The new role of enterprise architects

Enterprise architects are in great demand at companies. However, the requirements associated with their role have changed significantly over the last few years. These days, enterprise architects serve as advisors and sparring partners for a company’s IT department and business organization, whereby this is a role that requires substantial knowledge.

Uwe Weber, Managing Partner of Detecon International GmbH and a Cross-Business-Architecture Lab e. V. Ambassador, believes the term enterprise architecture management (EAM) is too narrowly defined: “These days, EAM relates more to information architecture, by which I mean a complete ecosystem that needs to be managed.” This in turn means that architects need to play a new and different role and act “more like enablers rather than controllers who define processes and standards.”

EAM: No easy job in a VUCA world

Architects thus have to perform a type of balancing act: On the one hand, they need to ensure sustainability, the stability of the IT landscape, and compliance with a company’s fundamental values and regulations, while on the other hand they need to take into account new requirements relating to shorter innovation cycles for products, technologies, and business models, for example.

Weber is therefore convinced that “in these times of digitalization agile approaches are needed – not just for software development but also for business operations and architecture.” IT needs to speed up, which means enterprise architecture needs to get faster as well. “In this fast-paced and complex VUCA world – in other words, in a world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – EAM offers the only way to establish the proper structures and the necessary transparency.”

Today’s enterprise architects act as an interface between IT and the business organization: They understand and pay attention to business processes and business models and the needs of the entire company, even as they take measures to ensure that innovations and agile developments are not inhibited.  They also develop guidelines that ensure company-wide issues such as security, cloud governance, and orchestration are taken into account and that IT and business operations remain effective.

The architect: A team player

Architects are directly embedded in agile teams at many companies. Here, they no longer “guard” quality or architecture gates that they can use to stop projects if necessary. Instead, they help project teams as early as the development stage in order to get new software services enterprise-ready, for example.

The associated multifaceted requirements have created a situation in which no formal training program exists for enterprise architects. Instead, there are only seminars, individual courses, and on-the-job training. As a result, enterprise architects at companies are often individuals with a background in one of the fields that are important for enterprise architecture. These individuals generally have many years of experience working as IT specialists and/or IT consultants. In addition, an increasing number of business information system specialists are now being trained in seminars designed specifically with the architect job profile in mind.

This is also occurring at the university level – for example the Department of Information Systems at the University of Münster has been offering courses in architecture management since 2009. These courses focus on architecture knowledge and methods and the development of a holistic view of information systems.  In general, they are designed to make students aware of the need for architecture as a means of ensuring the effective planning and control of complex organizations.

“A relatively large number of business information system students participate in the seminars,” says the Chairman of the department, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernd Hellingrath. More specifically, around half of the 120 business information system students who graduate each year have taken EAM courses, Hellingrath reports – and none of them have ever had a problem finding a job.

Academic EAM seminars: Practical experience is also important

Universities are increasingly focusing on architecture content that goes beyond traditional architecture approaches such as the TOGAF method. “Digitalization is an engine that is moving companies toward a situation in which IT drives business development,” Hellingrath explains. In order to ensure optimal work at this interface, up-and-coming architects need to “work in actual projects and be part of the implementation teams. They need to be part of everyday business activities – to get out in the field. They have to understand technical aspects, but they also need to know how company business models are structured.” 

Such practical knowledge is imparted at the University of Münster in project seminars, most of which are organized in cooperation with different companies. The idea is to transfer theoretical knowledge into “real life” business activity. Here, it becomes clear that in some cases EAM needs to be significantly improved in practice, as it’s not just the students who are learning new things but also the companies that are involved in the seminars. As Hellingrath points out, “the only reason many companies even start thinking about EAM is because we talk to them about it.”

EAM at Ergo: A diverse team

EAM has long since been established at Ergo, as the insurance group has been utilizing architecture management approaches since 2011. Ergo currently employs 70 people in its architecture department. “Our people come from diverse fields and have very different profiles in some cases,” says Daniel Grothues, Head of Architecture Management, ITERGO Informationstechnologie GmbH. “We have everyone from former programmers who have been working at the company for years to analysts and IT consultants.”

Up-and-coming Ergo architects are trained together in what Grothues describes as a type of boot camp. This training program is designed by architects for architects and covers frameworks, standards, and templates, for example.  Architects-in-training at Ergo also attend external courses and participate in conferences and seminars organized by interest groups and associations such as CBA Lab. CBA Lab offers several training courses that address EAM and transformation processes, for example. “On-the-job-training is also important, of course,” says Grothues, “which is why a new architect’s first projects are often conducted with an experienced architect who serves as the project supervisor.”

The most important hiring criteria for Grothues are a “willingness and ability to think in a conceptually structured manner, as well as communication skills that enable a person to conduct results-oriented discussions with a wide variety of decision makers.” Grothues believes the latter point in particular amounts to a major change in the architect job profile at Ergo: “As recently as five years ago, architects were exclusively experts for addressing detailed technical questions who also programmed the central services for application development – in other words the architecture components. Today, architects also act as sparring partners and consultants not only for technical decision makers but also for business decision makers who in some cases know very little about IT and architecture.

