Without enterprise architects, digital economy may descend into chaos

There are 25 billion points of data ready to overwhelm enterprise systems. An industry expert makes the case for enterprise architecture to provide structure.

Enterprise architecture began emerging as a keystone to business technology engagements only within the past decade. For many organizations, EA is essential for doing things the right way from the start, rather than trying to untangle messes of expensive, incompatible and underused systems -- and underserved end users -- later on.

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Now, take those underused and underfed and overpriced systems, and multiply the number of instances by a factor of 1,000. That's what is happening across the interconnected, "algorithm economy" (or API economy, digital economy, IoT economy -- take your pick). As organizations now lurch into the digital economy, the role of EA is only going to get more important. Because without it, things will rapidly descend into chaos. However, business and technology leaders need to understand where and how EA is best leveraged.

That's the view of Tim O'Neill, a highly regarded authority on all things EA. In a recent InfoWorld article, he explained why EA will be so critical to organizations over the next five years. Essentially, he explained, without EA, the emerging algorithm economy will essentially be rudderless.

That's because the most popular initiatives going on within IT shops today include Enterprise Portfolio Management (EPM) and IT Service Management (ITSM) on the technical side, and data analytics on the business side. These initiatives are great sources of information on how businesses and their systems are performing, O'Neill points out. "But they can't capture a business substructure or reason with deterministic confidence about how to re-engineer your business for digital transformation."

O'Neill also points to the budding Internet of Things, which is expanding faster than anyone can calculate, and will be streaming all types of data into enterprises.

"That's where EA shines," he says. Why? Because EA explores and builds frameworks around structural relationships. "EA allows us to understand and analyze the interconnected nature of a business -- the organizational structure, the process structure, right down to the infrastructure. It's not just about drawing pretty box and line diagrams."

Marcus Blosch, research vice president of Gartner, agrees that enterprise architects will be essential for moving forward into the digital realm. "Senior business executives are challenging CIOs and their IT organizations to be at the front of digital strategy, identifying innovative new business models and technologies, and getting more business value out of each technology investment," he said in a published statement a couple of years back. "Enterprise architects can provide unique capabilities to help CIOs develop a new agenda for 'hunting and harvesting' in a digital world."

EA will help businesses prepare, plan and keep up with demands for applications that can capture, analyze and store all this information. O'Neill predicts enterprise architects will be in demand "to engineer and re-engineer the increasingly complex systems that in 2020 deliver power to run your hybrid vehicle (will they be driverless yet?), manage the complexity behind the IoT-connected office and home, and ensure the smooth running of communications, banking, and an increasingly digitally-based health infrastructure."

Demand for EAs and related positions is strong: a recent perusal of the Dice.com site finds more than 26,000 open positions. The bottom line: there will be plenty of career opportunities ahead for EAs, much of it in areas we are just beginning to visualize the possibilities that the digital, or algorithm, economy is bringing.

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