‘Enterprise architects’ are playing an increasingly important role in the world of business. With IT and digital elements now firmly ingrained in daily operations and strategic programs, understanding how these elements interact and relate to high-level strategic planning is essential for success.
An enterprise architect uses their skills to develop an understanding of their organization’s capabilities, activities, and relationships before presenting them as a single ‘architecture’. They can do the same for how a business will appear once it reaches its desired future state, enabling decision-makers to make more informed choices on how to get from A to B.
Developing this level of awareness is no easy task. Enterprise architects are highly qualified individuals with in-depth knowledge of several topics. They conceptualize and clarify ideas, advising teams, departments, executives, and senior stakeholders in a way that corresponds with each group’s unique concerns, priorities, and level of knowledge. They will also utilize various methodologies and tools to make the overall enterprise architecture (EA) process as efficient and effective as possible, with their understanding of how to adapt and apply said methodologies usually being tempered by several years of experience.
Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes people make about enterprise architecture is assuming that all it takes is studying a single framework to fully understand the topic. While popular options like TOGAF® and Zachman are extremely valuable in terms of creating an enterprise architecture practice, building the skill set of an enterprise architect can take several years.
To put it simply, the ‘architect’ in ‘enterprise architect’ is not just a fun name. EA specialists know the current and future ‘architectures’ of an organization inside and out. They will also have technical skills relating to digital and IT management, as well as business-related tasks such as strategic thinking, communication, and leadership.
This is addressed by The Open Group, the creator of ‘The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF®), in its documentation on the TOGAF Architecture Skills Framework:
“‘Enterprise Architecture’ and ‘Enterprise Architect’ are widely used but poorly defined terms in industry today. They are used to denote a variety of practices and skills applied in a wide variety of architecture domains. There is a need for better classification to enable more implicit understanding of what type of architecture/architect is being described.
“This lack of uniformity leads to difficulties for organizations seeking to recruit or assign/promote staff to fill positions in the architecture field. Because of the different usage of terms, there is often misunderstanding and miscommunication between those seeking to recruit for, and those seeking to fill, the various roles of the architect.”
So, for those interested in pursuing enterprise architecture, what exactly do you need to know? What skills do you need to develop, and to what extent? In this article, Good e-Learning explores what it takes to become an enterprise architect.
The role of an enterprise architect
Something worth pointing out now is that while ‘enterprises’ can be highly complex, they also tend to be distinct. The size, services, structure, and industry of a business all help determine what kind of enterprise it actually has in practice. This will then determine what skills and knowledge its enterprise architects need to have.
Why are we bringing this up? To put it simply, while there are many skills that are common to most enterprise architects, the skills an architect needs to have will depend on the job at hand. Many businesses will even hire enterprise architects on an ad-hoc basis, bringing in whatever skills they need at the time rather than sticking rigidly to a long-term plan.
That is not to say that there is no consistency to what skills an enterprise architect requires in order to be successful; it simply means that there is a great deal of variance to take into account, in addition to the complexity inherent to the enterprise architect role.
The skills of an enterprise architect
That being said, the general purpose of enterprise architecture is generally the same from case to case. The Open Group outlines the “Generic Role” as requiring enterprise architects to:
- Understand and interpret requirements: Enterprise architects must understand the requirements that make up a ‘solution’. The skills involved include data analysis, listening to information from different sources, and forming consensus between parties. The architect will then translate ‘ideas’ of a solution into requirements with tangible targets. They will also describe the ideas to others, along with the purpose, risks, constraints, and benefits involved, to foster a general understanding of the overall solution across their organization.
- Create a useful model: Enterprise architects must be able to model their solution, not just by following a methodology but by adapting it to suit the unique circumstances of the program in question. The models should also represent and communicate various views within an organization. Within these models, an architect may highlight leverage opportunities using building blocks, and will liaise with different groups to make sure these opportunities are being utilized. The models will be used to guide teams, departments, and individuals within and outside an organization as necessary.
- Validate, refine, and expand the model: The enterprise architect will improve and refine the model by verifying assumptions made by different parties and bringing in subject matter experts. New ideas will be added as necessary depending on changing requirements, as solution-enhancing developments may well take place during this time.
