Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

Is it possible to remain technical?

Following on from Role titles across the world, I wanted to present a diagram that I've had in my head for a little while but never got around to putting on paper. I think architecture at the application and system level is pretty well defined, with an easily identifiable progression path from the former to the latter. Enterprise architecture, on the other hand, is different and I was always under the impression that this was the next logical step for somebody performing a system architecture role. I've recently changed my mind on this and my new view of the world is as follows.

Architecture Scopes

I now see enterprise architecture as a mix of technology and business consulting that is performed at quite a high level of abstraction, across organisations or organisational units. Previously, I hadn't really made the connection that the business and process side of enterprise erchitecture was as important (perhaps more so?) than the technology side. As usual, Wikipedia has a nice entry on Enterprise Architecture if you want to read more about this as a discipline.

So is enterprise architecture the next logical step for somebody doing a system architecture role? Possibly, but it depends on what you want to do. When you include the business consulting aspects in the enterprise architecture mix, you start to see that the skillset required for enterprise architecture differs from both the individual streams that feed it. While I'm unsure whether enterprise architecture is more business consulting or more technical architecture, I *am* sure that it might not be the logical progression for technical architects who (like myself at the moment) want to remain technical. Less of a direct upwards career progression and more of an upwards and over movement with which you might have to give up coding. This, of course, raises an interesting question of what *is* next for System Architects that want to remain technical. What are your thoughts?

About the author

Simon is an independent consultant specializing in software architecture, and the author of Software Architecture for Developers (a developer-friendly guide to software architecture, technical leadership and the balance with agility). He’s also the creator of the C4 software architecture model and the founder of Structurizr, which is a collection of open source and commercial tooling to help software teams visualise, document and explore their software architecture.

You can find Simon on Twitter at @simonbrown ... see for information about his speaking schedule, videos from past conferences and software architecture training.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

Interesting diagram. Where I work, Enterprise Architecture is certainly a common progression from one of the other disciplines. Most, perhaps all, of the chief architects (i.e. the real big hitters) are enterprise architects.

We don't have the concept of a systems architect, so it is hard to map your diagram, but one way you could also look at it is the sort of questions you would expect each type of architect to answer:

  • Lead Developer: What persistence framework should we use? What inheritance pattern should we use here?
  • Application Architect: Should we store data in this database so it can be reported on? Which product should we use here? What persistence framework should we use?
  • Infrastructure Architect: How many machines do we need? What network zones should they sit in?
  • Information Architect: What sort of data warehouse is applicable to these requirements? What sort of schema should it have?
  • Enterprise Architect: What should be our strategy on email? Network convergence? Document management? etc

So if you believe that, an Enterprise Architect is still technical, but at the strategic level, not at the code level.


Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

I agree with the type of questions that each role might be trying to answer above. I'm not sure I'd say that determining a strategy for email is "technical". At least, not in the same sense that application and system architects tend to be technical.

I guess I too can more clearly see the overlap and progression from developer through lead developer to application architect to system architect.
actual career paths may vary, status may go down as well as up

Having said that, I don't see that enterprise architecture is necessarily tied to specific business domain knowledge whereas that seems more the case with business consulting.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

I also agree with those types of questions to help identify what an architect at each level does. The type of questions I was thinking about at the enterprise architecture level include :
  • What is our middleware strategy?
  • Can the current systems meet our future business growth?
  • How do we consolidate our multiple disparate systems?
  • How can we migrate off our legacy platforms?
  • etc.
As you say, these are still very technical albeit not at the code level.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

Hi Simon, You may be interested to have a look at the site myself and a few people are putting together in this regard. Its an EPF process for doing Enterprise Architecture - we have also added in the best of the Agile concepts of iterative (scrum like) management of how you do your EA. Check out - this is also an invite to anyone interested to get involved on the Wiki and help define and refine the Process Web. Its open source.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

Enterprise Architecture is really more about the business than it is about technology. The "father" of EA John Zachman, looks at it as being able architect the business. Check out this mind boggling model .

