What is an Enterprise Architect?

What is an enterprise architect? Someone who helps stakeholders make deliberate change. They use a consistent approach to simplify complex environments.

Enterprise architect is a profession, not a measure of seniority.
Enterprise architects have a unique advisory role and must serve others.

What is an Enterprise Architect?

The job exists for a reason. Enterprise architect's job is to improve your organization's ability to make effective change. Effective change starts with selecting the right change. Effective change ends with direct and control projects and implementation to complete the change.

The role of an enterprise architect nets down to

focusing change effort on the right change

minimizing the difficulty of successfully improving the organization

improving your organization’s ability to change

Despite this simplicity, there are circular discussions about what is an enterprise architect. We believe the confusion comes from the work performed by an enterprise architect. It varies wildly. Our understanding of the profession should reflect this. Instead, we are sloppy with language.

Consider another complex profession, sales. We use several specialized terms to describe sales.

  • Enterprise sales
  • Inside sales
  • Business development
  • Outside sales

Imagine if they were all called "Sales." Imagine if most of the people with the title never spoke to a customer. This example is why many wonder what an enterprise architect does.

To understand what makes an enterprise architect effective, there are four issues.

  1. Enterprise architect is not a seniority award
  2. An enterprise architect is a servant leader
  3. An enterprise architect helps others decide
  4. An enterprise architect's value proposition is their ability to analyze

At the core, enterprise architect is a job. That job is part of a profession. The profession has a standard approach, the TOGAF Standard. It is not a measure of seniority. It is never a measure of technical knowledge.

What is an Enterprise Architect

What Do Enterprise Architects Do?

Enterprise architects help their organization make the right investments to improve. As Gartner identifies, enterprise architecture is proactive. Professionals monitor their organization and its ecosystem to look for threats and opportunities. Some of that work is planned, developing regular roadmaps aligned to budgeting and planning cycles. Some of that work is immediate addressing looming threats and opportunities.

Good enterprise architects use stable, consistent methods to analyze the deficiencies of their organization. Enterprise architecture frameworks, like the TOGAF Framework, are used to simplify the complexity of an organization.

What are the benefits of Enterprise Architects?

The primary benefit of an enterprise architect is better decisions, better change, and more successful organizations. The value proposition of a great enterprise architect is their analytic ability. The ability to identify what the real source of an organizational deficiency is, and what is the simplest most successful way to eliminate the deficiency.

They will identify opportunities for effective change. It does not matter whether the change is technology-led, technology-dependent, or entirely based on people. The goal is effective change.

Enterprise architecture is one of the key ways to achieving competitive advantage. There is a growing pressure to reduce costs, meet information security threats and increase flexibility. The result is an increased focus on Enterprise Architecture and and a demand for Enterprise Architect Professionals.

Enterprise architects and enterprise agility

Threats and opportunities surround every organization. The ability of an organization to seize opportunity and avoid threats is their ability to succeed. Enterprise architects can play a key role in enabling enterprise agility.

In a modern digital business, the historic alignment of enterprise architecture with technology makes sense.

Enterprise Architects vs. Solution Architects

There are many jobs that include the term architect. Some, like Landscape Architect or Naval Architect, will have a legally defined meaning. With no modifier, we should assume they are involved with building.

For the rest, each has their specific areas of responsibility. Typically, their roles will overlap. The distinction between different architects can become unclear sometimes, which affects the efficiency of change and your ability to take advantage of a digital transformation.

In Solution Architects vs. Enterprise Architects, we distinguish between the two roles. We cover their similarities, differences, and relationships. You will know the role of each one of them and why they’re both an integral part of your organization’s IT landscape.


Architecture Decision Cycle

How to Become an Enterprise Architect?

Becoming an enterprise architect requires developing a set of skills and experience improving an organization. An important step is learning the industry standard enterprise architecture framework, TOGAF. Typically, this is through TOGAF Certification. Earning TOGAF Certification provides a framework for developing the required skills and experience.

Enterprise architect is a profession

When we mentor architects, we spend a lot of time covering what enterprise architects do. Far too many people with the job title “enterprise architect” are not architects and do not perform enterprise architecture.

Enterprise architecture is a job. It is not a measure of seniority.
Enterprise architect is a profession, not a measure of seniority.

Our profession is transitioning from being invented to becoming stable. It may vanish. The work high functioning enterprise architects perform won’t go away. Organizations need the work. We just might not call it enterprise architecture.

The journey to become any professional requires a combination of education, skill development, and experience. Today, the enterprise architecture profession is mostly experience. Unlike mechanical engineering, there isn't an established academic curriculum.

Key Skills for an Enterprise Architect

While technical awareness is important, technical knowledge, like all other subject matter knowledge, is less important than three key skills. Enterprise architecture is based on what the business develops, what the business does really well, where the business struggles. The technique of enterprise architecture is being able to express that in systems, processes and business views.