Combined knowledge is needed

ITERGO is a member of the Cross-Business-Architecture Lab, an association that focuses on enterprise architecture, which is becoming tremendously important as the digital transformation continues. Dr. Karsten Schweichhart, Member of the Board of CAB Lab e. V., most of whose members are large companies and organizations, explains CBA Lab’s approach as follows: “Digitalization is changing the role and tasks of enterprise architecture management in a major way. Governance is becoming much less important and support and consulting are becoming much more important. Enterprise architects are increasingly becoming navigators of the digital transformation. For this they need software and business skills, as well as strong analytic and communication skills.”

Miriam Suchet, Head of Enterprise/IT Architecture Management at Wacker Chemie AG, agrees with this assessment. “As digitalization efforts moved ahead at our company, our enterprise architecture experts became more involved in the planning processes at our specialist departments,” Suchet explains. “These enterprise architects are now much more strategic in their approach than they were before and they also provide a lot more advice that sparks new ideas.” For example, the EAM team at Wacker Chemie is currently developing a technology innovation management unit that will use innovation and technology radars to provide information to the company’s specialist departments about which technologies are set to become relevant to them in the near future. “From the company’s point of view, the job of EAM is to manage the many changes brought about by digitalization while at the same time ensuring that the IT landscape is flexible enough to enable IT to keep up with the changes,” says Suchet. “This also includes identifying areas where action needs to be taken or corrections need to be made.” Suchet also says she doesn’t see any possibility for an ideal enterprise architecture training program or course of study, pointing out that enterprise architects today can have a degree in IT, economics, or business administration. The important thing is that they understand the context in which they work and also have solid IT and software knowledge. In addition, the more closely architects work with specialist departments and the business organization in general, the more important their own knowledge of these areas will become. Similarly, the more closely they work with IT departments, the more important their own IT knowledge will become. Suchet believes this combination of knowledge is exactly what a modern architect needs to have, whereby the latest knowledge with regard to domains, methods, and IT can also be gained through further education courses offered by a company. “This doesn’t always have to involve a type of long drawn-out basic training; courses designed in line with architecture requirements are very valuable here,” says Suchet, who in this context also mentions the courses offered by CBA Lab, which are open not only to staff from member companies like Wacker Chemie but also to employees from other companies and organizations.

CBA Lab currently offers four training programs that are continuously updated and modified in line with digitalization requirements. The courses provide an overview of business-driven IT transformation and service-oriented architectures (SOA). They address the definition and planning of SOA in specific settings, as well as its technical implementation and the digitalization of business models. All courses are offered both in-house and on-site. “The content of the courses has been tested in practice,” Schweichhart explains. “Among other things, this content offers the benefit of being focused on needs and requirements that were actually formulated by architects at CBA Lab member companies. The courses are now designed not only for architects and IT specialists but also for technical and commercial staff who are looking to make their digital structures more effective with the help of EAM methods and thinking.”

The architect: Portfolio manager and motivator

EAM expert Weber from Detecon believes that “the ideal architect helps specify a corporate strategy by developing a portfolio that depicts this strategy on the basis of effective solutions, whereby architects also need to monitor the implementation of such solutions.” The basis for this is not an IT issue but rather a more business-related one: information. That’s why Weber also believes that information architecture is the new paradigm for enterprise architecture. Information architecture experts must design the exchange of data in a manner that ensures everyone involved in a particular ecosystem receives the information that is important to them.

This also means that product silos have to be eliminated. “In the past, various managers performed architecture tasks,” says Weber. “This usually led to unsuccessful architectures, because these managers didn’t have the required knowledge of the big picture. The result was software redundancy and data inconsistency.”  By contrast, today’s information architects focus on decentralized design and work to establish a common understanding of architecture throughout the entire company – i.e. architectural thinking. The goal here is that decision makers for process design, organizational development, and business model development should have a common understanding of what “expedient” architecture is. As a result, the areas of a company that are concerned with driving innovation will be able to make independent architectural decisions/evaluations within the framework of their projects. These decisions also have to be reviewed, however, and also be compatible with the architectural framework (i.e. the "big picture").

This in turn requires a collective understanding of enterprise architecture and the firm establishment of EAM as part of a company’s DNA. “Getting employees motivated to accept and participate in a digital culture is one of the most important tasks of an architect,” Weber explains.

When asked how he would formulate an architect job description for a human resources department, Weber offers the following answer: “I would say we are looking for enterprise architects who can think analytically, offer advice, have good facilitation skills, and get along well with people. They also need to have process expertise in the domain they’re to work in, and they need know how to manage the digital platform business. Finally, they should also be familiar with the concept and methods of change management.”

Miriam Suchet, Wacker Chemie AG

The job of EAM is to manage the many changes brought about by digitalization while at the same time ensuring that the IT landscape is flexible enough to enable IT to keep up with the changes.