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Wanted: Enterprise Architects

Wanted: Enterprise Architects

IT has grown so big that the CIO can't handle it all. To ensure that IT is always aligned with the business, you need an enterprise architect.

Reader ROI

  • What an enterprise architect does
  • How CIOs should approach hiring an enterprise architect
  • The skills architects believe are prime success indicators

Must Be Charismatic, Extroverted, Technologically Sophisticated and Business-Savvy

IN 1975, Baldy Singh was at the pinnacle of his profession: rally racing. He was sponsored by Volvo and Fiat. But in the middle of his fourth East African Safari Rally - a three-day, 3000-mile dash across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, a race that only about 15 of the 300 or so cars that enter ever finish - his life changed.

Singh was barrelling up a hill, pedal to the metal. As he reached the top, he saw a child selling peanuts in the middle of the road. Singh jerked the wheel and went careening off the road. "Once you go off the pavement," Singh says, "you can't control the car." He rolled several times. The car was totalled. Fortunately, Singh was able to walk away. But he decided it was time for a new career.

Twenty-nine years later, he walked into Toby Redshaw's office, where Motorola's corporate vice president of IT strategy, architecture and e-business immediately realized that Singh was just what he was looking for in an enterprise architect.

Redshaw needed someone who had both a deep technical background and a good understanding of the business, skills that Singh, who had earned engineering and computer science degrees and an MBA since he quit racing, had in spades. But that wasn't what clinched it for Redshaw.

"An enterprise architect is going to get a lot of pushback," he says. Changing the way a company thinks about IT and the way IT thinks about the business is not easy. "You need someone," says Redshaw, "who has done something like drive across Africa at breakneck speeds. Someone with persistence. Someone tough."

The Enterprise Architect: A Job Description

An enterprise architect is the person who conceives, designs and oversees the implementation of a company's systems development. While the concept of enterprise architecture is old, the position of enterprise architect is new, and has become relevant recently with the emergence of Web services and the move toward Service-Oriented Architectures that enable IT components to be used in multiple applications. GM, Procter & Gamble, Wells Fargo and agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration have all hired enterprise architects, and experts say that having one to oversee the building of a company's overall computing environment is critical to both business and IT success. "Architecture works only if you have the right people staffing it," says Dow Jones CIO Bill Godfrey.

The enterprise architect is responsible for ensuring that each and every one of a company's IT decisions is made with its impact on the entire organization kept firmly in mind. It is the architect who prevents an organization from investing in a technology that it will eventually have to replace. It is the architect's job to look for common business processes throughout an organization so that the services IT creates can be reused. For example, when IT is designing a mortgage approval application, the architect's job is not simply to make sure it will benefit the business unit that requested it, but to guarantee that it can be used by every business unit that touches upon the mortgage approval process.

With a title like architect, you'd expect the job to be about building things, but a more accurate analogy might be city planner. Unlike a building, a company's IT architecture is never complete. Furthermore, an enterprise architect needs a high-level view that takes into account applications, data formats and hardware platforms, and how these three parts of IT interact, much the way a city planner has to consider a new building's impact on sewers, traffic and the electrical grid. The need for such knowledge is one reason that a systems or software architect is usually not a good candidate for enterprise architect.

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