PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF
I have been a practicing architect almost since the 1980s. Not always as an Enterprise Architect. Sometimes – as now – a Solutions Architect. I have been very heavily influenced by some of the leading architecture thinkers – Nigel Green, Adrian Apthorp, Chris Potts, Brenda Michelson, Roy Grubb, Tom Graves, John Zachman, Keri Healy, Sally Bean, Patrick Blogg, Richard Veryard, Alec Sharp, and too many others to mention. At the moment I am working as a Solutions Architect at Southwest Airlines in the USA. Part of a team implementing a new international reservations system while keeping the domestic reservation system up and running. Like changing an engine on the plane during take-off! In that role, I see my architecture focus being about helping with risk management. The functional teams are ensuring that the ”happy paths” are properly delivered; the project teams are managing schedule and budget. We architects are the bad guys, the “what-if?” guys dealing with the bizarre edge cases we see when things don’t quite go according to plan. A side story. I had been playing golf with a friend who is an anesthesiologist. He was expressing a desire to develop some cool apps. Not sure of the market. He just knew that ”apps are hot” and that ”there’s lots of money to be made in apps”. After all, how hard can it be? So I turned the question round. How hard can it be to administer anesthesia? After all, you administer the appropriate dose of some drug cocktail, hang around while the surgeon does his/her thing, and then wake the patient up. So I suggested that he and I change jobs for a day. As you can imagine he was horrified. “I had six years in Medical school to learn this”, he said. My point, the happy path doesn’t need six years of school. But the unhappy path sure does.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE?
I became involved with EA when I first saw John Zachman in about 1987. In several points of my career, I have asked “how does what I am seeing in systems map to what I am seeing in the ‘real world’?” For EA it was really all about how do we end up with the systems we have, given the business problems and challenges we are asked to solve. Followed quickly by “…and how on earth do we keep track of all of that complexity?” Having a (then) simple taxonomy provided some great organizing principles. At least I then had an idea of what drawers to put things in. So classification first. However, classification isn’t enough. EA is a whole lot more than that, as I will discuss in some of the following questions.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE TODAY?
Challenges? They are legion. First is that if you ask five people what an EA is, you get ten answers. I saw a job posting recently for a CISCO Enterprise Architect. No wonder we confuse people. I don’t know what a CISCO Enterprise Architect is.
Even if one can describe the role sensibly, getting the value proposition of EA explained properly is difficult. Especially if you are pigeon-holed into the technology realm. Sadly the term EA is neither descriptive, nor comprehensive. So the fall-back is “oh you are one of those IT propeller heads that I don’t understand, so I will have someone else explain it to me” from business leadership.
WHAT IS THE NEXT BIG THING IN ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE?
The “next big thing in EA” is what it has always been.
Gaining understanding of the forces affecting the enterprise in which you work, bringing new thinking models to the enterprise, and looking for ways to reduce risk (especially information management risk). While there are frameworks to learn, technologies to experiment with, tools to aid communication, cataloging capabilities that evolve, EA is still about the same as it always was.
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING AN ENTERPRISE ARCHITECT?
Frustrating, challenging, exhilarating, rewarding. It provides an opportunity to make huge differences in corporate strategy. It isn’t about delivering small (or even large) individual applications. It is much more about broad, sweeping changes to enterprises under the pressures of regulation (e.g., Personally Identifiable Information (PII) regulations that are forthcoming). The shifting of power from the central “any color as long as it is black” philosophy of Henry Ford to the power of the connected consumer; the changes in the cost models of information delivery; the ability to glean insight from data we were previously discarding.
We Enterprise Architects get to participate in the “joining up” of our enterprises – helping to traverse the silos (aka Cylinders of Excellence – thanks Alec Sharp). That joining up allows for us to draw insights across the enterprise. But because the role of the EA is horizontal (i.e., across the silos), we are not always in the direct value and reward part of the transactional enterprise. We find ourselves in that weird world of strategy, risk management, and marketing. Strange bedfellows for sure, but that’s where we live.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE EXPERIENCE?
Working for a start-up whose value proposition was instrumenting technology so that business effects of technology malfunctions were able to be quantified. Not exactly traditional EA one would think. However, the recognition that a technology incident can have differing effects on the operation of a business leads to a depth of understanding of business risk due to technology. It was never about the “cool technology”, but about failure.
What kind of malfunctions? A printer outage in a warehouse that was due to print the “pick tickets” by 6am so the morning shift could start work and pick the products ready to meet the 4pm deadline for shipment. If that printer is down at that time of day, the business impact is huge. If the printer beside my desk is down, I can walk across the office. The EA excitement came because it gave me the opportunity to work with people in multiple industries, learning about what can go wrong, and discerning the patterns of failure that are systemic across industries. It made me a better EA.
WHAT WAS A LEAST FAVORITE ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE EXPERIENCE?
Being pigeon-holed into a technology organization – under a CTO. The challenges and focuses are quite different. In many cases the CTO has responsibility for consolidation of technology, managing costs, and can often work in a top-down, very hierarchic, very project focused manner. EAs, of course, should have eyes on the budget, make sure we deliver on promises, etc. But our role is often one of de-stabilizing and upsetting the status quo. Some companies are ripe for that kind of thinking. Others are not. So when there is misalignment, something has to give. It has been those kinds of experiences that have been my least favorites. It’s not that neither role is unimportant, but the goals, directions, and reward systems are way out of line.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE CONSIDERING MAKING EA THEIR CAREER AREA? (AND TO SOMEONE HAVING AN EA CAREER?)
It is pretty hard to be a young EA. I don’t see the career path as starting as an apprentice EA and working up. I think it is far more important to get good conceptual models of the business in which you plan to work, get some proper thinking frameworks and patterns, and then transition to working in EA. It is one of those fields that does require a little (or in my case a lot of) grey hair. You have to be able to present very complex ideas succinctly, understand the financial and investment decisions, articulate value propositions, and do competitive analysis. Your skill base needs to be very broad. Oh, and of course you will need some technology (but not as much as you think) if you are going to be an ENTERPRISE (caps deliberate) Architect. You have to grow the enterprise.
Chris Bird can be reached on email@example.com and followed on Twitter @seabird20.