David Cearley

Distinguished VP Analyst

What technology innovation and enterprise architect leaders need to be ready for in 2020 and beyond.

As digital business scales up, how is the role of enterprise architect changing?

In the next three years, we’re going to see half of enterprise architects with business backgrounds and no formal technical training. That’s a huge shift. Enterprise architects are the custodians of the technology estate within an organization. They’re looking across all of the different technology areas, pulling things together. Traditional enterprise architects create roadmaps, blueprints and standards across all of an organization’s technologies. That’s still important. But now enterprise architecture (EA) is evolving toward a more business-oriented perspective, what we call business-outcome-driven EA. That means looking at the ties between the technology estate and the business. What are the business outcomes shaping this technology estate? What’s being supported by it? Most important, how are future business requirements driving changes in it?

Businesses are turning to enterprise architects for guidance as they pursue technology innovation. What’s an enterprise architect’s best tool for helping the business achieve its goals?

Enterprise architects have the broadest purview in the organization. Architects look across all the siloed functions. As an enterprise architect, you might be the person best positioned to understand and anticipate the impact of emerging technologies and guide the business forward. Today there are certain technologies and trends that are moving so fast and have such a broadly disruptive sweep, you can’t afford to ignore them. Enterprise architects understand these trends. They are uniquely positioned to understand the technologies coming our way as well as what they mean for the organization and how to prepare.

Technology innovation is about radical change. It’s not doing what we’re doing today only a little bit better, but doing very different new things. You need an enterprise architect’s broad perspective and comprehensive awareness of new technologies and trends and their likely impact in order to recognize and identify those opportunities.

Today’s enterprise architects have that seat at the table they’ve always wanted. The question now is, what do you do with it? How do you become the trusted advisor and go-to consultant on innovation?

If you are an enterprise architect, you need to be a futurist. You need to be looking three to five years out and even more than five years. It’s critical to have a solid grasp of the strategic technologies that you need to act on in the next three to five years, such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotic process automation (RPA), immersive experiences such as virtual reality and the concept of digital twins (digital representations of real-world entities). You also need to be well versed in emerging technologies that are a little further out, such as quantum computing. They need to be on your radar for long-term planning.

Today’s enterprise architects need to function like an internal management consultancy, planning and leading digital transformation. They must be able to communicate well with IT and non-IT leaders alike, not just about technology, but about what that technology means to the business. You have to be able to work with groups throughout the organization doing technology-driven innovation, not just in IT or on the EA team. You need to understand which new technologies are worth evaluating, and find the right balance of risk and reward when it comes to bleeding-edge technologies. Most of all, you need to know how to communicate your message to business leaders. When it comes to new ideas and innovation, how do you communicate what these technologies are about, and how do you manage the process of change? EA and technology innovation leaders need to master the art of change management.

New technologies are driving continuous operational improvements on one hand and “blue sky” innovation on the other. How can EA and technology innovation leaders do both?

How you bring those two cycles together is key. Today’s enterprise architects need to deal with continuous improvements and changes to operations as well as a continuous process of innovation. Increasingly, they are going to converge in real time. How well you handle that convergence will shape business outcomes.

You often have a technology innovation team doing one thing and the EA team doing another. The innovation group doesn’t talk with the architects, because maybe they think they’ll try to slow them down. They don’t want to be held back or constrained in any way as they drive into the future. The architecture group meanwhile is frustrated because they struggle to scale up the stuff coming out of the innovation lab. These groups need to talk to each other! You’re never going to get it right until you bridge this gap. If the innovation group is outside IT, that gap is even worse.

In many organizations, the CTO is responsible for funding the technology innovation program, meaning you have both EA activities and the innovation incubator under one financial and leadership umbrella so they’re forced to interact. That model seems to work pretty well.

What’s the secret to a successful technology innovation program?

It depends. There are so many ways to do innovation. For some organizations, an innovation lab or incubator is the right answer. Gartner has frameworks to help you evaluate your needs and work through what kind of innovation process would be most helpful to your organization. We’ll look at a number of examples of how to do this effectively at Gartner Enterprise Architecture & Technology Innovation Summit 2019, May 18-19, in Orlando, FL.

This year’s summit will also cover current — and future — best practices and processes for EA and technology innovation. It’s a unique opportunity to get a sweeping view of what’s ahead in key technologies and trends, so you can anticipate the impact on the business and get ready. If you’re tasked with formulating an innovation strategy for your organization, you absolutely need to be there.