How Architects Can Survive and Thrive in the Digital Era: A Conversation with Peter Beijer

By The Open Group

Peter Beijer believes your job as an Enterprise Architect may be in jeopardy.

According to Beijer, Chief Technologist for the Office of the CTO for HP Enterprise and leader of the company’s architecture capabilities in EMEA, architects are being forced to change and evolve their role due to the digital revolution that all industries are currently facing.

Beijer believes that for Enterprise Architects to survive, they must do three things. First, they must learn to adapt and engage with the changes being brought by the digital shift and new development environments. Second, they must reach out and engage with today’s new business leaders to better understand the problems and opportunities that businesses and customers are facing. Finally, they must better develop their own personal brands in order to showcase their experience and credentials and show their worth to their organizations.

We spoke with Beijer in advance of The Open Group Paris 2016 event (October 24 – 27) to learn more about how he sees the state of the Enterprise Architecture profession today and what Enterprise Architects can to do remain relevant in the midst of a rapidly changing IT and business climate.

How are the current changes in IT affecting Enterprise Architects?

There is a digital shift going on—the whole world is going digital, and digital means a  business transformation for a lot of companies because they may get involved with human-centric customer engagement models that have very different dynamics than what they’re used to, so the skills of the Architecture profession are changing a lot. You have to be much more empathetic to be able to understand what the customers’ customer is doing and there is a whole new range of possibilities and platforms with technologies—it’s becoming very, very diverse.

That asks for more insight from architects to be able to do things. IT as such is changing—there are many forces driving that change. Everything is getting smaller, we are living on top of a mountain of data (which is self-propelling) and there’s also the societal impact of IT and the amount of information available to people. This whole change from the industrial way of doing computing, which was meant to help us do things, has transformed into an information society driven not by scarcity but by abundance. There’s an abundance of information, technology and platforms, and they have become very easily accessible to all of us. For example, where once we needed highly skilled specialists we can now do things now ourselves on a smartphone everywhere.

Within an enterprise, there has been a classic division between the business and IT, and we have always preached the paradigm, ‘We should align IT with the business.” But in fact business has become IT. However, the business people now have easy access to these new digital platforms so the IT department is lagging behind fixing legacy systems. Traditionally the role of the architect was always meant to collaborate with the business people to see how technology can advance the business.

But since IT has become so readily available—you can install mobile platforms, Cloud, or a business app by the press of a finger on an iPhone—what happens is business people are doing these things themselves more and more. Of course that is the very extreme end of the spectrum, but the net effect to the IT department is that business users want solutions more rapidly, more easily—they are not waiting for cumbersome projects.

For the architect, it’s ‘Welcome to the new world of IT.’ And you can question whether the architect is still needed when the click of a button allows you to engage with Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure or any other platform. So as the Architect, you’ve always done your projects, you’ve always carefully facilitated the discussions and guided decisions when defining solutions, and now you find yourself in a rapidly changing world where business people are building solutions themselves. You find yourself increasingly useless and no longer relevant.

On the other hand, if you pick up a role that articulates the value of these new technologies in the new business contexts that are emerging, you really have to change your job a lot to become meaningful. The fundamental value of architecting has not changed, but the spectrum of choices, the moving parts, the building blocks have greatly increased and it is against a background where everybody wants things very quick and very cheap. We are now living in a world where everybody says ‘Let’s fail fast and try many ideas.’ The architect by nature is more ‘Slow down. Are we making the right decision? Are we making the right choices?’ This is a bit counter or averse to the natural DNA of an architect. And that’s why the profession needs a wake up call.

How then can Architects remain relevant and meaningful within organizations? Why has it been so difficult for Enterprise Architects to show their value in companies?

That has always been a problem to show your business value as an Enterprise Architect. It has to do with making yourself relevant and being recognized by the organization. The question is, how do you do that?

First of all, the architect should actually be the first person to call on the business leader. Over the years, the discipline has been degraded a bit. Traditionally, we were the people that were engaging with the business, but the IT world has become very technical and in many organizations the architect has been degraded into a technical role while the original role of the architect was a liaison between business stakeholders and technical stakeholders. What the architect must do is to engage again with the business and build trust and confidence that they can make a difference in solving a problem, that they understand business language and that they can become empathetic.