Key skills go deeper:

  • Ability to analyze complex situations
  • Being a Servant Leader
  • Supporting decision makers and implementers

An enterprise architect's value proposition is their ability to analyze

How do you help others decide? It isn't specialized knowledge. That is the province of a subject matter expert.

In order to support good decision-making, you need to excel at analysis. You need to take a complex environment apart and simplify it.

Your simplification has to do a set of very hard feats

  • Focus attention on the source of deficiency
  • Focus attention on the change that removes the deficiency
  • Provide the ability to decide if the benefit is worth to work and worth the risk

Your stakeholders gain value from your analysis. Not from your specialist knowledge. A key part of the job is to weigh competing specialists and arcane knowledge. The value is being able to weigh.

Our enterprise architecture consulting practice values hard truths. Don’t be afraid to tell the inconvenient truth.

An enterprise architect is Servant Leader

Never stop leading. This leading is the most difficult leadership you will ever do. No one works for you. You own no decisions. You support and manage stakeholder decision-making cycles. Then, when the action starts, you stop.

One contradiction after another. Lead without doing. Advise without deciding.

Leading without power. Leading for others. It is servant leadership. Servant leadership traces its origins to Robert Greenleaf. He described servant leadership like this:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”

If you need to decide, get a different job. If you need to execute, get a different job. Neither is what an enterprise architect does..

Keep in mind that often your stakeholders cannot articulate their real priorities. They will confuse tactical issues with priorities. They will confuse top of mind issues with where they’re trying to take their organization.

The art is teasing out the balance of short and long-term objectives. Ensuring your advice recognizes all objectives as equally valid. If you ignore short-term issues, your architecture is addressing a subset of the stakeholder concerns. If your advice panders to issue-of-the-day, you are serving a subset of your stakeholder’s concerns.

An enterprise architect supports others decide

I cannot count the number of times I've seen struggling practitioners think they own a decision. Usually applying parochial criteria.

Enterprise architects have a unique advisory role and must serve others.

You’re in the room to serve your stakeholders. To provide them with the advice necessary to make better decisions about changes that will improve your organization. To provide them with the measures to ensure the changes realize the value they were expecting.

Enterprise architecture governance is based on two facts:

  • Stakeholders own all architecture decisions.
  • Implementers (sponsors & implementers) own implementation decisions.
How to become an enterprise architect

Who Does an Enterprise Architect Work For?

Enterprise architects can succeed with any organizational design. Their job is to serve stakeholders. Whether we assign them to the executive team, the business units, shared services or Information Technology doesn't really matter.

When an enterprise architect stops serving their stakeholders and starts promoting their department's preferences, they stop being an enterprise architect. They stop being successful.

In order to effectively server their stakeholders, an enterprise architect needs to know the answer to two questions - In TOGAF terms their scope and their depth.

First Question - What is the Boundary of the Enterprise?

In other terms, what is the enterprise they are responsible for improving? Is it the end-to-end supply chain? A department? The legal entity? A region? Shared services? The core supply chain?

It doesn't really matter what the boundary is. As long as it is big enough, or complex enough, that the analysis techniques of enterprise architecture speed up improvement.

Second question - What questions does the enterprise architect answer?

There isn't one definition of the enterprise. There isn't one type of question. The TOGAF Framework identifies four types of questions successful enterprise architects will address.

  • Questions about Strategy
  • Questions about Portfolio
  • Questions about Project Delivery
  • Questions about Solution Delivery

Many people wanting to be enterprise architects get excited about strategy. Usually, the strategy is defined. It is stable. Portfolio is all about how to realize the strategy. Project is all about how to realize the portfolio. Solution Delivery is all about how to realize the benefits of a project.

Every question is about how to improve the organization. How to seize the opportunities. How to dodge the looming threat. How to improve the fitness of the organization so it can seize and dodge.

Read more about the two key questions.

Who does an enterprise architect work for

Do it Yourself Path to Becoming a Better Enterprise Architect

Developing useful enterprise architecture. Guidance in architecture for strategy, portfolio, project and solution delivery.

Learn what is required for a complete Enterprise Architecture team in the Industry Standard EA Capability Reference Model

Develop the skills to be a successful architect. Know why you are in the room? Tease out your stakeholder's hopes and fear.

Learn the foundation of the Enterprise Architecture Profession. Earn your TOGAF Certification.

Examples of Successful Enterprise Architects

Start in the same place I do when I’m mentoring an enterprise architect—why are you in the room?

You’re in the room to serve your stakeholders. To provide them with the advice necessary to make better decisions about changes that will improve your organization. To provide them with the measures to ensure the changes realize the value they were expecting.

They tie your value proposition to analysis. We tie your value proposition to hard truths.

It is a fun profession if you want to help others. We get a lot of satisfaction helping organizations improve dramatically.

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