- Manage the architecture: Once the models are completed, the architect will continually monitor and update them to accurately represent different issues and results that take place during development. The architect will also share customer, architectural, and technical information between different organizations as necessary throughout the development lifecycle.
The Open Group’s ‘Architecture Skills Framework’ also lays out several “characteristics” of an enterprise architect which describe the skills and competencies they ought to have.
“Skills and Experience in Producing Designs” – Creating models of complex systems requires proficiency in several techniques, such as identifying and assessing solution alternatives, discovering and analyzing requirements, formulating a context for solutions, choosing appropriate technology, configuration design, and so on. They cannot simply work with concepts; their designs must be tangible and comprehensive, with users, functions, and interconnectivity between systems all outlined clearly. With these skills, an architect can accurately describe the current state of the organization, where it wants to be, and what capabilities will be required to reach the intended future state.
“Extensive Technical Breadth, with Technical Depth in One or a Few Disciplines” – Most enterprise architects have extensive technical knowledge and will be considered a ‘subject matter expert’ in at least one discipline. This can include infrastructure development and maintenance, application development and deployment, and so on. The architect will be familiar with multiple platforms, such as traditional mainframes and distributed systems. Given the diversity and rapid evolution seen in modern digital and IT management, this aspect of enterprise architecture is essential. An architect must understand the technical aspects of their organization and how they can be improved, such as with outside methodologies like ITIL and DevOps.
“Method-Driven Approach to Execution” – Enterprise architecture methodologies are a cornerstone of essential EA practices. An architect should have a strong working knowledge of several methods and tools, such as TOGAF, Zachman, and ArchiMate, to help facilitate their work. They will be skilled enough to adapt and selectively deploy methods as necessary. They will also have a significant amount of experience using the methods in practice.
“Full Project Scope Experience” – Enterprise architects need to be familiar with every aspect of a complete project. This includes design, development, testing, implementation, and production work. This experience should give them a practical perspective of how to apply a system that is fully fit for purpose. To put it simply, no architect gets a leading role right off the bat; they must have enough experience to make practical decisions based on the environment and requirements at hand.
“Leadership” – Part of an enterprise architect’s role is to actively lead different departments and teams in implementing an enterprise architecture. This requires leadership abilities across business and IT, with even clients and management recognizing the architect as having significant authority. At the same time, they will also do a great deal of ground-level work, consulting over implementation when necessary and constantly communicating between different teams and departments to keep them aligned with strategic end goals. As part of this, the architect must also understand how to communicate with distinct audiences, such as by leaving out or simplifying information as required.
“Personal and Professional Skills” – An enterprise architect needs strong communication and relationship-building skills. As well as teams and departments, an architect must also communicate with stakeholders, contractors, and even clients. As part of this, the architect must also help management teams to make informed decisions to keep project work aligned with high-level goals. This can often require architects to describe complex information in a way that makes sense to individuals lacking any technical skills. This can sometimes require the use of graphical languages such as ArchiMate.
“Skills and Experience in One or More Industries” – Enterprise architects generally find it much easier to frame their knowledge and experience within an industry they are familiar with. This helps them to prioritize tasks, taking environmental factors into account, and understand the most essential business processes they will be dealing with. As part of their industry awareness, they will know about competitor activities as well as relevant trends and disruptive activities. This all ensures that the architect has the perspective to work proactively in coming up with technical strategies rather than just responding to unfamiliar developments.
As you can see, there is a great deal that goes into the role of an enterprise architect! To give users a better idea of the breadth and variance of this complexity, the Open Group has several tables detailing the skills and competencies required for the role.
How do I gain the skills required to become an enterprise architect?
Through this article, we have made clear the fact that becoming an enterprise architect requires more than simply studying a framework. There are multiple skills involved in both business and technical spheres, and a successful architect must also be able to communicate architectural ideas to several different audiences.
That said, one of the most important skills involved in EA is being able to customize and apply effective methodologies. TOGAF 9.2 is the world’s most popular enterprise architecture framework, with its Architecture Development Method (ADM) offering a comprehensive yet flexible approach that can be applied to any organization or program. By studying and becoming certified in TOGAF, as well as alternatives such as Zachman, a candidate can develop a strong understanding of how enterprise architecture works in practice and what kind of skills they still need to develop.
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