How Enterprise Architects Can Thrive in the Digital Age


Many CIOs at large incumbents have discovered that digital-native businesses often lack enterprise architects. This has led to questions about whether architects are still needed in an agile DevOps operating model. However, eliminating the architect role would be a mistake. Digital natives benefit from skilled workforces, modern architectures, and start-up cultures. In contrast, most incumbent organizations rely on workarounds and still require architects. Research shows that digital transformations suffer when architects are not involved. Technical debt increases, and fewer services are reused.

Expanding the Objectives of Enterprise Architecture

In a digital-first world, the objectives of enterprise architecture (EA) are changing rapidly. EA enables and accelerates tech transformations that drive business value. The objectives of the EA team are threefold:

1. Enable strategic decisions

Setting strategic direction is now a business-level priority. EA decisions, such as establishing shared solutions and deciding where to implement them, directly impact a company’s strategy and operating model. For example, in the retail world, an enterprise architect’s decision on implementing checkout and payment functionality affects the company’s ability to become an omnichannel retailer.

2. Ensure reusability

EA plays a crucial role in avoiding technical debt and ensuring a consistent customer experience. Architects facilitate discussions between product teams, promote feature and solution reuse, and align with the overall strategy.

3. Enable development speed

Digital businesses require flexibility and responsiveness in their tech foundation. EA provides technology components and best practices to accelerate new development teams’ productivity and maintain a consistent technology stack.

The Practical Changes Needed in the Enterprise Architect’s Role

To thrive in the modern tech landscape, enterprise architects must operate differently than they did just a few years ago. They need to:

1. Shift from technology theorist to pragmatic communicator

Enterprise architects must be able to articulate the business implications of technology decisions to board members and executive teams. They should speak the language of business and communicate the ROI of architecture decisions in practical terms.

2. Shift from system advocate to engineer

Modern enterprise architects need to think and operate more like engineers. They must have deep expertise in either business or IT and be proficient in the other. They should be able to make hands-on changes, understand operational considerations, and solve problems effectively.

3. Shift from enforcer to coach

Instead of being strict enforcers of IT rules and guidelines, enterprise architects should adopt a customer-oriented mindset. They should support colleagues in finding solutions, provide relevant documentation and training support, and integrate rules and guidelines into the deployment mechanism.

Practical Steps for CIOs to Modernize EA’s Role and Function

CIOs can take practical steps to modernize the role and function of enterprise architecture:

1. Clarify accountabilities

Define clear accountability for EA objectives and accompany it with decision rights. Establish a few strict rules to promote service-based communication between teams.

2. Build an architecture mindset across the company

Educate the entire company about the importance of good architecture and its impact on the business. Demonstrate real-life examples of how architecture decisions affect customer experience and overall performance.

3. Nurture soft skills within the architecture team

Provide training and capability-building programs to enhance architects’ communication and stakeholder management skills. Encourage architects to focus on understanding the language of business and partnering with the business.

4. Find new enterprise architects

Consider hiring talent from outside the organization with the relevant skill set. Look for individuals who are motivated by interesting problems and making a difference. Anchor hires with deep technical expertise can be catalysts for technology transformation.

By embracing and evolving the role of enterprise architecture, companies can make it the bedrock of their tech transformation. EA’s strategic decisions, focus on reusability, and support for development speed are essential for succeeding in the digital age.


Q: Do all businesses need enterprise architects?

A: While digital-native businesses may operate without enterprise architects, most incumbent organizations still require their expertise. Research shows that digital transformations suffer when architects are not involved.

Q: How can enterprise architects contribute to strategic decisions?

A: Enterprise architects play a crucial role in setting strategic direction by making decisions on shared solutions, integration architectures, and technology investments. These decisions directly impact a company’s strategy and operating model.

Q: What skills should modern enterprise architects possess?

A: Modern enterprise architects should have a balance of deep expertise in either business or IT and proficiency in the other. They need to communicate effectively with stakeholders, solve problems practically, and adopt a customer-oriented mindset.

Q: How can CIOs modernize the role of enterprise architecture?

A: CIOs can modernize enterprise architecture by clarifying accountabilities, building an architecture mindset across the company, nurturing soft skills within the architecture team, and attracting new talent with the relevant skill set. These steps will help EA become more practical and aligned with business goals.

In conclusion, enterprise architects play a crucial role in driving business value in the digital age. By expanding their objectives, adapting their roles, and modernizing their function, enterprise architects can thrive in today’s rapidly evolving tech landscape.