Creating and managing a successful enterprise architecture function requires a variety of different hard and soft skills. In addition, each company is different, and the enterprise architecture function needs to calibrate and align itself to the specific company.

With this in mind, there are five common features of a successful enterprise architecture function that apply to all companies:

1. Governance

Enterprise architecture (EA) requires governance, however not in the form of complex documents, forms or processes. The best governance starts with a simple, recurring dialogue across multiple functions facilitated by EA. I am always amazed at how valuable it is just to get cross-functional teams to talk.

Pick a specific topic, typically a critical pain point, which might be some business capability, and create a dialogue about how it works today. Each function will be able to share their perspective of how it “works,” and usually it’s educational for everyone in terms of learning how other groups are impacted. An enterprise effort can exist only when a cross-functional group of business functions prioritize that effort.

2. Talent

In my opinion, the best enterprise architects (EA) must have two critical qualities, pragmatism and business acumen, in addition to deep technical skills. Yes, it is important that they have good communication skills, good influencing skills, and are good at simplifying complex topics. But pragmatism and business acumen are critical as an Enterprise Architect.

A pragmatic EA is able to articulate current state, propose a future state and then pragmatically articulate a reasonable way to head towards that future state. Probably the hardest job of the EA is to find a path forward that is realistic given the current state architecture and the myriad of other constraints related to budget, resources and time. Perfection is the death sentence of enterprise architecture because it will lead to paralysis. Doing nothing means that systems will continue to atrophy. EA must find a way to move forward leveraging a pragmatic approach.

3. Executive Sponsors

For enterprise architecture to get real traction, you need the most senior level executive sponsors. The optimal situation is to get sales and customer service executives because revenue and customer are usually the highest priority in most companies. Regardless, get executive sponsors who have a strong, respected voice in your company. You don’t need every executive as a sponsor but you do need a critical mass. The reason for executive sponsors is that some of the tough decisions need to be driven top-down—only so much can be lead through grassroots activities. Common enterprise standards, policies, and governance require executive sponsorship.

4. Scope

Be careful not to over-scope EA. Pick a few key enterprise-level business pain points and start with those. Most EA teams have limited resources and budget (like all of IT) so pick your priorities wisely. Do a few things really well and avoid the trap of trying to kick off too many initiatives and spread your EA team too thin. It is sometimes difficult to reduce your scope when there are many challenges to choose from, but partner with your business partners to determine one or two key focus areas.

5. Business Value

EA must demonstrate business value. This means that the business functions must feel and articulate that EA is a value-add. The best way to accomplish this is to focus on improving business capabilities so that the business teams really feel the positive impact of EA. For example, if entitlement or your sales compensation process are broken and the business sees those are critical capabilities, focus on those.

Be wary of just doing “systems consolidation” projects or “technical upgrade” projects. Yes these are necessary but may not provide tangible business value. Always include some “wow” projects such as mobile apps or collaboration solutions. Find visible and exciting projects that motivate your EA team and add business value.


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