Ivory Tower of Enterprise Architecture?

A recent article on EA in IEEE Software has been generating some buzz in the blog space. The article was written by an architect at Martin Fowler’s ThoughtWorks who contends that architects must “join the team” lest they become Ivory Tower dwellers. Jim Webber weighed in with his thoughts on the Ivory Tower of Enterprise Architecture, and James McGovern blasted the author, saying EA was way undervalued.

I was at first really caught up with the author’s contention and inclined to agree, but I’m pulling back. James McGovern’s brief comments re-oriented me… I think the differentiator is enterprise versus application architecture. There really is a lot of value in EA at the highest levels. Things like procurement and portfolio management are really best handled at the enterprise level, whereas I think the original author’s comments were perhaps more directed at application architecture concerns.

When you start to get into the area of setting development and security implementation standards, or best practices for implementing a COTS package, then I think the author’s contention starts to take off. Application architects responsible for monitoring those concerns in an enterprise definitely need to be team participants, or their advice exists in a vacuum. App archs are perhaps the most vulnerable to Ivory Tower syndrome… the poor ones try to distance themselves from development as an attempt to create an artificial hierarchy.

But any Enterprise Architect who can code makes better decisions generally, and specifically will have more credibility when selling down in the enterprise. James McGovern blogged previously at ITToolbox on architects who can’t code, but I can’t find the post at the moment – here is another good one, though.

Successfully EAs who truly do enterprise-level architecture also use Agile techniques, and will no doubt benefit from some amount of direct engagement with implementation teams. Think of it like Intuit’s “Follow me Home” program – you should see the high-level in action to be sure you are delivering business value.


1 Response to “Ivory Tower of Enterprise Architecture?”

  1. 1 Jim Webber 23 November 2005 at 6:00 pm

    Hey Scott,

    I agree wholeheartedly with Rebecca’s article. If you work in a technical team, and you’re not a manager, you should be able to understand/perform that team’s work. Otherwise you’re dead weight.

    Does the same appy to EA as well as application architecture? Yes. Absolutely. I spend a lot of time building Web Services based systems which is an EA implementation technology (as much as objects are for applications).

    So from my perspective to be a good EA you still need to have development skills.


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