The “A”-word

Everywhere I go I hear similar stories about EA teams struggling to break through misconceptions and  skepticism to provide real value to the business. So much has been said about EA value that I feel exhausted even thinking about it. Instead, I wanted to ponder the possibility that we have a branding problem and the word “architecture” is our own enemy.
EA is at its best when working closely with business, helping analyze and steer decisions, strategic or tactical. However, business often sees us as technologists only. In their eyes we are those people who can evaluate technology, size the servers, wire the applications together etc. They often don’t see us as partners in strategic alignment or innovation discussions that occur outside of the realm of IT. This is unfortunate but how can you blame them?
Historically EA comes from IT. The appreciation for architecture in IT started at the  application or the system level and only intensified as the systems became more fragmented and distributed, thus needing good architecture. It wasn’t until much later when Enterprise Architects realized that they need to develop a holistic view of the enterprise which goes beyond technology.  Unfortunately, business folks didn’t necessarily come to this realization at the same time.
People who call themselves Enterprise Architects usually “graduated” from senior development or system engineering roles. Enterprise Architect became the sought-after title that was synonymous with the pinnacle of career in IT (?!) (by  the way, I’m not trying to disparage others…I myself walked the same path). As for business, they used to speak with Software Engineers and now they are asked to speak with Architects. Guess what? For the most  part, they are the same people doing very similar work. The main difference is the title. Can we really blame the business for treating architecture as the function of IT then?
The Open  Group does not help either. TOGAF, while it features business architecture as a component of EA, it remains very IT-centric. In fact, it is very difficult to see it as anything other than a framework for developing IT systems.

Interestingly, Business Architecture now tries to surface as the discipline that attempts to provide what Enterprise Architecture failed to deliver – business-focused, value-centric approach to  architecting the enterprise. Granted, Business Architecture Guild firmly positions business architecture under the umbrella of enterprise architecture together with IT architecture. However, there are voices that say that business architecture is really what enterprise architecture should have been. This is usually  accompanied by  the statements that Business Architect is this new cool role that everyone should aspire to.  We shall see how this turns out but I suspect that the “A-word” will get in the way again. Especially that most organizations promote Business Architect role from within IT and use the ranks of Business Analysts as their basis. The challenge here is two-fold. One is that Business Analysts often reside within the IT organization, which again leads to the IT stigma. Two is that many Business Analysts usually focus on business requirement analysis and user acceptance testing. They don’t necessarily have the breadth of technical background and experience to perform in the Enterprise Architect capacity.

In any case, getting out of IT shadow without losing IT perspective is likely to continue to be a challenge for EA and using the term “architecture” is not helping. “Architecture” is not likely to be associated with more than technology by many, especially on the business side. Fighting it is counterproductive. Instead EA teams could eliminate the term “architecture” from their name and from their vocabulary. Instead, they may consider saying “strategy”, “business alignment” or something that doesn’t scream “technology”.
Perhaps EA teams could be placed under the office of Strategy Management or under the office of Business Innovation instead of some IT department.