Enterprise Architecture: Build it and the digital results will come

In today’s technology-driven marketplace, CEOs and CIOs alike no longer see digital and IT as an option, but a necessity. According to a joint study conducted by Genpact and Harvard Business Review, 64 percent of IT teams and 73 percent of senior management groups foresee strong, positive business outcomes from digital initiatives.

But as Betsy Burton, VP Distinguished Analyst at Gartner, Inc., shared last week in her webinar, “Leadership Vision for 2019: EA and Technology Innovation Leaders,” these projects are no longer only focused on IT systems, but also their business impact and ability to help organizations compete better in the digital economy. Success will come from integrating business and IT; not aligning them. How? This is where the enterprise architect comes into the picture.

What does an enterprise architect do?

On CIO.com, Rich Pearson, senior vice president of marketing and categories at technology skills marketplace Upwork, defines an enterprise architect as someone who, “who can translate a company’s business strategy into concrete solutions, design and execute an IT systems architecture blueprint to support that strategy.” In other words, an enterprise architect looks at the future state of a business – what it’s looking to build up to – and brings together people, processes, information, and the right technology (or toolset) to reach this ultimate goal.

In many ways, they act as shepherds in digital transformation. As more companies embark on their digital journeys, the enterprise architect will grow in importance and numbers. Pearson noted seeing a 75 percent increase in the number of enterprise architect job postings in just the span of one month in 2017.

What makes a good enterprise architect?

A good enterprise architect must possess both business and technology expertise. When laying the groundwork for a digital project, they will start with three questions:

  1. Where is our organization trying to go in the future?
  2. What are the business outcomes that we are trying to deliver?
  3. What is the gap between this goal and our current state and system architecture?

They should start with the future state and business outcomes of the organization, not a bunch of projected models or technology solutions. Then, develop scenarios and map for how to get there. Thus, they need a solid foundation of what the business is about, how it will be disrupted, and how to mitigate the challenges associated with change.

Moving forward, Burton explained in her webinar that an enterprise architect will also be expected to provide:

  1. Scenario planning analysis and recommendations for what will drive the greatest potential for the company
  2. Analysis of emerging technologies and tools
  3. Analysis of the risks associated with certain business models or technology decisions
  4. Recommendations on how to set business and IT priorities concerning capability gaps and areas of concern to achieve targeted business outcomes

It is important to note that what separates an enterprise architect from the architects that design our cities’ skyscrapers and monuments is flexibility. Whereas a building is defined by its blueprint and schematics that are set in stone at the beginning of a construction project, successful digital innovations happen when enterprise architects can test, measure, learn, and pivot. It takes experimentation and often several iterations. Flexibility also lends itself to being able to respond accordingly to sudden changes in the market or customers’ needs.

As the number of digital projects grow among organizations, so too will the need for enterprise architects who can bridge the gap between business and IT. More and more CEOs and CIOs will be looking to these innovative, knowledgeable experts to help them make the most of their digital investments for positive business outcomes.