IT Strategy

Enterprise Architecture – What is an Enterprise Architect and Where in the Organization Does He Belong?

Posted on Updated on

What is Enterprise Architecture?

We probably all know the textbook definition of an Enterprise Architect to be something like this: “An Enterprise Architect is responsible for aligning business objectives and IT in a strategic way…“. But what is really happening in the world of business when it comes to Enterprise Architecture? How are companies evolving and making the most effective use of their Enterprise Architecture staff? Where in the overall hierarchy of the organization does (and should) Enterprise Architecture reside? What trends are we seeing in the business world to give us any indication of the true answer? How does the EA work with the CIO and/or CTO and should that role of EA fall under either of these?

In a survey that I read a few months ago (and I cannot remember the source), the author mentioned that as of 2012, less than 5% of Enterprise Architects reported directly to a higher company executive such as the CEO or COO, and the percentages of EAs reporting to CIOs and CTOs were around 45% and 15% respectively. These are estimates of course, but the numbers are interesting.

As an Enterprise Architect myself, I have had numerous discussions with people at various levels of the organizations in which I’ve worked and for whom I was contracted, and the opinions regarding the true role of the Enterprise Architect vary greatly. Furthermore, you will find no shortage of disagreement if you google the discussion and read the opinions.

With all of this in mind, let’s discuss Enterprise Architecture and the true role of the Enterprise Architect in the organization.

What are the Qualities of a Good Enterprise Architect?

First, let’s talk about just what type of person it takes to be a successful Enterprise Architect. An Enterprise Architect should be:

  • Technically competent in multiple areas – a good EA must be technically-competent and respected. For an EA, technical competence is no trivial endeavor. He or she must be well-versed in enterprise software, both COTS and internally-developed, must be very knowledgeable of network and server infrastructure, and must be able to effectively communicate with and assist the technical folks who manage all of the company’s IT assets. Beyond that, the EA must be very knowledgeable of not just the company, but the industry (or industries) in which the company competes. The EA must recognize the environmental factors that affect both the overall strategy and the day-to-day operations.
  • A tested problem solver – this goes without saying but it is important to mention it as a critical quality. The successful Enterprise Architect must be able to quickly understand problems that are often not well understood by many and not easily identifiable. He or she must be able to quickly recognize patterns and behaviors, both environmental and internal.
  • A great communicator – He or she should be able to communicate technical concepts to non-technical people clearly, concisely, accurately, and in my opinion, eloquently. The EA should be able to effectively communicate ideas and concepts to large groups of people and to individuals. The people with whom the EA interacts on a daily basis will be of varying knowledge and skill levels, and will have unique perspectives on their specific job roles and the overall operation of the business.
  • An effective salesperson – changing the way a company does business is no small task and many times salesmanship is required to convince stakeholders. Beyond that, the EA must be able to “sell” the wholistic vision to people at all levels of the organization and inspire each person to embrace that vision.
  • Detail-oriented – as they say “the devil is in the details”. Although Enterprise Architecture is a strategic endeavor, an EA should be able to ensure success through great attention to detail. Strategy should not lack detail in any way.
  • Objective and Deliberate – the EA should be a “voice of reason” and should be able to objectively formulate and implement the Enterprise Architecture skillfully and deliberately.
  • A “Sponge” – don’t laugh 🙂 An EA should be able to absorb and assimilate an enormous amount of information and knowledge quickly and effectively. He or she should, in reality understand the mission of the business as well or better than all of the individual stakeholders.
  • A proactive facilitator – the EA is the driving force behind change.
  • Able to think at all levels – the EA must be able to formulate the “master plan” and understand the details of its implementation well enough to accurately tailor the plan to the true needs of the business as a whole AND to ensure the correct and optimal orchestration of all of the smaller “pieces” of the architecture.

If you read the items above and conclude that the Enterprise Architect is a “jack of all trades” you are correct and that is why an organization must have the right person or people for the job! A successful EA should have the mindset of both strategic management and technical implementation. In other words, he should be able to craft the strategy, communicate it to stakeholders, and be able to actually implement it or oversee its implementation both functionally and technically.

