Death of the Enterprise Architect?

Last week I read an interesting article about how cloud computing is changing the role of the enterprise architect and it got me thinking about the bad rap many architects are getting in the brave new agile, cloud, big data world.

From what I’ve been reading, there’s been a bit of a straw man argument going on — enterprise architects are often described as uber-control freaks who attempt to dictate software architectures in a repressive way to implementation teams. Mention the term “reference architecture” and you’ll often raise the hackles of the new developer-led world.

To be sure, there are many enterprise architects who match that description. And they’re the ones who give architects a bad name, just like undisciplined developers can give agile a bad rap too.

I tend to agree with the article in many respects — the idea that software architectures can be fully contained and described in a prescriptive way that potentially limits or increases the cost of software that adds value to the business is something that really isn’t good. To me, it almost always comes back to the value question — does the architect add net positive business value?

One of the best roles I’ve seen for enterprise architects is in attention to technical debt — measuring the growth of it, assisting agile teams in ways to address emerging technical debt, and generally ensuring that the business isn’t accumulating potentially crippling amounts of it. To me, the companies which have these kinds of architects never have to “stop all development” in order to do vendor-software upgrades, re-platforming, or huge re-write / re-factoring efforts.

Again, I don’t think this is about the enterprise architect defining an architecture and enforcing it — it’s a lot more about being an architectural scout: staying out in front of the agile development teams to bring back ideas and help them choose concepts which keep the system flexible in the face of change. Not in defining the ultimate generic architecture — we’ve been down that path before with SOA, “message-bus”, integration servers and broker architectures.

I hope you’re lucky enough to work with such an enterprise architect.

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