The profile of a good architect

How do you recognise the good architects? What are their characteristics? There are some certain things, which as all certainties are so dangerous because of the different interpretations. On simple certainty is: an architect is the "owner" of the architecture. Fine. "Owner" as a farmer, or "owner" as an investor? Both the farmer and the investor would have similar target, to increase the earning, while their approaches, actions, interpretations, viewpoints are so different. After discussing many interesting topics and tasks the architects are working about and sometimes defining their roles it is the best time to pull the "ideal" architect out of the shadow!

Here in this article I will give description of a Chief Enterprise Architect based on profiles and job descriptions collected from many different companies. As a next step we will derive step by step the characteristics and specialities for lower level architect roles, assuming that architects and experts are working in the professional hierarchy (will be described in a different article soon). Each stages important details will be highlighted to describe the reasons of the given statements.

Let's have a go!

Chief Enterprise Architect - reporting to the Chief Technology Officer -  is responsible to design, develop, troubleshoot, debug and help govern the technology solutions with the technology team and product, services and process roadmaps with business team.

Chief Enterprise Architect (CEA) is a senior management role, advisor of CxOs but is not a real management role. This is the reason why the best place in the organisation for a CEA is to be the direct report of CTO. Turn a bit for the other part of the statement: CEA is co-operating with the business team also! Never forget: Enterprise architecture is technology+business, therefore it is a must to be the partner of business people! Back to the reporting, you can ask why not to position CEA higher to report to the CEO or to the CMO or CFO. It has to important reasons:

  • CEA work is still about 80% of technology
  • CEA must have that kind of strictly structural mindset, I would say engineers' mindset which has the best place in technology department.

CEA is responsible to provide consultative software guidance and strategic direction associated with developing, designing and debugging applications across the organisation either in waterfall kind and agile teams. This role is practically a cross-functional story, working through organisation and project borders or silos. CEA has both a sense of humor and embrace the values and practices of different parts of the organisation.

Successful Chief Architect with the following approach assumes that he/she works in a fun, collaborative, and fast paced environment where ownership, problem solving, and teamwork are rewarded. Those organisations where organisations and projects works by the worst definition of "silos" will reject architects (of any kind) feeling them as an external enemy. Usually these organisations has much larger issues about rewarding values, but from architecture management prospective this will be the most clean-cut and painful of all.

Key responsibilities

The Chief Enterprise Architect has the following responsibilities:

  • Manages the integration of, and evolution to, next generation implementation and operational models such as PaaS, SaaS, big data technologies, and IT/NT integration
  • Identifies and manages the technology elements of the Company relationships with strategic technology partners1
  • Establishes long term architectural direction across a diverse portfolio of products, services and business procedures
  • Collaborates with other architects to develop solution architectures
  • Supports the development managers as well as development tools and process responsible in the different business units to ensure alignment of product technologies and development infrastructure2
  • Advises the Leadership Team on technology issues related to server-based systems, cloud, and data analytics as well as general IT trends
  • Leads proof of concept development and pilot technical and operational solution3
  • Manages deployment projects and provide technical expertise in resolving challenging technical problems
  • Leads analyses-of-alternatives to drive critical decisions in a timely manner while fostering a climate of innovative team spirit4
  • Uses advanced consulting methodologies, translates long-range business plans into a services strategy
  • Institutes and drives architecture governance and processes5
  • Leads product/service architecture and technology rationalization within the portfolio6
  • Executes concrete architectural design and implementation tasks for products/solutions as assigned7
  • Contributes to and represents in Company technology and platform wide initiatives
  • Assists with technical Due Diligence for mergers, investment, and acquisition
  1. Partners and not vendors! Partners are the companies either vendors or customers who we are co-operating with having joint-venture approach between parties.
  2. To ensure alignments appropriate open knowledge base is a must for the organisation containing detailed information about products, services technologies, Solution and Application Building Blocks, principles and so.
  3. The Chief Enterprise Architect is actively check, tries and validates new solutions, solution alternatives and initiates competitive situations to enhance architecture capabilities.
  4. Leads and not control or evaluate! Other example that CEA is an active role!
  5. Using architecture knowledge base, CEA is responsible to introduce governing principles and processes and as a cultural lead execute them. Typical example is, that proof of concepts are the best examples of running by governing principles and executed on the track of processes.
  6. Hunting for methodologies to evaluate the actual state of the portfolio and to show new directions. A good example is complexity analysis as a method: Everything you always wanted to know about Complexity
  7. CEA is not only a design role, but participates in project execution when it is necessary by project size or criticality of the result. He/she uses these project to check the current validity of principles and processes and if necessary initiate changes on the governing rules and procedures of the Company.