Over the past several years, as companies began to realize the importance of making the right technology decisions and cohesiveness of the overall “master plan”, the role of Enterprise Architect grew more and more important. Today this need is greater than ever. With constant acquisitions and the disparate technologies that those often introduce into a company’s existing mix of IT resources, it is imperative for companies to position themselves in such a way that IT is a distinct competitive advantage, NOT a necessary evil.

I recall many years ago being told by a CEO that he wasn’t sure exactly what the IT folks did, but he knew they occupied a large part of one wing of the building and he just knew that they did “stuff” to keep the “systems” working. Wow! This type of thinking will not yield success in today’s business climate!

What is the Outcome of Successful Enterprise Architecture?

An organization that has correctly implemented an effective Enterprise Architecture will benefit in several ways. Though this list is certainly not exhaustive, I see these as the most noteworthy.

  • Greater profitability – correctly streamlined and enhanced business processes cost less, require fewer human resources, and should directly contribute to increased profitability.
  • Reduced risk – a successful Enterprise Architecture should reduce a company’s exposure to risk through proper identification of the risks themselves, implementation of systemic measures to mitigate those risks, and overall greater process integrity which will yield greater robustness and thus reduced composite risk.
  • Greater agility – a company that is nimble and able to quickly react to market changes and external influences is better able to compete and survive. Successful Enterprise Architecture allows a company to do this by being properly positioned both technically and functionally to adapt to any type of change.
  • Better decision-making – EA affords a company the ability to more proactively undertake proper impact analysis and simply be better able to make the right decisions quickly. One of the obvious benefits of better decision-making is cost reduction. Who wouldn’t want that?

So does it really come down to having a “wholistic vision” just for sake of having it? Of course not. Having such an overarching view of the organization yields tangible, quantifiable benefits that are definitely not limited to the few items I listed above.

The Big Question – Where Should Enterprise Architecture Reside in the Organization?

So finally, the obvious question! Where does the role of EA belong? Is it a subset of IT, is it a business/functional endeavor, or is it a higher-level activity?

The Enterprise Architect role is one that often raises eyebrows in companies and organizations that are not truly serious about Enterprise Architecture. The EA is generally well compensated and is thus the target of discussions by those who do not understand his or her true value. This is unfortunate, but true in many organizations. In many smaller organizations, the Enterprise Architect is one of the the highest paid members of IT.

Senior management must drive change from the top. The degree of change that is often necessary within an organization commonly brings with it varying degrees of pain. People are generally comfortable with the status quo and as we all know, resist change. It’s human nature. But to be successful, the Enterprise Architect must overcome resistance and effectively craft the master plan and implement it. This requires the unwavering support of both senior and functional management.

An Enterprise Architect who reports directly to a CIO or CTO is often seen as an IT resource and viewed by functional management as just another “IT guy” (or girl). Ultimately, the CIO or CTO makes the decisions, in collaboration with other senior managers, and thus the Enterprise Architect is viewed as a “technical advisor”. The notion of anything beyond that often creates conflict among other departments who want to feel that they have the final say. But does this really work? Does it tie the Enterprise Architect’s hands unnecessarily?

Should the Enterprise Architect report directly to a senior manager? If so, should it be the CIO or CTO – should it be the CEO or COO? Is the Enterprise Architect a member of IT or should the position be more overarching? How much control/authority should the EA be given? Is an EA merely an “advisor” or something more? Though these are good questions, the answers probably depend on the company itself.

The perception that an EA is too “powerful” can sabotage the mission of Enterprise Architecture within an organization. But at the same time, the EA must have a clear sense of vision and drive to propel both him and the organization forward. So what is the acceptable balance?


I welcome discussion on this post! Please feel free to give me your thoughts and be as honest as possible. I know that this is a great source of debate in many organizations and although the business climate is changing, I am curious how the role of Enterprise Architect will evolve with it.