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

I would amend the diagram a bit. A peer of application architect would be the infrastructure architect (sysadmin, network eng., security, etc.). I would also change business consulting to business architect. This is a blend of a traditional business analyst plus a business process expert. Yes, architects should still code/build to keep grounded in reality. However, as you move up the stack, you must be able to make the transition in thinking from "how do I solve the technical problem?" to "how do I use technology strategically to solve the business problem?" A few of us would even go so far as to say at the enterprise architecture level, that role should be removed from IT altogether and placed directly on the staff of the person heading up business operations. This might be a better strategy for those companies that see IT as an asset whereas with companies that see IT as a cost, the enterprise architects should probably stay in IT.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

I take your point about removing enterprise architecture from IT. Do you think it's fair to say that enterprise architecture is roughly equivalent to CTO and CIO type roles?

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

Interesting post and comments that are indicative of the state of EA as a whole. I've seen EA in practice now at 4 or 5 different organizations, all of which have defined it differently. Some clearly have it in the technology domain, similar to the System Architect progression that you comment on, others have moved it far more to the middle with an emphasis on business domain modeling and business analysis. Personally, I think that it does need to go the direction as you outline in your diagram. If it stays rooted in technology, there's still a big gap in the organization. It doesn't seem to fit into the CIO or CTO role, either, although there's certainly organizations that are having their CIO or CTO fill that capacity, but more that have no one doing it.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

At one time, I thought so. The CTO role seems to be predominant in companies where IT is the product or service. The CTO's focus is on building products/services, not building the company. The CIO role has much more to do with building/running the company.

Currently, enterprise architecture exists on the CIO's direct staff in many companies. While this is a very important position from a strategic planning point of view, it's still weighted towards technology implementation.

I think it would be better to tie enterprise architecture and portfolio management at the hip; the former's interest is doing the right thing for the business while the latter's interest is doing the thing right for the business. Placing the combined office on the staff of the COO or CFO now makes them directly accountable to the business. This also embeds the function directly into strategic business planning and budgeting which, by design, directly "aligns IT with business." (I hate that buzzphrase)

What I have found when I have worked in an organization where there was a CIO heading up IT is that I had a great understanding of the problems we had trying to solve the business problems with technology. When I have worked in organizations where a CFO was the head of IT, I had a great understanding of the business problems we were trying to solve with technology.

Here's a skeleton from my past. In one company I worked at, we were implementing a new accounting system and IT was run by the CTO. We did it for all the usual reasons like single view of the data, faster processing, unified reporting etc. The roll-out was a marginal success. The following year, IT was headed up by the CFO after a re-org. During phase 2 of the implementation, we found out the real reasons for needing the new system included the desire close the books on the 30th or 31st of every month instead of the 35th or 36th of every month, process expense reports during the payroll period they were submitted for and to accurately forecast sales. We had a lot of re-factoring to do. The result was the revised system became a catalyst for revenue generation. The dev team-lead received a standing ovation from the sales and accounting departments at the annual company meeting.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

I like the diagram and tend to look at it similarly. There's a potential, though, to encourage too strong of an emphasis on the technology at the expense of the architect's responsibility to have an appropriate understanding of the business and to make decisions that balance business and technical considerations.


Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

Others have commented on the existence of the Infrastructure Architect role, and I agree on that. The System Architecture section of the diagram essentially consists of both the Infrastructure Architecture and also the Application Architecture. If these roles are being done by different people, as they often are, then they need to work closely together to make sure that the requirements are being met properly. A combined role could also be called Solution Architect, perhaps?

The parent company that used to own my company is a large telecoms company and they had Solutions Architects. But in my mind these were actually Infrastructure Architects because they didn't have anything to do with the application software itself, which in most cases was just something that lived on the box labelled "appserver01" on their diagrams.

Re: Is Enterprise Architecture the next step?

I often use these terms (though I use Software Architect where you say System Architect) and explain the difference as this - the SA is responsible for designing the building but the EA is responsible for designing the city (utility grids and knowing how each building plugs in).

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