Demand for this group is so strong, there’s a shortage. It’s become the most in-demand technology role, central to their employers’ transition to digital.
I’m not talking about data scientists, but enterprise architects. In 2017, enterprise architect was the fastest-growing tech-related job. In 2019, enterprise architects started earning more than data scientists, and this year, the role was judged the UK’s "best" job by Glassdoor. "This is the first time enterprise architect has entered the list, and it’s also the first tech role to be ranked at number one," Glassdoor said.
What’s driving this? Digitalization, yes, but also something deeper: a growing complexity of enterprise IT and business environments. IT infrastructure is undergoing a fundamental transformation—becoming software-defined, virtualized, and cloud-native, while, at the same time, applications and services are becoming highly distributed, integrated, and interoperable. Further, existing applications are undergoing rapid modernization.
McKinsey found that, despite digitalization, 79% of organizations are stuck in the "early" stages of technology transformation. "Legitimate factors are delaying progress, from the scale of the change to the mind-boggling complexity of legacy systems," the consultant says.
But complexity, per se, is not a show stopper. McKinsey reckons organizations it defines as "digital leaders" had implemented three times as many services as the rest of the pack, yet when it came to integrating applications, a smaller proportion of their integration came from point-to-point connections between applications. In other words: there's more complexity but they're better organized and better equipped to deal with it. These leaders were also twice as likely to be piloting microservices—another level of complexity.
Gartner is clear on why this happens: the presence of an enterprise architect. These people will step in for existing executives such as CIOs who—yes—have a good understanding of innovation but are less equipped to make it work in their organization. "Enterprise architects can help, bringing together an understanding of the organization’s strategy and business model with the opportunities of digital," Gartner says.
Point of most resistance
And yet, there are plenty of organizations and numerous CIOs with neither architect nor architecture. As IDC adjunct research advisor Cora Carmody notes here: "I’m continually surprised that this very basic building block for an IT organization is not in place in many organizations. New CIOs should take this meaningful step to bond with their internal customers and use this activity to get a jumpstart in creating a strategic plan."
Why are they holding out? Steve Andriole says an enterprise architect only makes sense when rooted in a coherent business strategy; it can’t be an abstract idea. "It should definitely not be disconnected from current and projected business models and processes which comprise the overall business strategy," Andriole says.
So, it’s one thing to say you are undergoing a digital transformation, but delivering that requires a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve through a business case. It’s a rule of enterprise IT change that if it’s not written in stone, it should be.
Jeanne Ross, author and organizational theorist, has another reason. Ross points to how bitter experience may have poisoned the well on enterprise architecture. The past is littered with projects that went wrong; for example, the bad old days of big-bang ERP—grand projects with systems built to a business model and end-user, neither of which existed in reality.
Those who succeed in enterprise architecture understand what Ross refers to as their "operational backbone"—the people, processes, and technology underpinning their organization, the "basics," as Ross also calls them. "Where so many companies went wrong is they didn’t set priorities, and they tried to get everything standardized. They were pursuing massive systems instead of pursuing excellence in what matters most."
With such experiences hardwired in the corporate memory, it’s tempting to resist appointing an architecture chief; to either fold the role into the CIO’s remit or devolve responsibility and leave the practitioners operating your DevOps pipeline as they build.
Ch-ch-changes to the architect role
While both approaches might make your CIO sleep better at night, neither provides a sustainable answer to the challenge of overcoming the complexity that accompanies digitization. What will help is applying some responsibility and strategic leadership.
Back to McKinsey’s top performers. The consultant found this group was succeeding because they had created an organizational structure where individuals were assigned clear roles—this created leadership and a clear sense of role definition and, with it, responsibility. "Not only is the full leadership team more committed to digitalization…but the ownership of individual digital activities is much clearer," McKinsey says. "The best IT performers also report a wider range of technology leadership roles at their companies."
Clearly, there’s a role for the architect in this. But before you take this case to your CIO, it’s important to realize that the architect’s brief has evolved. No longer working on standards, structures, and controls, the architect must be able to translate business strategy into business and technology initiatives, manage technological complexity, pick projects that align with the strategy, determine the platform for those projects and tools to deliver, and maintain them for the long term.
If that’s the mandate, how do you persuade your CIO you’re the right person for the job?
An understanding of technology is a given, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. You’ll hear much about the importance of being abreast of new technologies and processes, but that’s table stakes. If architecture can be accused of existing in an ivory tower, then the opposite end of that spectrum is an obsession with "new." You must bring an understanding of the new, married with an understanding of how it can be applied to practical reality.
A corporate-wide perspective of your organization is also important, with a knowledge of your organization’s processes, business objectives, and the value it’s trying to achieve using technology. Demonstrate an ability to both act and plan strategically.
This would play well for someone who’s been a business process manager—who will have analyzed systems from the perspective of process optimization and applications that add value. Or a business architect who would have company-wide experience in designing products and services and working with different departments and teams. In that same vein, a cloud consultant who will have worked on applications and systems across an organization could find this effective.
Solutions architects also stand a good chance with their experience of defining applications, infrastructures, and structures. So do technology architects who have worked on hardware and networking, design, provisioning, and profiling.
Architecture starts with people
But, a word of advice from Gartner research vice president Marcus Blosch: "Architecture is 90% people, 10% architecture." Yes, you need a firm grasp on systems, processes, business, and technology goals, but, he says: "To provide real value to your organization, you must be able to bring people together in whatever way works."
In other words, technology isn’t enough. Nor is simply being able to recite the IT process bible or corporate report and vision statement. An enterprise architect must understand the change that’s important and where to apply it. Collaboration is, therefore, vital—to work across teams at all levels, to engage the C-suite executives and those in the DevOps pipeline, and to be able to listen and lead.
Digitalization makes for a complex IT infrastructure, but that complexity shouldn’t defeat your transition. Overcoming the complexity involves putting someone in the driving seat—and that someone is an enterprise architect. Arguing for the creation of that role is half the battle—a battle supported by the growing tide of events. Persuading them that you are the person for that role means proving you can master those events.