Fascinating, sometimes, what happens when managers assign job titles.  Today, I ran across a fellow, whom I will call Shawn, who works at Microsoft, and carries the title of Enterprise Architect.  Now, it is possible that Shawn has, in the past, had a job similar to that of an Enterprise Architect.  However, this person works deep in the heart of the software development team within Microsoft IT… in other words, even if he knows what an EA does… even if he wants to do the job… it is completely impossible for him to successfully perform the function of Enterprise Architecture given his position and location within the organization.

So, each time he introduces himself, and works to solve software issues, he creates an impression that Enterprise Architecture is somehow a function of software development.  And that hurts.  But it is not just him.  I’ve seen many folks with the job title of EA who, when they speak, or work, or post messages on online boards, are clearly not among the ranks of Enterprise Architecture.

And that got me to thinking… how much does the “brand” of Enterprise Architecture suffer when this mistake happens over and over?  In other words, how much does our profession suffer when people who are not positioned or supported to effectively act as an Enterprise Architect, or worse, have no idea what it means to actually perform the function of EA, carry around a job title of Enterprise Architect?

As many of you know, I’m not just an EA at Microsoft.  In addition, I’m the operations manager for my wife’s business.  In her small business, brand matters.  We are careful about when and where we use the brand, how it is used, and what it represents.  Brand is the “hook” upon which her business is defined in the minds of her clients and potential clients.  It represents her value proposition.  Brand matters, and we defend it.

But tonight, I am helpless to defend the brand of “Enterprise Architect.”

So I call upon the community to consider this: how can we effectively do the job of an Enterprise Architect, working with business managers, process planners, information architects, program managers, and techno-geeks, in a broad overarching role, depending on the good will, understanding, and contribution of so many others, if we cannot manage our own brand: our job title?

Add to that: on LinkedIn, there’s been a thread running for many weeks that started out as a simple challenge: describe the purpose of Enterprise Architecture in a 160 character SMS message.  I’m sorry to say that there’s over 300 entries, no two alike.  How can we defend our brand, and improve the penetration of Enterprise Architecture into organizations that would truly benefit from our presence, if we can’t even define the brand in a consistent and consumable manner?

Tonight, I’m venting.  I’m offering up frustration, but no answers.  For that, gentle reader, I beg your pardon. 

We are not much more than a loose band of feral housecats, beholden to no leaders.  We are fighting against ourselves, among ourselves.  Working against each other instead of working together to build the brand of Enterprise Architecture.  We exhibit the things we most deride in our business partners: lack of coordination, lack of leadership, and lack of vision. 

And as a result, we are unable to control our own brand.  Sad.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

15 thoughts on “What does the brand of “Enterprise Architect” stand for?”
  1. In my software development company Enterprise Architecture is a service that allows to coordinate data transferring between departments and subdivisions of any enterprise. So Enterprise architect perform the function of detecting availability and restrictions for any groups of end-customers company according to its business processes.

    Having read your post I thought that enterprise architects still looking for appropriate status in the software development industry…

  2. Maybe not the first to admit I am not an EA, but definitely among the ranks. 🙂

    I think this is a widespread problem in the technical field, where ‘Architect’ can be anything from a description we would probably both agree to, to a title handed a developer that has been with the company for a few years and has to be promoted to _something_. Roles such as Project Manager have already gone this direction in many organizations, becoming miscellaneous titles that anyone with a little technical information can take on, or replacements for levels of progression for a single role (ie, Senior Developer becomes Architect, etc). While I can only speak from my own experience, there seems to be a lack of definition and discipline in role and titles throughout the technical market. I think the branding of EA has definitely been hurt by this, but that management and project management roles have also been struck hard. The damage is multi-leveled, not only is damage being done to the brand, but damage is being done to the individuals that are given these roles without the responsibilities, as the rest of their career they will be labeled as having had those responsibilities and experiences, creating expectations that will be difficult or impossible for them to meet. The business that chooses to use one of these as a replacement for a ‘senior’ label is also hurting itself; when they need the services they have mis-used the title for, it is going to be hard or impossible to get someone with the actual skill set and experience they need, as HR will point out someone is already filling that ‘role’.

    Labeling someone an Architect, Manager, Project Manager, Analyst, or any of a dozen other titles is not only damaging to the individual brands, but also to the business that decided to mis-use the label and to the person who is falsely labeled.

    Hmm, apparently you aren’t the only one who has some frustration on this topic 🙂

  3. Perhaps you’re stuck giving to much importance to a corporate moniker used for putting people into pay grade buckets?

    Most titles are misleading if one pays attention to such things, and meaningless if one cares to look deeper.

    Richard Nisbett conducted a study called "Intelligence and how to get it: why schools and cultures count."  Nisbett found:

    "When we presented people with three words such as cow, chicken, and grass, and asked them which two go together, we got very different answers from Easterners and Westerners. Americans were more likely to say cow and chicken go together because they are both animals; that is, they belong to the same taxonomic category. Asians, however, focusing on relationships, were more likely to say that cow goes with grass because a cow eats grass."

