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Changing enterprise architect role opens new doors, closes others

As the enterprise architect role changes, architects must acquire new skills in cloud, mobile, integration and business strategy to have job security and growth.

The cloud and mobile era has changed the way companies approach IT, and with that, it has also changed the enterprise architect role. Enterprise architects will not prosper if they fail to understand business strategy and build their skills in cloud, mobile, internet of things, integration and other emerging technology. Also, there are more opportunities to specialize.

Building on-premises systems from scratch used to be a common practice, but that's changed due to a plethora of automated development tools and platforms, as well as businesses' demand for faster deployments. Today, the enterprise architect role can include specializing in cloud platforms, focusing on the integration of on-premises, mobile and cloud software, and working more closely with the business, as opposed to focusing solely on IT.

There will still be a need for architects, as enterprise architecture isn't going away, according to Betsy Burton, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. Rather, what started as an IT discipline focused on reconciling and managing IT systems is now focused on how to lead business and IT responses to changes that affect the business, she said.

"Enterprise architecture is changing, because the line between business and IT is starting to blur," Burton said. Gartner estimated 35% to 40% of technology purchasing decisions are happening in the lines of business, she noted. This requires enterprise architects to shift from a focus on technology to a more holistic approach that covers people, processes, information and technology.

Specializing in the cloud

Enterprise architecture is changing because the line between business and IT is starting to blur.
Betsy Burtonvice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner

While the enterprise architect role in molding IT strategy to meet the needs of the business, the shift from on-premises applications to the cloud means they're also utilizing various as-a-service components to do so, according to Kevin Carroll, director of solution architecture at TriCore Solutions LLC, based in Norwell, Mass. By gaining in-depth knowledge of software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service and infrastructure as a service, enterprise architects will play a key role in determining the cloud choices the organization will make. They'll also play an educational role, ensuring users are clear on the connection between technology and business direction. The enterprise architect role is particularly important in businesses with a hybrid cloud strategy, he said.

"The enterprise architect must provide the vision on how to maintain a consistent approach to delivering IT services across all these platforms, while providing a unified approach to foundational IT components," Carroll said. This will also include providing secure, consistent access to these applications. Carroll said he envisions the new enterprise architect functioning essentially as a cloud and mobile services leader for the business, choosing the appropriate platforms and creating a clear vision for the use of cloud and mobile technology.

DevOps and enterprise architect role

Meanwhile, other experts see the role of the enterprise architect splitting, particularly as the architect role goes beyond designing systems. The rise of DevOps will bring the enterprise architect into working with application development teams, said Rich Kucharski, vice president of solutions architecture at SimpliVity Corp., based in Westborough, Mass. In this setting, the architect would interpret and keep development in line with the business strategy, and ensure services and applications are put on the most appropriate platforms.

For this, the enterprise architect role will need a broad understanding of cloud, mobile and other application platforms available, as well as the tools, services and platforms available internally for the application development teams. "It's going to be less about designing infrastructure and more about applying applications to specific infrastructure components," Kucharski said.

Honing in on integrations

Enterprise architects who become experts in cloud and application integration will prosper, said Greg Arnette, CTO of Sonian in Waltham, Mass. He noted there are 1,400 enterprise SaaS applications, and most are replacing on-premises systems. These cloud apps have robust APIs and new levels of integration opportunities, and enterprise architects who can integrate these applications into the existing IT ecosystem will be valued.

The catch is mastering integration in cloud environments is not for the faint of heart. Consider the challenges of creating and enforcing guardrails like governance, oversight and auditing for off-premises applications and services, Arnette said. Then, add on integrating business intelligence to legacy apps.

Coining the new architect titles

The industry is already coining new titles for enterprise architects who specialize in cloud, integration and other emerging technologies. "Enterprise architect has a legacy connotation," Arnette said. Already, job listings call for enterprise cloud architect or enterprise SaaS architect. He said he expects to see more descriptive titles for enterprise architects who master the technologies that drive business value.

According to Gartner's Burton, the hottest topics in enterprise architecture are actually closer to business architecture, like how to manage information, or work with a digital or cloud strategy. Most of what it takes to do great enterprise architecture is "family counseling," ensuring the technology is enabling the business strategy, she said. "At the end of the day, there will be ripple effects on how we think about architecting technology, but it's not the starting point," she concluded.

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How has your enterprise architecture role changed?
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Thanks for the great article. I definitely agree about the trend for the architect to be more focused on the business side. I've long since felt that Shadow IT should be considered an asset vs. a liability but it includes an architect type to ensure that an organization can attain the right mix of business agility and governance. Not governance in a heavy handed way, but governance that actually contributes to agility. Like architect considerations that need to be thought of together... it's also true that different development efforts should be thought of together vs. separating out web from mobile, or customer from internal, etc. 

Mark Troester
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@mtroester
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