Saturday, 7 July 2012

Values of a good enterprise architect

What are the values of a good enterprise architect? Being in a consulting practice where I spend the most of my working life collaborating with CIO's, process owners, and senior architects, I often hear that question. Often the question emerges out of the usual debate whether a background in development and software engineering makes a better architect. Whilst there is no definitive answer to the latter question, I am quite convinced that first-hand experience with working in development teams and endless hours of coding, debugging, and troubleshooting source code is a big plus for aspiring architects - particularly because the architect will be the one bridging the gap between the business owners and the IT department. I know that because I have been there myself. And, in fact, I still enjoy developing software when I have time for it (for one of my latest pet projects, please see Fortune for Windows Phone, a port of the famous UNIX command /usr/bin/fortune for Windows Phone 7).

Now, back to the first question: what separates a top-shelf enterprise architect from the crowd of technical architects? In my opinion these values are:

  • Stakeholder management skills: being able to bring together business and IT people in order to resolve complex problems and agree on a future roadmap for the enterprise is a sought-after skill. A good architect understands how to engage and manage stakeholders in order to define a common foundation for improving the enterprise. 
  • Wide industry and consulting experience: architects are often hired as an internal "consulting" function in order to bring together and manage a vast array of different people, skills, and goals. Having consulting experience in combination with different verticals often puts things in perspective. And, as a plus, good consultants know how to navigate politically sensitive environments, which is a base requirement, particularly when navigating the wilderness of establishing an architecture governance function.
  • Leadership and trust: demonstrating leadership at the turbulent verge of technology fascination and the strive for business excellence is a rare skill. Enterprise architects understand and lead the translation of business concerns and turn these into tangible technology requirements and new business processes. However, this cannot happen without building trust across the board when transforming the organisation. Good architects develop trust  within the business by developing reusable solutions to their concerns. They show that architecture is the key management foundation for achieving business excellence. 
Knowledge of frameworks and methodologies is a plus. However, good architects can easily pick up any framework, thought process, or structured methodology and apply it in a meaningful way. Framework experience should not be your reason for hiring an architect. Good architects deliver value and business excellence with our without a framework. Rather, experience, common sense, and structured analytical thinking should be your main evaluation criteria.

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