Two roles for enterprise-architects
A great discussion yesterday with Mike Turner reminded me that there are two radically different roles for enterprise-architects:
- the internal enterprise-architect
- the external enterprise-architect
They’re both focused on ‘the architecture of the enterprise’, but it’s important not to mix them up, because they require different temperaments and different approaches to business-relationships.
The internal enterprise-architect is actively responsible for the ‘enterprise DNA’ of a single organisation. They typically either report direct to the CEO (who has the ultimate authority and responsibility for that ‘DNA’, but in practice probably doesn’t have the time to do much about it), or else are attached to the CEO Office or a senior-level strategy-group.
The key point here is that, to use Kevin Smith‘s term, this enterprise-architect role acts as “the glue between strategy and execution” – which means that they need direct person-to-person relations with people at all levels and in all domains of the organisation and enterprise. Developing these relationships takes time, and a lot of time at that – often ten or more years in a typical large organisation. Hence the best people for this kind of role are those who’ve “come up through the ranks” and built a personal network on the way, or – even better – have grown up with the company, “have been in from the start” or suchlike. (The CEO can and should do the enterprise-architect role for a start-up, but once the organisation grows beyond about a dozen people the role will typically need to be part of someone else’s explicit responsibilities, and once we get past the crucial social-network boundary of Dunbar’s number – roughly a dozen-squared – it needs to be a distinct role in its own right.)
This role is about how the idea of enterprise-architecture – that “things work better when they work together, with efficiency, with elegance, on purpose, in practice” – is expressed throughout this organisation, in terms of this organisation’s business-purpose.
The external enterprise-architect (or consultant enterprise-architect) is actively responsible for promoting the ‘idea’ and practice of enterprise-architecture itself. It’s important that they maintain their independence as much as practicable, though for practical reason many will work via the auspices of a consulting-organisation of some kind. Their person-to-person relations are with other architects – again in many different domains and at all levels, but across many different organisations and enterprise-types.
Their primary role is practice-refresh for in-house enterprise-architects: they help to keep the overall architecture up-to-date on methods, practices, and frameworks, and help to lift the architecture-maturity and architecture-capability of the internal team. They also act as external peer-review, to reduce the risk of an insular and often destructive ‘groupthink’ developing within an organisation. This role too requires many years of experience, but this experience will have been gained across multiple disciplines in multiple organisations and, preferably, multiple industries.
The internal enterprise-architect deals with architecture in depth; the external enterprise-architect deals with architecture in breadth. An organisation’s architecture gains most from an appropriate balance of these two roles – not one or the other, but always some of both.
The worst possible combination of these two roles is unfortunately that which many large consultancies try to promote: full long-term control of an organisation’s enterprise-architecture by an external consultancy. An enterprise-architecture works right at the core of an organisation and enterprise: hence assigning responsibility for the organisation’s DNA to an external party is not a good idea… You Have Been Warned! 🙂