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Enterprise architect role is more about business than ever

Today's enterprise architects are more than just top-tier developers. Just like CIOs, they're expected to sit at the C-level table and shape business strategy.

The enterprise architect role has changed in ways that have more to do with the business side of things than with new technology.  Many enterprise architects are now embedded within the business side of their enterprises. This makes it a priority for them to summon ideas for approaches to new architecture that change and improve their business' bottom line.

To be successful at these jobs, architects must pursue management practices that facilitate that alignment between business and enterprise. Businesses want architects to determine how their enterprise architecture (EA) drives digital innovation and invents more uses for customers, said Marcus Blosch, a vice president of research at Gartner.

Enterprise architects possess the skills and discipline needed to take a strategic business idea through to tangible execution, he said. This means they think about the enterprise architect role -- they should not just be a technical overseer, but also a consultant that guides the business' application innovation strategy.

"You have to recognize that this is a new set of competencies," Blosch said. If the enterprise architects don't position themselves as internal management consultants, then the business risks losing its ability to turn software efforts into real business value.

Architects feel the pull to the business side

Douglas Nelson, staff vice president of IT Architecture and Engineering at Centene Corporation, said he has observed a change in the enterprise architect's role both within his own company and the EA landscape in general. While enterprise architects once only managed their own IT shops, they are now viewed as an essential bridge between the business side and IT.

Marcus Blosch, VP Analyst, Gartner Inc.Marcus Blosch

"In the past that's been somewhat separated," Nelson said. "There might have been dedicated business architects running around that live on the business side that may or may not interact with EA."

He said that in a similar vein, CIOs are now frequently called to the overall business strategy table, and that trend is dragging all of IT -- particularly enterprise architects -- in the same direction. But these organizations need more than just a general IT liaison. Now that businesses put so much value on their digital strategy, they need constant input from architects that possess an intimate understanding of their software capabilities and can shape development practices to meet specific business needs.

Aslinn Merriman, emerging technology architect at Sargento, Inc., a large food production company based in Plymouth, Wisconsin, agreed that the architect's purpose is to help set a strategy and facilitate development goals that align with other business units and the overall organization.

"IT is a vital part of any organization," Merriman said. "And there is great value to be realized from having them consult from the beginning of most, if not all, projects."

How architects can adapt

Both Nelson and Merriman said they believe that architects can take steps today to adapt to these demands. First, they need to unplug from basic development and coding tasks that distract from their role as a technology consultant to the business.

Aslinn Merriman, Emerging Technology Architect, Sargento Foods Inc.Aslinn Merriman

For instance, Nelson said that while the architects he manages all code to some level, that task should not overshadow their primary role as a digital strategist. Merriman agreed, and warned that today's enterprise architects should be careful to not spend too much time wrapped up in basic developer tasks.

"Coding can be fun, but don't get so far into the weeds that you forget about the general stuff," Merriman said. "You have to set some kind of vision … understand what the ultimate mission, vision and driver is."

Merriman advised enterprise architects to make sure they connect with peers within their company outside the IT group, not only so they can have a line into the business side but also to attain an objective point of view on their ideas. This connection could be someone from the business side, but any outreach architects can perform is valuable, she said.

"You need a connection within the organization that's outside your group -- someone who's a good sounding board." Merriman said. "Write a list of people with whom you'd like to become acquainted. Interview them, be curious about them and show that you're vested in their work."

Merriman also stressed that it's critical to receive constant education in order to understand the changing enterprise architect role and learn how to better formulate strategies for the business.

"[This means] attending webinars, researching things you hear about, for instance DevOps or Sec," Merriman said.

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