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Future Predictions for Architecture

One of the things that’s good to do on occasion is to try to look forward. It takes us away from navel gazing and looking at what has gone on before so that we can envision a better future. Heck, that’s what EAs do, isn’t it? We’re supposed to look for the TO BE state. So I thought I’d look forward and think about where Architecture will be, both as a practice and as a role. And I’ll do it looking forward to 5 and 10 years from now.

To do this, it’s useful to actually look at where we’ve been to get a sense of where we’re going. So let’s start with the people aspect.

The role of Architect really has an undefined start. Some people say that it started when Robert Zachman came up with his framework. It was initially published in 1987 when he worked for IBM. But that publication came about after years of analysis in the 1980’s. So I would suggest that the concept of an “Enterprise Architect” has been around since the 1970s. That suggests that the role isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The thing is that organizations have been changing the intent and focus on the Enterprise Architect to one that is more and more domain focused. Originally, the EA was bestowed on a person that had shown that they had an understanding of all the various technology domains. But that’s changed so that there is now a domain attached to the role; Enterprise Application Architect, Enterprise SOA Architect, Enterprise Security Architect. The role has modified to reflect a deep understanding of one domain as it’s applied across an enterprise.

So, let’s look forward in association with the role.  My first prediction is the following:

The role of the Enterprise Architect will become more business focused 

What I’m seeing right now is the Business indicating that EAs are too technology focused and not enough business focused.

To confirm this thinking, I went onto Job Boards to look at current job descriptions for Enterprise Architects. What I see includes the following:

  • “Business Management experience is an asset”
  • “Knowledge of business re-engineering principles and processes”
  • “provide guidance in the integration of new business acquisitions into the organization” (Note: this EA role included requirements of an MBA or equivalent business experience)
  • “experience in Business Analysis work”
  • etc.

Now, that’s not to say the technical aspects will go away. Rather, the shift of the Enterprise Architect will move towards the business side of things. Each of those job descriptions very heavily still talked about technology. But there is an increasing level of business knowledge being required.

Also, surprisingly, I was seeing a “nice to have” is an Architecture certification in these jobs. There wasn’t a fixed standard as to what was being looked at and this wasn’t a requirement but, rather, a beneficial item to have. So, my next prediction is:

Architects will be required to have a certification in order to get an Architect role.

Please note that I’m not predicting that because of the Architecture Institute. I am saying that because of what I see in the job descriptions. I also believe that, because of how fractured the current Architecture industry is, there will be a consolidation on one specific certification. 

The problem is that Architects have varying degrees of success in explaining their value to an organization. Solution Architects are fairly easy to show value simply because they can be tied directly to individual projects. So that leaves the Domain Architects / Technical Architects and the Enterprise Architects. Technical Architects are typically those that have a deep level of knowledge specific to their domain. 

I was talking with the Boni Bruno, Chief Solution Architect from EMC this morning and he was saying EMC defines the Technical Architect as a person that is a SME specific to that domain. That aligns with what I’m seeing in terms of a shift in organizations. This leads me to the next set of predictions:

Solution Architects will move to live in the PMO space. 

Technical Architects will move to live in Operations / Sustainment groups 

That leaves the Enterprise Architect role. We’ve all heard it said that EAs are being asked to show what their value is by their organizations. Add to that, EAs are even disagreeing amongst themselves in the industry as to what the actual role of the EA is. So, if EAs can’t agree what their role is and the organization’s are asking what their value, is there a future for EAs?

I, personally, believe that the gap that an organization has is the alignment of the various different projects with regards to strategy. That points to a program or portfolio aspect. So, here’s my prediction for Enterprise Architects:

Enterprise Architects will evolve to become Program and Portfolio Directors 

I guess you can say that this statement is an “evolve or die” situation. If an Enterprise Architect is able to add more business and communication capabilities, then they become more valuable than the Project Manager that wants to become a Program Manager. That is because the PM will not have the same technical depth as the Enterprise Architect. So the person that has both the Technical skills and the business skills associated with leadership, project management, and finance will evolve into the Program and Portfolio Directors.

Now, let’s look at the actual Architecture Practices within organizations. Let’s break that down even further. There are the practices used by an organization for it’s internal activities and there are the practices that are used in delivering services and products to customers. I believe that the following will occur:

Vendors that provide products or services will be asked to meet an industry standard in terms of architecture practices. 

The Technology industry is one based on standards and RFCs. There are the web services standards, IETF standards, ISO standards, etc. By nature, we look for a standardization of technology and that will move into the realm of Architecture. There’s already the AEA, IASO, and SFIA certifications for individual Architects. It’s only a matter of time before organizations are required to deliver based on a standard practice. 

One of the main problems right now with Service Providers delivering a solution is that there is no standard methodology. You have a better level of trust that a larger service provider (eg. IBM, HP, Wipro, CSC, etc.) will be able to deliver on a project than a small organization that delivers the best of breed solution. But that still leaves a really large range of quality of project being delivered and you lose out on the capabilities of those small organization’s solutions if you just go with the big boys.

Where a project exists, then Solution Architects exist and they don’t really fit into any other model – they are very project focused. If there aren’t any projects, there aren’t any Solution Architects. That, then leads to a second prediction associated with Solution Architects.

Solution Architecture will more and more be be done by contractors and you will see Architecture firms start up to deliver Architecture expertise 

You can already see this happening. Solution Architects are much more likely to be contractors than employees. Then, if you combine this prediction with the last prediction about Vendors meeting standards, you can see something along the lines of what has happened in the Building Industry where Architecture firms pop up to deal with specific projects. 

Now, because of outside Vendors having to meet an industry standard in terms of architecture practices, I can see Architects themselves being driven that direction because of the Vendors needing to ensure they are having individuals that understand that standard. So, the next prediction is:

Architects will be asked to understand and deliver to the Vendor architecture standard 

This will drive a standard level of education for Architects. Speaking of education, until I started working on the Architecture Institute, I didn’t realize that there were so many organizations setting up their own internal “academies” or “schools”. I also didn’t realize that there were so many Universities setting up EA training. So, for education, I predict the following:

Universities will incorporate EA training in their Computer Science degree programs which will include courses from their Business Schools 

Now, what about how Architecture will be organized internally? Well, we’re coming out of a time where Architecture is consolidated into a central group. That allowed for a centralized governance model for all things architecture. But this also meant two separate governance models (three, if you include the corporate one); one governance model for PMO and one governance model for Architecture. So, I see the following happening from a Governance model:

OCIO Governance will evolve into a consolidated PMO, Architecture, and Sustainment Governance model 

Remember, you can never have two bosses to be successful. So having two governance models just doesn’t makes sense. Expect the Office of the CIO to start centralizing governance models.

Those are just some thoughts on what I think the future holds for Architecture. What’s your thoughts? Do you see a different future for Architecture? What does it hold, in your opinion?

Neil