    Nisbett’s study reminds me of this:  

    Ignore the noun. Find out what the verb is ASAP. That is, find out what a person does on a project or in an organization.

    I make a living as a programmer contracted for specific projects. When meeting new team members, I’ll ask “What do you do?” Most people will answer “I’m a senior software engineer” or “I’m an enterprise architect” or “I’m senior product owner”, etc.  I’ll follow up with “So, what do you do?” Sometimes this question has to be repeated several times because it’s challenging for people – who might never have thought of it before – to create a narrative around what they do.

  4. Nick,

    Thank you for the post and I completely agree. Have you looked at what the Center for the Advancement of the Enterprise Architecture Practice (CAEAP)is working on – see my blog post http://leodesousa.ca/2010/01/the-center-for-the-advancement-of-enterprise-architecture-profession/

    Perhaps the Professional Practice Guide (PPG) will give some clarity to what an Enterprise Architect is. Of course, I am not naive enough to believe that this will transform how organizations hand out job titles but it could be a start.

    All the best, Leo

  5. Hi Nick,

    this is one of our daily discussions during coffee break "where do EA start / stop". We don’t claim to be Enterprise Architects, but at least we act as EAs.

    Coming from data center infrastructure, we add value by additional perspectives and this is what most of our customers want us to do. No one needs hardware, software or man hours, but nicely combined it is a great Service or even Business-IT Support. From time to time it’s synchronized with (customers) strategy and project portfolio and in this case its usually a success.

    I don’t care for brands. Buzz words come and go, but the real meaning is stable and of great value. As Bob claimed "look for the verb": do it and convince others.

    If you are not convinced, look for all the "business card project manager" … are they all on the same road, same direction?

    Yours, Dirk

  6. Nick, I was on the "160" discussion too.  I gave up because it was just cacophony of noise with nothing to anchor it.

    The problem in my opinion is rooted in two things.

    First, most architects work for companies whose job is NOT architecture. For example, I work for a bank.  The bank’s job is not to be expert in architecture therefore architecture will take on many forms depending on the current challenges.  Put it this way,  how many corporations employ building architects? They don’t, they contract with a firm that does.  What would a building architect do in the employ of retail firm?  Design buildings AND inspect roofing as needed (sarcasm intended) .  Would such a company call up an expensive architecture consulting firm and ask them to send someone out to check the roof on a building?  Heck no, but they’d do it for an internal architect!  Roll that around in your head for a while.  They’d need the architect to be a bit more “hands on” too.  You’d need to be skilled at plumbing, framing, etc.  We will never achieve definition and focus until our services are delivered by a company dedicated to a focused value proposition.  

    Second, people don’t really know what they want when it comes to EA, therefore we can’t really fit a mold.  When it comes to building architecture (or city planning for that matter) most folks can describe what they need in a way that the architect can accurately size up what it would "look like".  Not true for us, the way a business client describes what they need is subject to a huge variance in interpretation and often they’re not clear until you’re half way through.  If the customer doesn’t know what they need from us, how are we to define ourselves?

    I think we’re decades away from architecture in our space having a common understanding of itself.  The simple fact that software is so malleable alone makes applying structure around it difficult and add to that that how business gets does is equally malleable and you have a powerful force of constant disruption.  When the majority of our customers know what they want, we will align to it and definition will result.

  7. Well said Nick.

    Job titles like ‘Software Developer’, ‘Truck Driver’, and ‘Accountant’ are useful because they have clearly defined and agreed functions and outputs associated with them.

    As you point out, the community(ies!) seem to be indulging in endless rounds of navel gazing and ‘my definition is better than yours’ exchanges.

    I think the work that CAEAP is doing is commendable from this perspective, but I do wonder if the whole ‘Enterprise Architecture’ title is now so used and abused that we shouldn’t just walk away from it and start again. ‘Architecture’ in this context has a very strong heritage in IT, so trying to reclaim it as a non-IT concept feels like a losing battle.

    I’ve seen the suggestion of ‘Strategic Planning’ in other places, which I quite like, as it well and truly cuts the association with pure technology.

  8. I have some excellent responses already.  Clearly I struck a nerve.  

    One clarification: I don’t want to ‘dis’ anyone who has the title of EA but is not performing the duties that I would consider those of an EA.  Who am I to decide if you are an Enterprise Architect?  I don’t want that responsibility.  But I do want to contribute.  My rant was about my own organization, where clarity is a long time coming.  

    @Bob & Dirk: Perhaps I put more stock in a title than I should.  My concern was not that individual.  I don’t know him, and in that context, I have no reason to believe that he is anything other than a fine software architect.  My concern is with the people that he meets.  When they see his title (and a few will) and that title says EA, and they see that he is not part of the EA team, and he is doing some work that looks like Software architecture, it makes it difficult to convince them that EA is more than that.

