George Paras Talks EA – Part Two

enterprise architect interview

What follows is part two of the interview we began publishing last week with George Paras, Editor in Chief of Architecture & Governance Magazine.

Question: Why should a college student interested in technology consider becoming an enterprise architect?

Answer: This question is phrased in a way that reinforces one of the common misperceptions about Enterprise Architecture (EA), that EA is a technology discipline.  And while technology is a component of EA, EA isn’t just technology.  If a college student is truly interested in technology there are many areas to focus on first that they might find more satisfying, and more fiscally beneficial right out of school. Perhaps build core knowledge and subject matter expertise in any of the dozens of today’s important focus areas, including software engineering, analytics, security, cloud, internet of things and AI to name a few.  EA explores a different set of questions – how technologies, and information, and application portfolios, and process, and many other elements, come together and are dependent on each other.  It analyzes why and how those things enable the operating model of the enterprise.  If the college student is fascinated with strategy and business, would like that wider perspective, and wants to build skills in while exploring why businesses invest in the macro choices they make, then EA would be worth pursuing.

Q: What should an enterprise architect do to increase his or her influence over the entire company?

A: The EA’s stock in trade is influence, so that’s the fundamental question.  Gaining influence comes down to widening your reach and building trust.  It is about learning to ask the right questions instead of trying to provide all the answers.  Build a strong network of subject matter expertise and learn to orchestrate and facilitate conversations among leaders and subject matter experts. Build trust in those around you by sharing credit, helping to publicize contributions.  Enable rapid and well-informed decisions that quickly and efficiently focus on the impact of decisions, while helping the organization avoid dead-ends and naval gazing.

Q: What are the signs that a company is ready to hire its first enterprise architect?

A: There are a couple of leading indicators.  The first is that the company is suffering under the weight of technical debt, has a long history of building solutions in silos that are not well integrated, and has invested in point solutions that have packed the portfolio with too many overlapping and duplicative solutions.  Change becomes increasingly difficult, things slow down and are expensive to integrate.  EA thinking can help sort it out.  The second reason is change at the business level.  Many EA programs are established as part of larger scale transformational initiatives.  Companies that need to re-invent themselves to increase their focus on customers, improve user experience, build digital strategies, improve information and data analytics, to grow through M&A, are just a few examples.  That’s where Business Architecture is the key driving perspective.  An understanding of the business’s operating model, the capabilities they choose to focus on, the information they need to operate, and how technology and coordinated discipline come together to achieve business objects informs systemic decision-making and guides those transformations.

Q: What are the most important qualities for an EA to have to succeed in the profession?

A: Soft skills, imagination, presence, patience, focus, etc.  I could write a novel on this question.  When I speak with clients on this topic, I often compare and contrast the EA role with the many roles they have had in their past.  Most have been engineers or architects performing as subject matter experts, or have been managers of the same communities.  EA’s need to discover and exercise skills that haven’t had much prior use.  Communications skills and cultural awareness are critical.  And it isn’t just creating Powerpoint decks.  I encourage them to learn how to tell stories, to communicate in succinct, audience-specific ways.  In fact, I have to prompt many of them to revisit the lost art of writing in narrative.  It really helps them learn to tell stories.

I’ll focus on just one more for this response.  Imagination.  Architects so often get stuck in the minutia, and work on a transaction by transaction basis.  Being strategic, big picture, and longer-term oriented requires some imagination (and the intestinal fortitude and focus to reserve some thinking time that is separate from transactional demand).  Sit with others and have some open, low-pressure conversations about “the art of the possible.”  It really opens the mind and helps build community.  Of course, that has to be done within reason.  Nobody likes a blue-sky EA that spends time dreaming, but doing it occasionally lends a level of insight in often unexpected ways.  It also does a nice job of helping the EA learn to hone his or her skills at spinning effective stories.

These are just a few.

Q: How are new technologies making it easier for enterprise architects to do their job?

A: The world of EA tooling has come a long way in the last few years. We have always encouraged new EA groups to learn first how to be enterprise architects and how to operate a practice before selecting tools.  Our advice was that the learning curve for many EA tools was steep and challenging, so it is best to first exploit traditional office and drawing tools.  Over the last few years the tools have become much better, with richer meta-models in the repositories and more effective visualization and reporting tools.  The levels of integrations with other portfolio management, ITSM, CMDB, etc. tools has improved as well.  Business architecture constructs are now present in most tools as is the ability to model strategy and motivation.  Finally, there are tools for all budgets, feature sets and use cases.

EAs are “hitting the wall” faster than before, exceeding the ability of spreadsheets, sharing sites and drawing tools to manage the complexity of changing data.  The good news is that are solutions out there.  If you want enterprise-class, widely integrated tools with out of the box meta models, visualizations, analytics and reporting, they are there and easier to use than ever.  If you need something smaller and more narrowly focused there are many excellent choices there as well.