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The Enterprise Architect - A Jack of All Trades
Photo Credit - NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham - NASA Image of the Day, 14 April 2011.

Will Durant was an author who published the lives and opinions of the world’s greatest philosophers. In his book, The Story of Philosophy, he attributed a quote to the famous Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit

Aristotle’s knowledge spanned many subjects, and he drew on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. When you think of the works of Aristotle, some may think of the figure of speech, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” However, this notion has increasingly become unpopular in today’s digital world.

The constant pace of innovation has warranted modern architects’ need to assume the role of “a Jack of all trades.” Like Aristotle, contemporary architects have to become good at creating value in an environment with many emerging technologies. They have to draw on various Bodies of Knowledge, and they have to solve multiple complex and evolving challenges. The digital revolution means that risk has to be managed rather than avoided, and failure is allowed if it comes early. This new paradigm creates a shift in the role of the architect.

The Role of The Modern Enterprise Architect

The most crucial task of the modern architect is to be a connecting element - Gregor Hohpe

Traditionally, enterprise architects were responsible for delivering architecture viewpoints and models established as interpretations of the organization’s current “as-is” and future “to-be” states. In today’s world, enterprise architects now have to position themselves as the enablers for digital innovation and strategy. By honing their external and internal stakeholder management skills, the modern architect differentiates themselves from other IT professionals and serves the critical task of connecting the elements of the organizations they serve.

Recent years have seen the emergence of different specializations and types of the architect role. Functions such as the enterprise architect, business architect, and solution architect have remained relevant. However, new roles such as the “cloud architect” and digital architect are gaining prominence. The Open Group guides how aspiring architects can understand these architecture specializations and position their careers to ensure they achieve the required skills to succeed as a modern (enterprise) architect. This global consortium has a specific certification, The Open Group Certified Architect (Open CA), for qualifying the skills, knowledge, and experience of these architect specializations.

Speaking of specializations, you may describe the modern architect as a “generalizing specialist.” Canadian software engineer and author Scott Ambler discussed this term in his book, Agile Modeling. The T-shaped persons” metaphor is not far-fetched from the same idea. Also known as the versatilist, modern enterprise architects should seek to be an expert in one or more of these specializations. And, must also be proficient in a broad range of business and IT disciplines. Think of this architect as a modern-day polymath that applies knowledge in practical scenarios.

Evolving Skillsets

To win in the digital age, the skillset of the architect needs to evolve. Modern enterprise architects have to be masters of integration and should be able to bring various disciplines together in a practical manner to provide business value. To achieve this, architects need a broad range of skills, impact the organizations they serve and ensure they provide leadership. There are several skill assessment frameworks an architect may employ to measure development. The SFIA framework describes professionals’ skills and competencies in roles involved in information and communication technologies, digital transformation, and software engineering. Architects may use the guiding principles of the framework to improve their professional capability. The framework is free for personal career development. Below is an excerpt from Level 7 of the enterprise and business architecture skill of the SFIA framework.

Directs the creation and review of an enterprise capability strategy to support the strategic requirements of the business. Identifies the business benefits of alternative strategies.

Directs development of enterprise-wide architecture and processes which ensure that the strategic application of change is embedded in the management of the organization. Ensures compliance between business strategies, enterprise transformation activities and technology directions, setting strategies, policies, standards and practices

- Enterprise and business architecture: Level 7, SFIA framework.

An architect at this level should be able to perform the above. Likewise, this architect should be comfortable applying the different skills in other groups such as enterprise IT governance, solution architecture, software engineering, etc. The proliferation of several emerging technologies such as serverless computing, software-defined networking, cloud-managed networks, etc., signifies that “economies of speed” is now the order of the day. The modern architect requires a combination of business savvy skills and proficiency with IT trends and technologies to succeed. But, more than ever, architects now need to master the art of adaptability.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn - Alvin Toffler

Some of these emerging technologies are planned in organizations, while others have piloted or deployed in other organizations. The responsibility is on the architect to continually monitor trends and update their skills as required. Moreso, the architect must use these acquired skills to create value and impact in their organizations. The architect can only achieve this impact by honing their soft skills, including leadership.

Leading Change

Today’s most reliable enterprise architects can accept that they can no longer predict or architect solutions for a specific future; we live in uncertain times. Instead, they develop an architecture that can change as quickly as business needs and technology changes. Some call this evolutionary architecture. This architecture enables constant change. Hence, the architect that focuses too much on governance without adding architecture views that will allow continuous change will likely be unsuccessful. Adaptability is crucial, and the architect must think outside the box a lot to create innovative solutions to solve new challenges.

The modern architect must be fully involved in budget planning, (lean) portfolio management, and become a trusted advisor in IT investment decision-making processes to create impact and business value. While business stakeholders today have easy access to platforms that facilitate rapid innovation, such as Amazon Web Services, enterprise architects must be open-minded visionaries yet practical enablers for their organizations. They must provide risk management and proper governance while enabling innovation on such digital platforms, for example, by ensuring adequate identity and access management or cost management strategies are in place.

Finally, in his book, The Software Architect Elevator, Gregor Hohpe, an author and thought leader on enterprise architecture, describes how the architect must understand their “virtuous cycle”. He mentions how, as an architect, one must apply their skill to generate impact; they also must learn what skills to prioritize to maximize that impact. And, given the rapid rate of innovation, prioritizing learning time is a significant asset. Architects must lead not only their organizations through change but themselves.

Key Points

  • Formulate a career roadmap as an architect and ensure it is flexible enough to allow you to adapt new skills as required. Understand the core skills needed for the modern architect. Think about the Pareto Principle and filter out the noise.

  • Do not lose focus on the different layers of an organization. As an enterprise architect, you have to traverse between senior leadership and the engineers doing the work. Likewise, you have to travel between business teams and technology teams to ensure cohesion.

  • Create a strategy for knowledge retention. It could be through taking on real-world situations that require applying those newly learned skills, speaking engagements, blog posts, or mentoring other aspiring professionals.

  • Proactively track and evaluate emerging technologies, and map them to business models. This strategic technology integration will add value to the business.

  • Leverage design thinking practices to serve as a trusted advisor to both internal and external stakeholders. Always be learning and do not be afraid to fail; that’s an opportunity to gain mastery of an identified skill.

Further Reading