    @Carl: yes, I saw your posts.  I didn’t stay with the entire discussion either.  Too difficult.  I want to say that this statement really rung true for me:

    "We will never achieve definition and focus until our services are delivered by a company dedicated to a focused value proposition."

    You are right to note that there will never be a "pure" seperation of EA responsibilities from other responsibilities without the specialization that a consulting firm delivers.  There are many consulting firms that offer EA assistance, and I think that they would say that their consultants don’t have a "pure" job title either.  Companies, whether you work for them or not, are all over the map.  In every case, you provide the value that you can, and should, provide.

    That said, if I call up a consulting firm and ask for an accountant, and then when he shows up, expect him to do software testing, I will be wasting time and money.  The brand ‘accountant’ has a meaning because the role is well understood, and defended.  Accountants can do much more than "keep the books clean," and all the good accountants that I know are also business advisors and clever tax advisors.  They, too, provide the value that the business needs, not limited to the title.  

    But you can count on an accountant to have some specific skills, and you can expect them to focus on providing value through those skills.  Not so for EA.  Not yet.

    @Bob: if I were to meet a person with EA in their title, I think I would have to ask "What do you do" many times.  Good advice.  However, it doesn’t really help with my dilemna, which is that I want to tell someone that I’m an EA, in my own organization, and they will either not know a thing, or they will know a little correct information, but they won’t have a mistaken impression from someone else, in the same company, who is doing an excellent job at being a software architect.  Branding is about the customer.  

    @Carl: While we may be a great distance away from a consistent definition, I don’t think we need to wait until business customers know what they want.  I think we need to do a better job of defining what we do and making it clear to business customers that it is one set of activities, not an infinite set.  When it is undefined, it will never be valuable.  

    @Leo: I have not spent much energy following the work of the CAEAP, but I will take a look.

  9. You think EA is badly defined? Try CTO!


    Trying to define the term leads to no end of trouble, and you end up sinking into a bottomless pit of semantics. A more productive approach is to ignore the title, heading out into the business to solve problems. Let people define you by the benefits you bring, not in some abstract semantic debate.



  10. Hi Peter,

    Agreed.  I am defined by the person who meets me, sees my deliverables, and understands their value.  But before they meet me, they define me by the people before me who have held my title.  I ask only that the person before me, with my title, was doing a job that is remotely similar to mine.

    There is one CTO in most companies.  There can be many Enterprise Architects.  It is possible that my ability to deliver value is roundly defeated before I walk into the room, due to the misimpression given by an IT technologist who bears the same title as I.

    — N

  11. Valuable inputs, smart, all of them. It made me think (in IQ 80 way) why a "Truck Driver" has a clear job description. Well, perhaps because he really drives a truck. And a software developer? Well, might have got something to do with developing a piece of software? By this logic, I would guess that an enterprise architect actually architects an enterprise!? Not a bit somewhere in it (a plumber is not the architect of my house either), but the enterprise as such. But frankly, how many of us do that? Or, more precisely, from how many of us it is expected by our management?

    Rather then explain an EA role in 160 charactes I would suggest a contest "Explain your wife what you do in a minute" (I had some hard times with trying to figure out how to do that:).



  12. An archetype needs to exist before enterprise architect becomes a brand. Discussing frameworks, ontologies, current state, future state, and inside professional information does not provide the intuitive feel for an enterprise architect.

    I have been socializing some simple views that, so far, have been resonating well with business executives.  

    "The purpose of an enterprise architect is to challenge and change the way a business views technology."  

    Technical people find this statement confusing, but business people seem to really understand this.

    "You never go to an M&A meeting without your lawyer, why do you go to a multi-million dollar vendor meeting without your architect?"

    Again this has been confusing to many technical level people, but has an immediate familiarity with those that operate within the business.

    What I am using is a common psychological trick that is used within product design. Products need to look like things that we recognize, or think we recognize, to be accepted. This is the reason that branding imo has failed for the enterprise architect. Business understands the need for programmers and they understand the network people that keep the lights running. This is a comfortable set of archetypes for them.  They will relate similar positions to that archetype no matter how much you logically explain it. If we associate with another archetype or something that is familiar the acceptence level is much higher.

    In product design this is the "buggy effect". The original cars were thought to be expensive toys and nothing more originally. They looked new and with all the gadgets hanging out fit that archetype.  Ford and others made the car look like a buggy. Once they changed the archetype people started to accept the car as being for everyone.

  13. Instead of asking "What do you do?" which receives answers in the realm of "Who are you?" you might think about asking "Which domain is affected by your decisions and deliverables?" or "Do you have an impact on strategy, and on which business level (department, unit, organization) do you relate?"

    In other words, help them "frame" their answers so you can guage their "enterprise-ness" and get them thinking in this manner for a time when they have to answer the general question again.

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