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Is it time for enterprise architectures to be redrawn?

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth October 14, 2021
Enterprise architecture, and enterprise architects, need to modernize and become service-oriented

Businessman drawing steps concept with marker on transparent board with yellow background © ChristianChan - Shutterstock
(© ChristianChan - Shutterstock)

A plethora of architecture roles exist within enterprise IT, but do the various types of architects build on the real needs of the business? Or, is it time for the technology sector to look upon the role as the equivalent of a post-war concrete tower that is no longer fit for purpose and tear it down?

Too often architects disappear down into the details and don't contribute to the bigger conversation. How do we get architects to come on the journey that CIOs have been on, which is to reinvent themselves as value-adding assets to the business.

Says Richard Williams, CIO with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), he and a number of his peers worry that too many architects are in fact systems engineers when the challenges of the modern enterprise require business minds.

Architects can be their own worst enemies, too academic and too many methodologies. 

CTO Eric Newcomer at API tech firm WS02 is a former global head of architecture in financial services  at Citi and Credit Suisse and sees the challenge his former role faces.

The transition from monolith to microservices needs a high level of good governance. At Citi we needed to be able to scale in order to cope with payments from the likes of Airbnb and Uber.

The pace of change increases the need for architecture; as Newcomer's experience demonstrates, the bank needed to both agile and adapt to new customer types, but also understand the impact on its wider technology foundations.

We need people who translate business needs into technology investments. There is no need for Enterprise Architects to be master builders any more because we can run scripts to create infrastructure and deliver business services with No Code.

Enterprise Architect Jonathan Gregory says of how the role has changed. Asked whether architects have been prevented from becoming business focused by the change in the CIO role, from technical to business, Gregory says this is not the case.

CIOs have a shed load going on, and the talents of an enterprise architect are discreet and compliment the CIO.

Williams at EBRD says that perhaps some of the faults lie with CIOs who have created a career progression route that is highly technical, and then they demand a different skill set. As a result, he believes CIOs and CTOs will need to be clearer in the framing of the role during the recruitment process.

Built environment

Inevitably, debates about the role of technology architecture lean heavily on the built environment and how architects have given us the beauty of the Millau Viaduct, Olympic stadiums or controversially Erno Goldfinger's Balfron Tower in central London. There are, of course, similarities, structural architects do more than ensure a bridge is attractive in the French countryside. A bridge must also be safe, deliver on its purpose, have a lifespan, and the architect needs to understand the materials and processes that go into creating it, as well as how the end-user will behave on the bridge or stadium. Enterprise IT architects need to ensure systems have a good user experience, are compliant, secure, save money, bring in revenue and that the technology will not be legacy tech before the next quarter.

Enterprise Architects understand the world of technology and the world of business and can connect these two worlds together.

Gregory says of how an enterprise architect, like their civil engineering cousins, takes a concept from drawing to a structure that an organization relies on. And the latest generation of technologies actually increases the need for good enterprise architecture.

You are managing the old world along with the new world, and that is a huge challenge.

Anjali Subburaj, Digital Commerce Chief Architect at Mars, the foods company, says of how she and architects are both part of business modernization and ensuring organizations get the most value from their legacy implementations.

Darren Coomer, Chief Technology and Operations Officer and founder of Strategy and Architecture Group, agrees:

Enterprise Architects need to be empowered to deal with the integration challenges. When large organizations engage a systems integrator (SI), one of the first people the SI sends over is the architect.

Trevor Hunt, CTO advisor for Behind Every Cloud and a former financial services CIO, observes that technology architects will increasingly move inside the vendors, and like CIOs, enterprise architects will become increasingly business and data focused, perhaps moving into a strategic planning function.

Business architecture is about what does the business need? And to stop the organization jumping to a solution.

Architect Gregory adds of how it is often the business that believes that a technology application is the silver bullet to its problem.

Demand and service

Organizations continue to recruit architecture roles.  

Demand for Enterprise and Solution Architects has increased massively over the last two years - there are twice as many architect roles in 2021 than there were in 2019. This is partly because the EA is viewed as an essential part of digital optimization, but also because it is clearly a role in its own right, as opposed to a role expected of the senior developer or technical project manager.

Says Barnaby Parker, Chairman of Venquis, a European recruitment firm. Despite this, some business technology leaders are shifting away from architecture in preference for service design leaders.

I used to be a big fan of the chief architect role and have hired some great ones in the past, but now I look back and think that whilst I got some weighty tomes and some interesting maps, did I ever get something that really drove good business engagement or helped build insightful products?

Asks Ian Cohen, Chief Product & Information Officer (CPIO) at Acacium Group, a healthcare workforce and services provider.

I don't have a chief architect now, I have put the responsibility for software and solution architecture with the CTO, who has experience-centric product squads informed by solution and service design. What you would call architecture discussions are handled by a "council" (including Delivery and Infrastructure experts) that makes pragmatic decisions around the assembly, buy versus build, integration and inter-operation; but always in the context of: ‘does this improve customer experience'. Sure there are some technical enterprise architecture-like discussions, but the change means people speak less about TOGAF doctrine and more about outcomes.

When great service design and product design come together, it begs the question: what is the architecture doing for the business?

Cohen says of moving away from The Open Architecture Framework (TOGAF) and instead of having service design and user experience in each of the squads.

I would kill for more service and solution design people.

Cohen says, and Shaun Warner, Associate Director, Harvey Nash, a technology recruitment firm, says there is a growing demand for this skill set, however, he adds that, as with architects, there is:

A wide set of interpretations of what people mean by the phrase Service Design. The most interesting trend I see at present is around DesignOps. Organizations are growing at a significant pace, and there is an uptick in the need to bring in transformation leaders to focus on how to scale their design processes. We see this as an opportunity to hire architects that do not come from a technical background, and this is creating more opportunity in the market to recruit from a wider pool of candidates.

James Thomas, CTO with the Wellcome Trust, a major medical research funding organization, has also found that team members with experience in design are challenging the technology team, and redesigning the conversation.

This will change the way that we deliver technology and digital services, and this change has been from one person with a different view being given access to the strategy and leadership.

Blueprint for the future

You need an expert to design things properly, so the key thing is to find the right shape and size of person for your organization and forget about the job title.

Coomer at S&A Group says of how organizations continue to grow in business and technological complexity. Architecture as a discipline will not be knocked down, but as with the technology that organizations use to deliver outcomes, the role may well become a service itself, powered up when required to ensure governance and integrity is planned into major changes such as a merger or transformation. But the days of the architect being a long standing member of the team may be passing, which in turn will lead to the role being increasingly focused on the skills and expertise they bring to bear at a point in time where they can deliver a valued architectural plan.

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