Architect as a Leader

The responsibilities make it evident that Chief Enterprise Architect is a leader. The question is that leader of what kind? The following statements will show how many different kind of leadership roles should be fulfilled by CEA to be really successful in the defined responsibilities.

Transformational Leader – works to set goals and achieve sustainable business change that produces results in line with goals. Drives measurement systems that hold leaders accountable to results and change in the areas of solution quality, resiliency, compliance, cybersecurity and operational risk.

Cross-Functional/Multi-disciplinary Leader – is able to influence, use escalation and finesse teams to comply with standards while maintaining professional rapport with peers and leaders.

Risk Leader – identifies risk, uses judgment and communicates effectively with leadership the risk of proceeding in situations where there is no clear one right answer (dilemma management). 

Business Leader – thinks about the top and bottom line as he/she establishes strategies, plans and actions.

Strategic Thinker – designs and refines organizational strategies for both the present and future, in a fast-paced, ever-changing, global digital and technology arena.

Customer Experience – Sponsors key initiatives at the organizational level to delivery of messages, pushing for change, providing resources, and generating excitement.

Communication Agent – Consistently and persistently ensures that vision of Company is clearly communicated to key leaders and that they are able to help others translate the vision into action 

Influence – Achieves long-term strategies by successfully influencing initiatives to key leaders in Finance, Technology, Risk Management, Legal, Security, etc.

Change Leadership – Takes proactive role by articulating a compelling vision of change; anticipating and overcoming potential obstacles; and addressing conflicts among the leadership group for discussion and resolution.

Partnership – Strategically partners with Company leaders. Sustains organizational partnerships during periods of change and adversity.

Team Focus – Models collaboration in building plans and strategies to enhance organizational clarity. Adapts management style to enable optimal team performance.

Commitment to Results – Invests significant resources towards opportunities for radical improvement - setting standards for growth, quality and service that assure market leadership.

Culture Champion – Develops and supports long-range diversity initiatives that improve market penetration, enhance leadership makeup, and create a culture that values diversity

People Leadership & Development – promotes the visibility of current and future leaders and supports individuals with their development to ensure Company’s talent and leadership talent requirements are achieved

If you feel that there are too many roles to be ready for never forget: Chief Enterprise Architect represents a team of architects therefore it may happen that the union of members' capabilities will meet together with the whole set.

Requirements towards any person who would be the CEA of a Company

Advanced degree in computer science and/or engineering. Useful to have non-technical degree also, typical example is MBA, which helps to learn general aspects about business era: finance, marketing, human management and so.

  • 10-15+ years of proven experience at the enterprise architecture level, within a matrix organization1
  • Experts in and have passion for technology2
  • Experience exploring/Prototyping new technologies and developing and evangelizing technology strategy
  • Experience with architecture and technology governance and experience leading research and innovation pilot projects
  • Passion to see beautiful code and ability to go end-to-end on any stack, quickly digging in to unearth the best patterns and design decisions
  • Open mind with legacy systems/code and have a sense of respect for maintaining existing architecture in the process of moving forward3
  • Experience in delivering large and complex hardware and software programs
  • Ability to lead large teams of some of the most talented and accomplished across the globe4
  • Excellent organizational and interpersonal skills
  • Ability to effectively partner in the development and execution of business strategies. Use strong analytical capabilities and a fact-based approach to develop effective solution to business issues5
  • Demonstrated integration and strategic planning skills
  • Demonstrated written and verbal communication skills
  • Projects the highest levels of integrity while winning through a consultative and embracing personality
  • Superior interpersonal communication and presentation skills as well as proven organizational skills
  1. As it was mentioned above, architect role is a cross-organisation story therefore Chief enterprise Architect must be experienced to fóplay on this field.
  2. Passionate to technology ensures that CEA will explore and prototype new things by heart an will evangelise the results to the organisation.
  3. Most of the organisation is fed up with legacy applications. Focusing only to new drives to disaster. The baseline should the same shine as the just created new solutions.
  4. It seems to be the joke, but it isn't. The team of architect is a mission critical asset of a Company. They should be well selected and motivated to delivered the best. Handle them as they are the best in globe based on the right selection and motivation mechanism and you can be sure: they will be the best!
  5. The message is clear but I would refer back to the healthy company culture mentioned above. If your organisation has problems with value rewarding, fact-based discussion will drive to nowhere.

I would close this article by a quote, which refers to the reason why it is critical to have the proper, value-based culture in the Company. Although it is coming from the ancient past it is still a clear and valid message to all of us. I like this snetence since I believe by heart that architect must maximise the ability to change factor of the Company.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.


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