"It might also mean understanding the data that runs on the technology or being able to have an insight into how the technology can be applied in new situations," he says. "I suspect that we'll see a growth in new capabilities and value will come from our ability to apply those capabilities in a different way."

Companies want technology workers who can engage and integrate

Lisa Heneghan, global head of KPMG's CIO advisory practice, says demand for enterprise architects will continue to rise as organisations become increasingly reliant on data. "If you're going to translate business requirements into technology specifications, then you need enterprise architects," she says.

"Executives must have access to people who can look at the impact of technology across the organisation. Business has been driven functionally in silos for the past 20 years. Digital means organisations need to think about end-to-end processes and horizontal integration. Enterprise architects can play a key role in this complex web."

Heneghan says the enterprise architecture role traditionally involved a defensive way of working and many of those methods might have been inflexible. Now, businesses need enterprise architects that are business enablers. They need specialists who are much more positive and open to looking at different ways of doing things.

"The critical element will be integration -- that's what enterprise architects need to bring to the business. Enterprise architects need to ensure they develop their engagement skills so that they can reach outwards," says Heneghan.

"That's why these skills are hard to find and are in high demand. People who truly understand the industry, and can understand the breadth of technology that's available, are like gold dust. I think there's going to be a significant focus on how firms develop enterprise architects during the next five years."

Firms are already developing empowered and agile teams

Tarah Lourens, group CTO at payday loan specialist Wonga, is already seeing the evolution in enterprise architecture and digital labour at first hand in her own organisation. Lourens is a big advocate for agile development methods. This philosophy is helping to create a strong emphasis on team working, rather than job specification.

Read: Knowledge transfer: An underutilized approach to developing IT skills

"That means we don't have anyone with the title enterprise architect -- and we're quite keen not to," she says. "We believe we can run architecture through the team, with a level of guidance from myself and the head of engineering."

Such developments might sound like a death knell for enterprise architecture. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Like others, Lourens is keen to extol the benefits of an integrated approach to technology and business development. In Wonga's IT department, however, the team is simply more important than the individual.

"Architecture is about shared ownership in our business," says Lourens. "We still need to make decisions and set directions, so there are places where I will make the call. But we want everyone in the technology team to feel as though they own the architecture to create a sense of empowerment."

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