Then and Now: Evolution of Architecture

As we prepared to deliver the 2023 State of Architecture Survey results and compare them to last year, one fact stood out: the structure and nature of the architecture practice have significantly changed over the last decade. This week’s blog explores this evolution’s impact on enterprise architects’ work, methodologies, processes, and focus.

A Look Back at the Enterprise Architecture Practice 

If we peeked into an architect’s work environment ten years ago, we would likely find an enterprise where IT departments primarily used waterfall project management methods and organizations focused on enterprise platforms. In these enterprises, architects worked as large-scale units within a centralized team or in one of several federated architecture groups.

These large architecture teams functioned similarly, too, implementing industry standards like Archimate TOGAF, BizBok, TM Forum, and other frameworks. Within the architecture practice, there was a strong focus on governance to apply command and control to the army of architects trying to model an entire enterprise with the goal of better understanding and controlling what was occurring within it. 

The EA’s work aimed to describe an organization’s big picture. Toward that end, they developed monolithic, highly-structured models that often took years to build and were challenging to keep current. When you drew through the capabilities of an extensive IT system landscape, for example, the model looked great on a PowerPoint. But to put all that content onto a single page, the models became very high-level, informational, and weren’t particularly useful for projects. 

Agile’s Impact on the Architecture Evolution

Understandably, as enterprises grew frustrated with the slower and prescriptive processes, the way organizations worked evolved. IT groups began adopting agile methodologies, focusing on small teams and rapid delivery to drive change, which was not as compatible with enterprise architects’ work.

Agile thinking also influenced an enterprise’s management, with decision-making increasingly being delegated from the C-suite executives to those who occupied the mid-levels of the organizational chart. Managers were becoming empowered to make decisions about their respective groups, and departments experienced greater autonomy in how they worked. This evolution impacted enterprise architects’ focus. The need for large-scale, overarching architecture modeling was replaced with a more project-focused approach, including delivery, speed of change, and value.

Smaller teams of architects began supporting specific organizational segments with targeted, project-focused work. Because of this focus, these teams developed more profound knowledge about their businesses and the supporting systems. Architects knew the key players, decision-makers, delivery teams, and all the partners in the ecosystem and engaged more intensely with stakeholders.

Acceleration in the Wake of a Pandemic

During the pandemic, architects working in small teams became even more embedded within the organizations they supported, enabling them to advise the leaders on the business processes and system changes required to support a remote workforce. Architects helped decision-makers understand how to change and facilitate old processes to work in a new working environment. As enterprises emerge from the pandemic, these same architects continue to optimize and drive efficiencies, manage costs, and improve productivity for the new normal with hybrid workforces.

The Role of the Enterprise Architect Today

But what of the traditional enterprise architect? Today, when we peer into enterprise architecture, or the more centralized architecture teams, that once controlled everything from the top down, their charter has changed too.

In most organizations, enterprise architects no longer drive and direct work but instead provide a lightweight set of constructs, guidance, and mentoring to empower independent architect teams to make decisions and manage their work. As facilitators instead of directors, enterprise architects often work to identify dependencies between groups to help teams interact with each other more effectively.

While many EAs didn’t have the same in-depth operational knowledge to support functions and drive change during the pandemic, the practice has reemerged during economic uncertainty as companies increasingly look to restructure. The enterprise architecture teams today are now looking at organizational issues, cost issues, and entire business units to see what roles, functions, and processes are necessary for life in the new normal. Enterprise architects now work with executive leadership to help them understand the synergies and opportunities for improvement. 

Final Thoughts

This new way of working paints a very different picture to the one architects worked in a decade earlier. And as our 2022 State of Enterprise survey reported and the 2023 survey confirms, even within large organizations, architects increasingly work in small, independent teams with more project-focused work to realize better value with their architecture efforts, while the traditional enterprise architects now specialize in enterprise-level issues guiding and facilitating smaller teams to interact with each other more effectively. 

If you would like to learn more about the other key points raised in this year’s survey, you can download it here.

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