The concept of an “enterprise architect” is becoming increasingly common as large and medium-sized enterprises look for ways to get ahead of their competitors and introduce new products and services. Yet there is still a great deal of confusion about what, exactly, an enterprise architect is and can be expected to do.
What is an Enterprise Architect?
So before looking at the value of enterprise architects, let’s take a look at how the role of enterprise architect is defined. According to research house Gartner, “enterprise architects support business and IT executives by identifying and analyzing business value derived from technology.” To that extent, the role of enterprise architect is very much an IT/technology job.
But there are other definitions which imply that the job is more of a business role. For example, Wikipedia says: “enterprise architecture applies architecture principles and practices to guide organizations through the business, information, process, and technology changes necessary to execute their strategies.”
Another business-oriented definition states that: “enterprise architects help their organizations select, create and implement the right business- and technology-based platforms to support their business ecosystems.”
Finally, a more lyrical definition says that enterprise architecture is “the hopefully forgettable technological foundations that allow you to do your job.”
Strategy Over Tactics
Clearly, then, enterprise architecture covers a broad range of activities, and it requires an understanding of both IT and the business it supports, the goals of that business, and the possibilities for innovation to achieve those goals.
So perhaps it is helpful to think of the traditional role of an IT staff member to be tactical. That means ensuring that the right IT infrastructure and services are in place to enable the organization to do its business while also reacting to any changing business requirements by making modifications to the IT setup.
By contrast, an enterprise architect looks at the big picture when it comes to IT infrastructure and services. That means they are more strategic, understanding the business and future business needs and then deciding what the enterprise’s IT function needs to look like in the short, medium, and long term.
That means that rather than deciding that certain servers need to be upgraded or adjusting cloud resources or services month by month to meet demand, an enterprise architect has to design entire operating models. That could involve combining data center computing, cloud services, monolithic applications, web services and anything else appropriate, to meet the current and future needs of the business.
Innovation is Key
But when it comes to explaining why the value of enterprise architects is increasingly being recognized, there’s a strong argument that it comes down to one word: innovation.
That’s because digital businesses and those that have undergone digital transformation are constantly looking to gain a competitive advantage through technological innovation: by offering existing goods and services more efficiently or effectively through the use of technology, or by bringing to market innovative products and services enabled by the smart use of technology.
“Enterprise analysts and technology innovation leaders must use the latest business and technology ideas to create new revenue streams, services and customer experiences,” explains Marcus Blosch, a Gartner analyst. The company estimates that this year 40% of enterprises will use enterprise architects to help ideate new business innovations made possible by emerging technologies.
One technology in particular is likely to provide a significant boost to the value of enterprise architects in the short term, and that technology is artificial intelligence, Gartner believes.
Although AI has often looked like a solution in search of a problem, one key use for it is likely to be to automate processes to reduce friction and improve business efficiency. The research predicts that, by next year, 50% of enterprise architects’ programs will involve AI-enabled software for planning, governance, assurance and IT asset management purposes.
By next year, Gartner predicts that fully 80% of digital businesses will be harnessing the business/IT collaboration enabled by enterprise architects to drive innovation in their markets.
Ultimately, what’s driving the appreciation of the value of enterprise architects is the desire for innovation, and the understanding that it is the enterprise architect that is in a unique position to understand both the business and emerging technology. Armed with this understanding, enterprise architects can facilitate collaboration between business and IT departments to raise awareness in new technologies and the possibilities that they offer for innovation.