CEO as CEA

A great conversation last week with IT-strategy consultant Chris Potts of Dominic Barrow ( http://www.dominicbarrow.com/ ), who’s also a regular columnist for CIO.com, an online magazine for CIOs.

In terms of his position on the role of enterprise architecture, in some ways he’s even more extreme than I am in insisting that the role is much wider than IT. I’d certainly agree with this comment in his article (see link to the PDF in the ‘articles’ section of the Dominic Barrow website) for GEAO Journal of Enterprise Architecture (Vol.3 No.1 March 2008: pp.3-8) called Enterprise Architecture Driving Business Innovation: Time to Break Out of IT.

[A]n IT-centric view of the world is a major constraint, sometimes terminal, on EA’s potential contribution. To successfully influence business innovation, it’s vital to take an enterprise-centric view, remembering that technology is just one category of capital. Rather than being IT-centric, effective EA is IT-ambivalent: some innovations will involve IT, some won’t. The presence or absence of IT is not the defining factor.

There’s another valuable insight in what’s almost a throwaway line early in the article [my italics]:

I’ve always found that architecting ‘enterprise’ as defined by economists has a greater impact on innovation and value creation than architecting ‘an enterprise’, typically meaning its capital, land and labour.

He then takes it further than I’d done to date, because he argues that the enterprise always already has a Chief Enterprise Architect, in the form of the CEO:

[T]he chief enterprise architect is already out there, not working in IT and never has. Our challenge [as CIOs] is to become part of their team. …

[W]hether we are focussed on enterprise or capital, the organisation’s chief architects of these things do not reside in IT. They do not have an IT-centric focus, nor use formalised EA frameworks and are not called ‘Architect’. Typically, our chief enterprise architect is the CEO, and our chief capital architect is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). At the executive level, EA does not need breaking out of IT as it has never been there in the first place. The Enterprise Architect’s challenge is to connect with, contribute to and influence the strategy of our chief enterprise architect, the CEO, while making sure the CFO sees the value of our capital.

He’s expanded on these themes in his textbook-cum-novel FruITion: Creating the Ultimate Corporate Strategy for Information Technology (more detail on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), in which he also argues that the best IT strategy is no strategy at all, in the conventional sense – or more accurately, as he commented in our email correspondence:

The ultimate corporate strategy for IT is to ‘not have one’, which is not the same as having no strategy. And you have to make sure the conditions are right before attempting it, otherwise ‘de facto’ strategies will take over….

(Before I read FruITion I’d thought I was a fairly good ‘translator’ between IT and business: I now realise I still have a long way to go… 🙁 And I certainly wish I’d had a chance to read it before we’d had our meet-up, too: would have learnt a heck of a lot more from the conversation. Oh well.)

An eye-opener, anyway – not just for EAs, but for anyone who wants to understand how business really works at the executive levels. Recommended.

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