What is an enterprise architect? Everything you need to know about the role and where it's going next

The best enterprise architects help turn ideas for tech-led change into a business reality. Here's what you need to know about the role and how you can turn any career opportunities to your advantage.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

What is an enterprise architect?

Enterprise architect (EA) is one of the most senior positions in the IT department. These experienced technology professionals ensure that a company can reach its desired business outcomes through the effective use of technologies, practices and standards.

What does an enterprise architect do?

EAs, in short, make sure the business in investing in the right systems and services. Tech analyst Gartner describes enterprise architecture as a proactive discipline, where specialist professionals identify opportunities for technology-led change and work with the business to deliver systems and services that help it meet its objectives. That means setting technology directions, communicating that roadmap and making sure the organisation sticks to the enterprise architecture framework it has decided on, and if necessary evolving that model over time to deal with new needs or emerging technologies. 

While technical awareness is important, EAs don't need to be experts in every technology around, says Laura Dawson, CIO at the London School of Economics. "Your enterprise architect should be looking at what the business develops and they should know what the business does really well, and be able to articulate that in systems, processes and business views," she says.

How does an enterprise architect work with the IT department?

The role of EA is closely connected to solutions architect, but tends to be broader in outlook. While EAs focus on the enterprise-level design of the entire IT environment, solution architects find spot solutions to specific business problems. EAs also work closely with business analysts, who analyse organisational processes, think about how technology might help, and then make sure tech requirements are implemented successfully. 

Looking upwards, EAs tend to work very closely with chief information officers (CIOs). While the CIO focuses on understanding the wider business strategy, the EA works to ensure that the technology that the organisation buys will help it to meet its business goals, whether that's improvements in productivity, gains in operational efficiency or developing fresh customer experiences, while also working with others – like the security team – to ensure everything remains secure.

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Nationwide CIO Gary Delooze is a former EA who says a really good enterprise architect will bring the business and IT teams together to create a technology roadmap. They tell a story that breaks down the IT implementation process into stages, so business and tech teams can see what they will have to do in order to deliver the change that's required.

"They're brilliant at articulating a multi-million pound investment over multiple years as a series of steps, and helping people understand how their project or feature team comes in at a certain stage and delivers their piece. Then they show how another team delivers the next step, and then – eventually – how we will all get to the right destination," he says.

How has the enterprise architect role changed?

EAs traditionally spent a large chunk of their time focused on operational efficiency. Today, they're still concerned with ensuring that enterprise systems reach a minimum viable level of functional performance to support business processes. Many retain responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of an organisation's IT networks and services.

However, rather than focusing on a spot solution to a specific business challenge, such as the implementation of a CRM system to help deal with customer records, and then making sure it's operationally efficient, modern EAs work across multiple fronts and projects.

Sharm Manwani, executive professor of IT and digital leadership at Henley Business School, says his organisation's research alongside consultancy McKinsey concludes that EAs are smart people and very conceptually solid. "They can see the big picture, they can draw the big picture," he says,

Manwani says the one thing some EAs don't necessarily have is the ability to engage at an executive level. The underlying role of digital to all business processes means EAs need to understand how the broad range of digital technologies can be applied to help the business achieve its aims. EAs who want to develop their careers will need to focus on developing their soft skills, particularly around communication and engagement.

What does a successful enterprise architect look like?

Rather than talking tech, good EAs focus on business value. "The enterprise architect has got to be able to speak the language of the people that they're talking to," says LSE's Dawson.

Just as modern CIOs are expected to be strong communicators, so are modern EAs. Rather than focusing on technical details in the data centre, EAs need to engage with their line-of-business peers to understand what they're looking to achieve. Dawson refers to this trait as empathy; good EAs, she says, show by example and lead by example.

The second key element for EAs, says Dawson, is "a massive streak of pragmatism". In most organisations – certainly in the case of incumbents with a long history of system implementations – EAs are never going to be able to go into an organisation, build from scratch and create the perfect architecture.

To that end, Dawson says the final thing that successful EAs must deal with is ambiguity. "You've got to be able to cope with the greyness that exists in architecture within an organisation – it's not always going to be 'this' or 'that', it's going to be a degree of grey and I think that's really important," she says.

How do I become an enterprise architect?

While EAs might not necessarily hold deep technology expertise, they do need to have an understanding of how technology is developed and how it can be applied to business use cases. EAs are typically recruited from the IT department, such as those involved in the development of technical solutions for specific line-of-business challenges.

EA roles usually require an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related field and as much as 10 years' IT experience. As well as the much-desired communications skills, many companies look for individuals with data management, business strategy and technical capabilities within specialist areas, such as cloud computing.

How much do enterprise architects get paid?

PayScale suggests the average UK salary is about £75,000, while Glassdoor suggests annual pay in London can top £90,000. Indeed reports the average US salary is as high as $140,000

What are the career prospects like for enterprise architects?

The fact that EAs represent an increasingly important link between business and tech means top architects are well-suited to top IT leadership roles, such as chief technology officer and CIO. Some EAs move first into an IT manager position before taking further steps up the executive ladder. Larger organisations also offer the offer opportunity to become a chief EA.

What's the future of the enterprise architect role?

Nationwide's Delooze says the role of EA is "really important" in his organisation. The company is still building and investing in its EA capability. What's important to recognise, however, is how the nature of that investment has altered. Modern EAs build an iterative link between business strategy and technology execution, says Delooze.

"We've moved the role away from the technology architecture team and we've actually moved it more into the my strategy team. So what I now have is a very small group of people who are constantly designing and refreshing the technology strategy and making sure we're still on track," he says.

"And then alongside them is an enterprise architecture team that's translating that strategy into roadmaps and stories. And that becomes a really key role – just the art of storytelling in that context is something that is far more important for EAs today than I think it ever has been before."

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