Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Spencer Izard, lead advisor and researcher at Leading Edge Forum.
The enterprise architect (EA) role has always resided within the IT department. The reason for this is that IT leaders commonly took the perspective that "you cannot architect technology unless you have developed technology."
This attitude has meant that from a talent management perspective, the EA role has typically been sourced from people who have worked within IT departments, and specifically people in solution or development roles on projects for line of business (LoB) functions.
The Open Group Architecture Forum states that, "a good enterprise architecture enables you to achieve the right balance between business transformation and continuous operational efficiency." The expectation within many organizations is that the EA role is the sole custodian of enterprise architecture charged with making this statement a reality.
It's clear from this definition of the EA role that there is a distinct duality. It's hard to see how both parts can be served equally or truly effectively across a medium-sized or large organization. One half of the role acts as a change agent for business transformation, and the other as a quality agent ensuring consistency through continuous operational efficiency.
At the point of widespread adoption, the focus of the role would be on operational efficiency, and so it was placed within the operationally focused IT department.
However, the "outside-in" needs of a 21st century organization to adapt to its environment and disruptive external forces indicate that the business transformative change agent is more integral than ever to its transformation journey.
Three hats of the devolved EA
The need to focus on operational efficiency has been a significant detractor for EAs, diminishing their role as a pan-organization technology strategist.
To address this and the needs of modern organizations, the current singular EA role must be devolved into its three component parts, eliminating the constraints it has experienced over the past decades, which have limited its strategic value to the organization.
These separate roles – strategist, engineer and custodian – must also reside and operate permanently within the corporate strategy, program office and IT department, respectively. So are these roles defined?
This role acts as a positive change agent, assessing outlier and newly adopted technologies to propose how their use can serve the CEO's (or equivalent leader's) vision, at the start of a business strategy's development.
Strategists also assess whether already-adopted technologies can be individually or collectively repurposed to support proposed business goals within each business strategy creation cycle.
The technology engineer role is responsible for creating project technology designs that fit the business strategy. From the point of drafting to final design, the engineer consults with both the strategist and custodian roles. This consultation maintains a consistent alignment between the strategic use of technology within the business strategy and the organization's established technology standards.
Once the final design has been approved within the project team, the engineer's role focuses on ensuring the quality of the implementation is optimal throughout the build phase and no shortcuts are taken across the life of the project.
In this role we place responsibility for the organization's technology standards being applied, wherever and however they are required, from both day-to-day and strategic perspectives. This ensures a required minimum viable level of functional performance to promote consistency, safety and cost efficiency across the organization's technology usage.
Since configuration, maintenance and modification activities occur on a regular basis, this role will interact the most with the day-to-day operations of both LoB functions and the IT department. The custodian acts as the "connective tissue" between his or her peers by engaging directly with the other roles.
Making the split
The suggestion to split the EA role into three separate roles performed by different employees will raise understandable challenges in regard to headcount and related costs.
However, the limitation on the EA role to date has been caused by the combination of where it operates from, the organizational structure it reports into, and the expectation to perform all three roles as one.
Some might consider that the proposed split is simply a repositioning of the singular EA role, in which the role is not split into three separate roles but seconded out to the corporate strategy department and program office for specific short-term strategic activities.
Not only would this interpretation be unwise, but it is part of the traditional thinking that has caused the role's true potential to become marginalized and stagnate over the past several decades.
Technology strategy is commonly discussed as something separate from an organization's business strategy; this has created an artificial division that must be ended.
The role of technology should be to influence and serve one or many elements of a business strategy as it is being developed, not something that is created separately from the business strategy and aligned later.
Devolve to survive
Change, in any of its diverse forms, is never an easy thing, but maintaining the EA role in its traditional form will continue to diminish an organization's ability to identify, anticipate and adjust to the continued impact of outside-in factors.
Given that the nature of an organization is that of a complex adaptive system, it is long overdue that the broken "inside (of IT)-out (to the business)" nature of the singular EA role is corrected. Splitting the role provides a business-critical capability the organization needs within the CEO-facing corporate strategy department, and office of the COO.
It can be argued that during the late '90s and early '00s a singular EA role could – and did – capably perform all three roles. However, more than 20 years of complexity and scale within medium-sized to large organizations means the 3-in-1 role is no longer fit-for-purpose.
Organizations can no longer afford to create business strategies first and then address the technology considerations, as the role technology plays in addressing outside-in forces must occur at the point of a business strategy's ideation and creation.
The accepted norms of how an IT function operates and the roles within it must be questioned now to stop an organization's slow drift into obsolescence, through failure to anticipate and adapt to changing business operating dynamics.