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The Problem with Enterprise Architects (politically incorrect view follows)

by Andrew White  |  November 8, 2012  |  6 Comments

OK so this blog won’t go down well with everyone.  I ought to apologize, but I think I will hold my apology for now, and see how the comments go.

In a nutshell, I met with yet another vendor that had a great metadata modeling/semantic discovery tool.  It was a cool demo full of gadgets and gizmos, just a little short of business context.  Technically the vendors’ toolset was pretty cool.  It seemed it could “discover” where data resides, and extract and represent a taxonomy for what information assets exist “out there”.  Cool.  The problem is, unless there is a problem that business wants to solve, this cool technology will be just that – cool (and the vendor will be poor).

However, this particular vendor briefing made something very clear to me.  The vendor showed me a cool slide that showed the major disconnect between traditional enterprise/information architects and business users.  This cool technology vendor accidentally (I think) brought into contrast a major issue in IT.

Business users case about transactions – it is what they user to measure success.  It is the data that feeds their financial systems and drives their operational KPIs.  This data is the most granular in terms of “enterprise taxonomy”- it is the base level master data.  It is what turns those business users on.  IT however, specifically the EA and IA among us, generally tend to talk from the top down, that is, from conceptual perspectives of business models and objects, that eventually relate to products and customers that persist in financial transactions.  This gap is why so much of what classic EA/IA resides in a blue folder on the shelf at so many organizations.

The most insidious part of this situation?  The EA/IA had the right idea, but what they lacked was the means to embed what they do/delivered into day-to-day operations.  EA/IA needs to be connected and its results transparent.  It is the transparency that most interests me. That is because what EA/IA types create is what (business) data stewards need to use as guardrails.  But the funny thing is that most EA/IA types (and supporting vendors) focus on technology, and not business.

The results of effective EA/IA should be business consumable!  This might seem counter intuitive.  Most “architects” focus on standards and assume IT use the standards to make decisions.  I think the work of EA/IA goes much further that that.  That role helps determine the framework in which goals and objectives are sought.  As such, this is not “off line” or “used by IT” but should be transparency behind every important business decision.

I think this might sound like heresy.  Some EA types might agree – but most just don’t know how to do what I suggest!

And this is where my favorite hot topic for 2012 comes forward.  The secret, for me, is captured in the “13 minutes of work a week your (business) data steward should be working on”.  Information stewardship needs to be a business process where IT’s involvement, most critical, is transparent to the business user.  That means no dialog about metadata management (though it is needed); no talk about business rules management (tough it is mandatory); and no talk about workflow and BPM (though it is required).

Until and if IT and its partnering vendors “get it”, and design solutions to support “13 minutes a week” of work in a transparent manner, business won’t be satisfied (and vendors, like the one I talked to this week), won’t be anything other than a cool, boutique vendor.

Category: data-stewardship  information-governance  master-data-management  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a research vice president and agenda manager for MDM and Analytics at Gartner. His main research focus is master data management (MDM) and the drill-down topic of creating the "single view of the product" using MDM of product data. He was co-chair… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Problem with Enterprise Architects (politically incorrect view follows)

  1. Faisal Al-Tamimi says:

    you do not need to apologize. It is a fact. I share with you that the buiness realization, so that it becomes a real tool for business decisions and transfprmation is missing. Efforts need to be made to do just that. We are in the middle of this at this time.

  2. Maloy Halder says:

    Its kind of strange that you had to apologize for stating the obvious.All things in the end should tie back to business and its metrics.
    The Architects should gear up to business focused. But its not easy other way round. I am positive that if if business users try to be architects they will miss a lot of points and they will mess with the implementation.

  3. Jon Ayre says:

    What you describe is the problem with people who claim to be enterprise architects but know nothing about EA. A good EA always starts with business architecture and this is all about producing something that makes sense to the business and fulfils their key objectives. If it doesn’t do this then it isn’t EA in the first place. Let’s not continue to allow those who clam to be EAs but are not, define and thus degrade the value of true EA.

    Jon H Ayre
    The Enterprising Architect

  4. Richard Ordowich says:

    Each “new, new thing” goes through the traditional lifecycle from hype to dogs of the past. Pundits ride this lifecycle with commentary that’s premature, ill-informed or late to the party. Few question these “new” innovations and fewer still do any in-depth research as to their worthiness. Most of what’s written is marketing hype coordinated by the vendors or solicited by the pundits.
    Enterprise Architecture is one example.

    How do you architecture something that’s already constructed? What do you do with legacy systems and business processes? The answer is you can’t architect legacy systems. But what about new systems?

    Few organizations have the patience to architect their technology never mind architecting their business. They are trying to make sales, increase revenue and profits. Enterprise architecture is a distraction. The marching orders are “get me a solution today”.

    The concept of enterprise architecture is fascinating as a research project but neither the tools nor the techniques and best practices are ever rigorously applied. EA will be around for a while longer however we now see a shift to “Big Data” as the next “new, new thing”.

    My advice is that before buying EA tools or embarking on an EA adventure, build an enterprise wide conceptual data model that represents the future of your business. Once you have completed that exercise you may be ready for EA.

  5. First, stop thinking of “Enterprise Architects” as IT Architects and realize that they need to become the architects of the business enterprise or as I am now referring “Business Technology” architects.

    Architects are not always goiong to “recommend” or reference a “technology intensive” solution to a business opportunity.

    Architects must first understand what their clients want, what they can afford, where it is to be built or bought (pre-fab products), how it interacts with its environment, etc, As in the world of buildings/dwellings, architects can “remodel” existing solutions, recommend demolition of an existing solution and/or envision a new solution.

    When the business leaders realize that architects are not construction engineers, sub-contractors (e.g.,
    electrical, hydrallic, mechanical) or really highlevel developers (roofers, framers, etc.) then maybe the problem will be resolved.

    P.S. 2nd sentence the word “out” maybe better represented by the word “ought”

    Architects are also responsible in helping devise, define and deliver “building codes”

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