Does an Enterprise Architect need industry experience to be successful?

18 March 2009

Should an Enterprise Architect have generic skills (in TOGAF or Zachman for example) or should they have industry specific experience to be successful?

The success of the Enterprise Architect is dependent on their perceived value to the stakeholders balanced against their perceived threat to established senior managers who feel threatened by them.  Communication is key and takes up at least 40% of the time.  

When the Enterprise Architects have a good understanding of the business and experience in the industry then communication with stakeholders is much easier. 

When the Enterprise Architects have a too generic a focus and less industry specific experience then communication is much harder. 

However, I have seen organisations where there isn’t really any true enterprise architecture function, but instead there are Business Architects, Segment Architects (see FSAM http://www.fsam.gov/index.php ) and Solution Architects scattered amongst the business units (lines of business).  

  • Each Solution Architect is typically only focused on a specific technology domain or vendor product used by a specific business unit
  • Each Segment Architect is focused on a specific business domain or set of business services and/or application services
  • Each Business Architect is focused on the business operating model or change programmes for a business unit

All of these roles will be expected to have extensive industry experience. 

This focus often leads to a silo approach with business units working as independent fiefdoms without concern for the benefits to the organisation as a whole.  It also results in less improvement from the enterprise perspective.

I think that the best Enterprise Architect team is made up of generic enterprise architects with a reasonable knowledge of the industry together with Business Architects, Segment Architects with Solution Architects (in a virtual EA team) with more industry specific knowledge and experience.

This is a Matrix management approach that balances the needs of the enterprise as a whole against the needs of business units. Since it is often the business units that hold budgets, they are often the ones that want employees to have industry specific experience.  

Another driver for ‘industry specific experience’ is that many organisations want to learn from an enterprise architects’ experience with one of their competitors. Often this is a not so subtle form of industrial espionage.  Obviously an enterprise architect should be professional about not revealing the secrets of a previous employer, but it is difficult to forget best practice, which is what the new employer finds valuable. For a newly hired enterprise architect it is a balance between improving the way things are done using generic enterprise architecture approaches and doing things the way it has always been done and improving nothing. 

An Enterprise Architect does not want to be too busy chopping down trees (just reusing their industry experience), to take time out to sharpen their axe (reusing generic enterprise architecture best practices).

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