As an attendee and speaker at this week’s Enterprise Architecture Summit in Orlando, I had the pleasure of meeting with and listening to numerous current and future enterprise architects (EAs). Normally, I’m not so fortunate; my “day job” is to be an analyst within our Tech Go To Market (GTM) practice, serving technology and service providers (TSPs) and helping them communicate effectively with buyers, launch and bring products to market, and address sales, pricing, or other GTM elements. But this week, I met with some of the end users that are responsible for – among other things – creating and specifying the visionary link from technologies and capabilities to business value, charting the course for innovation and (potentially) disruptive implementations and business models.
At least, that’s what we were all told they should be doing, and that’s the view that I have of their mission. It turns out that many EAs aren’t so fortunate; many are caught in a spot between executives and technology practices (e.g., infrastructure, operations, data management) and have yet to determine the best way to take the leadership positions described above and drive meaningful roadmaps. Those roadmaps should sketch future vision and business outcomes for proposed (and ultimately validated) technology implementations, but this, too, is a novel thought for many EAs.
But here’s where my “day job” pays dividends. To me, the charter of the EA sounds very similar to that of a product leader in a TSP organization, a role I encounter nearly every day (and have both worked with and been in my past). While it’s a bit tempting to try to translate that role designation to product manager or product marketer, that misses the point that skills across that range are actually required. A good product leader takes ownership of the lifecycle of his/her product, understanding and often executing all the component pieces from requirements gathering, to wireframe creation, to managing prototype development, to launch, to customer support and success, and ultimately sunset. Creating and communicating roadmaps along the way is also a critical skill, as is internal marketing, championing, and at least some amount of competitive intelligence (potentially internal as well as external). The leader understands the potential of emerging and potentially disruptive capabilities and technologies that would be additive, but s/he also understands the associated costs, risks, benefits, and outcomes – of selecting or potentially not selecting these as part of an offering or product.
Taking this last thought a step further, the product or service leader must understand the financial ramifications – positive and negative, revenue vs. cost, reward vs. risk – of taking a particular path through automation, innovation, transformation or disruption (yes, these are all qualitatively different). Technology purchase and development, new business and delivery models, and/or ecosystem sponsorship and management all have price tags, but they may also deliver great outcomes. The leader must (along with business line owners and other stakeholders) understand the potential outcomes associated with different levels of investment, noting both the cost of action as well as the cost of inaction (i.e., losing ground to competitors, missing markets, etc.). This puts the EA in a much better position to direct efforts rather than to play catch up.
Surely, this effort requires vision, collaboration, and an understanding of the business and surrounding market(s). Many EAs didn’t realize they signed up for this, but given both increasing market pressures and the availability of disruptive technologies and new business models, such breadth should be part and parcel of the EA skill set. Conversations at the Summit suggest that reality is mixed; there are EAs already active in this model, but there are many more just beginning the journey or battling for attention and respect among various IT areas. But make no mistake: practically every organization facing customers has become a tech company, its products and services infused (at the back end or the front end) with some form of technology. EAs must leap into this opportunity to lead the evolution of their organizations in this transformed environment, using the methods and characteristics above to succeed.
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