An Enterprise Architect's first 100 days are critical, according to Gartner. It's a time to "communicate the business value of EA clearly, engage your stakeholders in regular, open communications and establish your credibility." But what happens after the first 100 days, the first year, the first decade? How do Enterprise Architects continually level up their practice?
A recent article in the U.K.'s Sun summed up the enormity of the EA role: "An enterprise architect is responsible for the entire infrastructure of a company's IT platform. A few of the main duties of an enterprise architect are designing processes, documenting essential IT procedures, tracking project progress, and maintaining a security focus." What's more, the focus of the article was the best jobs for 2021 that are still hiring, with Enterprise Architect coming in at No. 2, just after program manager.
Indeed, the nature of an Enterprise Architect's job requires constantly evolving knowledge of the business, the technology that supports and protects the business, and the business- and technology-focused people across the organization. EAs must also be able to leverage this ever growing expertise in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the many constituencies with whom they work.
In other words, EAs must constantly level up their practice. Here are three strategies that can help.
1. Focus on what's next
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Enterprise Architects is juggling the work at hand with the work ahead.
For example, according to a Forrester report, "Old-school EA has been too tactical, too technology-centric, or too disengaged from business priorities to have significant impact." Today's companies, notes Forrester in the report, are "customer obsessed," and "[for] EA professionals whose raison d'être has been standardizing technology to reduce cost, this is a tectonic shift, necessitating a new focus and new value proposition."
In other words, even while Enterprise Architects are doing heads-down work, they have to look ahead to move forward.
Jeanne Ross, an organizational theorist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research before retiring last year, is an expert in enterprise architecture. She and other CISR researchers developed a model that describes five stages of enterprise architecture maturity:
- Business silos
- Standardized technology
- Optimized core
- Business modularity
- Digital ecosystem
Stage 3 is defined as "using technology to guide people through optimal enterprise processes." This means companies really start to derive value from IT, says Ross, but it's also where many companies and their digital transformation stall. The issue, she notes, is that companies try to optimize everything instead of "zeroing in on their single most important data. … This is the thing that matters most. If we get this right we can take off."
So, for Enterprise Architects, leveling up just might mean backing off—from some things, for now—and focusing on the one thing that will lead to what's next.
2. Carefully curate and consume content
How do you figure out what's next? It can be challenging to keep up when business and technology are constantly changing. Enterprise Architects should develop a list of go-to sources for reliable and relevant content relating to the company, technology, supply chain, industry, and other issues affecting the organization.
The challenge is finding content with clear provenance, ranging from independent business and technology news sources such as WSJ.com and Wired to social media feeds from respected industry influencers to industry conferences to podcasts to content published by technology providers. When it comes to the latter, smart technology vendors realize that providing authentic, actionable content that supports the business but is free from market-speak and self-promotion has huge, differentiating value to customers and potential customers.
Also important, content can come in the form of the conversations that you have with your colleagues, your customers, your competition. Enterprise Architects are both blessed and challenged by the number of people—not to mention processes and technologies—in their orbit. Opening up and carefully managing channels of communication among all of them will result in unique and highly valuable content that can be tapped to identify and meet expectations with carefully designed digital offerings.
3. Be a thought leader
Thought leader is a term that gets thrown around rather loosely these days. But, according to Inc.com, thought leaders in the literal and true sense of the term can enable real and positive change.
"[When] it's done right, thought leadership can transform your brand. It can position you and your company as leaders in your industry, open doors to new opportunities, and build lasting trust with the people in your audiences who matter most to your company," states Inc.com in the article "7 Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader in Your Industry."
Of course, for Enterprise Architects, those audiences live inside and outside the organization. For example, thought leadership in the form of internal blogs and conversations on social networks can help people within the company understand how a new technology initiative will improve day-to-day processes and customer satisfaction. This can increase uptake of the latest technology (and training on new technology), as well as encourage people to think of and share new ways in which the new technology could be applied.
That kind of thought leadership directed outside the company demonstrates innovation and a desire (and ability) to listen to and deliver on customer needs continuously. Posting on social media, contributions to published articles, speaking at industry events, and so on can attract new partners, customers, and skilled talent.
If an Enterprise Architect's first 100 days are critical to establishing credibility, then the rest of an EA's time is all about leveling up—because if the EA doesn't, then the company is much less likely to. Keeping an eye toward the future with a focus on what's important now will position Enterprise Architects and their organizations to face the future effectively.