Meet the new enterprise architect: the “capability architect”

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Guest post by Jack Topdjian, Principal, PwC’s Strategy&

With the digital era only in its infancy, more mature industries like engineering can serve as a guide for organizations looking to transform IT. Engineers are known for their attention to detail and the ability to manage a multitude of parts to make the big picture come together. An architect designs the building, but engineers work together to ensure the structure, electricity, mechanics, and piping are seamless. Engineers can be likened to today’s enterprise architects.

The enterprise architect needs to transform to impact today’s collaborative, multi-disciplinary, technology-driven, and far-flung enterprises. In most organizations, the role is narrowly defined and confined within the realm of Information Technology. This no longer works. A legacy approach to technology management is a death-knell. Further, 70 percent of technology investments now fall outside of IT, according to PwC’s 2015 Global Digital IQ survey—creating silos and random technology investments that derail focus on business strategy.

The new enterprise architect needs to become a “capability architect”—the nexus between business and IT who synchronizes technology investments with business strategy and the core capabilities that make the business extraordinary. We write a lot about capabilities—the intersection of people, knowledge, IT, tools, and processes that enable your business to out-perform competitors. Apple’s design ability, IKEA’s innovation prowess and Walmart’s mastery of logistics exemplify capabilities systems that are intrinsic to each organization’s success.

The capability architect is an entrenched day-to-day leader who unifies an unconventional mix of stakeholders ranging from the Chief Information Officer, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to the Chief Data Officer (CDO) to the COO/ business unit leaders, around a common goal. This requires new levels of discipline, leadership, and communication—akin to engineering.

Out of the glass house and on-the-ground
What does the new capability architect look like? Preaching within a glass house or waxing poetically about the latest data integration approach are not in the job description. Key traits include the following:

Venture to the edge: Given the digitally-driven distribution of technology investments, capability architects need to venture into the edges of the organization. Here they must guide the development, sharing, and integration of the single view of the business and technology landscape—always with the vision in mind.

Bridge strategy through execution: Traditional enterprise architecture efforts often break down between strategy and execution. The capability architect needs to keep the car on the track, navigating speed and debris, with the finish line always in view; communicate goals and objectives; align key stakeholders through blueprints and prototyping; prioritize initiatives and investments through roadmaps; and connect each capability to its process, organizational, digital and technology components.

Take a discerning approach to technology: Emerging technologies are flooding the marketplace and infiltrating the enterprise. Rogue deployments of technology fly in the face of an integrated, disciplined-driven infrastructure. A capability architect reduces waste and redundancies while arming enterprise users with advanced technologies to achieve the business goals. This requires consistent technology evaluation and ongoing conversations with business users.

One of our clients, a leading provider of financial data and analytics, adopted a capabilities architecture planning approach to transform its business and IT to address regulatory mandates. The lead enterprise architect (aka the capabilities architect) and the EA team created blueprints and roadmaps to align multiple layers of the enterprise about the vision and the core capabilities necessary to achieve it. Prototypes illustrated how the key capabilities would manifest themselves and the team worked with stakeholders to agree on the right delivery methodologies and define the sourcing model to deliver the capabilities. This is an excellent example of how the capability architect kept a massive, strategic effort on track in terms of scope, scale, costs, and timeframe.

The role of the enterprise architect has always been important to the large enterprise. In many organizations, technology is haphazardly scattered across the enterprise. Discipline is nonexistent. Collaboration between C-suite executives and business units can only go so far without a connected technological web underlying the organization to reduce redundancy, increase efficiency and enable users to seamlessly share data to advance their agendas. Now is the time for capability architects to emerge and take the reins. As they do, the proven engineering discipline can serve as a source of inspiration.

Image shared by the Idaho National Laboratory

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