That is one of the key skills that an architect must learn—to become empathetic and to understand what others do. They also need to understand the risks in building a system because things are going faster. They’re less cumbersome than in the early days but would a business really bet its success on not using an architect and run into risk on a project? You really need an architect to understand this whole playing field and the forces within the projects, the business opportunity, the key stakeholders, the customers’ customers and what technology can mean for them. Architects must understand the business language and build a level of trust where the business can have a dialogue where together they can explore the possibilities and see how they can make things happen. These are a couple of skills that architects need to develop.

How can Architects work on developing empathy as a skill?

That’s not an easy thing. That is because they must be much more business focused, learn much more business acumen, see how major trends in the industry effect the strategic intent of the company they’re working for. What is the whole value chain, or better, what is the value network? With the connectedness of today’s businesses we  think in terms of networks rather than of chains. Diving in and understanding these concepts and problems from a business perspective is one of the key skills they have to learn.

How do you then develop empathy? You have to work with these [business] people, you have to facilitate and guide dialogues so you can learn about those things and interact with the business. You have to actually think beyond the technology. It’s much more about understanding the usage of technology—the human/technology meta-narrative, so to speak. In the early days, people adapted to technologies. Nowadays, the technology must adapt to people and as an architect you have to understand that. The dialogues of that are on a much higher level of abstraction, so it is essential for architects to facilitate that dialogue but you also have to rapidly tie that down to technology possibilities. For example, how does a choice for a certain technology affect the value network that your organization is relying and expending on? Will it create a business blockage for the future?

What can Architects do to better showcase their skills and show their value to their organizations?

How can you step forward and say, ‘I have these skills’? This is where The Open Group Certified Architect program steps in because we provide a certification where we really evaluate the architect’s experience in doing these types of things.

As an architect, if you want to become relevant, you must adopt a skillset, and with that skillset you can qualify as an Open Certified Architect (Open CA). It’s about the skillset, the portfolio of experience you have built up as a professional can you prove that you have done that? Using those skills and experiences is a guide for an organization where they can have a resource pool of architects. In my organization, we are pretty serious about certification—we use it as a tool for career progression.

A profession framework gives organizations a consistent approach to industry recognized standards, the roles, the way people work, the methods they use, but also to develop training and education to get people there. It’s a quality assurance for professionals because that evaluation is done in a peer-based way where the certification of architects is evaluated by other architects. With certification, we have clearly defined standards—what is the industry consensus on a good approach for how people should work, the level of interaction needed with the business. The evaluation is probing whether you’re doing that, whether you’re capable of defining projects, delivering projects with a large degree of success. One of the key components is the conformance requirements for the Open Certified Architect—it basically tells you what skills and experience are necessary to seriously call yourself an “Architect.” 

If an organization wants to develop the career progression of architects and the standards for the way they work, a profession framework is a necessary instrument to develop and maintain the profession within an organization. Using a framework based on industry consensus, as with The Open Group, provides a good reference.  It is a very prestigious certification!

Within the Open CA program in The Open Group, we have 37 architecture methods that are recognized by the Specification Authority based on industry consensus. The methods help you establish architectural decisions, validate architectures to manage stakeholder requirements, basically define the transition from old to new or how to architect a solution for a business problem. Working according to an architecture method gives you a large degree of predictability for success instead of shooting from the hip and praying for the best. If organizations adopt a profession framework, they create an environment that enables people to practice and mature their profession. You create much more consistency with role definitions. A lot of organizations struggle with defining roles for their job families, so adopting a profession framework where the skills are clearly articulated and defined and can be evaluated by the means of a certification program can really increase the effectiveness of your workforce. And in developing standards, you can provide employees a roadmap for their career progression.

What steps can Enterprise Architects take to grow their careers over the next 5-10 years and continue to show value as the industry is changing?

The obvious answer for me is of course to get your Open Certified Architect certification. Once you have it, there is a three-year recertification that is not as cumbersome as the original certification. The initial certification a significant step for an architect. If you are an Open Certified Architect, you are a “Real Architect.” But it does require you to re-certify every three years, and that is a very short document that proves you are still architecting and maintaining your profession. Compare it to peer-reviewed professions such as lawyers and medical doctors.

One of the things we evaluate in that recertification is: Do you follow the industry? Are you following industry conferences? Are you following webinars? Are you maintaining your skills as an architect? Are you following the state of the art of the new disciplines related to architecture? The other thing we really encourage, because it’s a peer-driven evaluation, is that we encourage people to sit on boards to evaluate other architects going through the certification process.

So you keep your profession up to date, you understand what’s going on, you have to engage with your clients and give some evidence that you are still doing Architecture related work. You have to maintain your knowledge and experiences. As the industry is evolving toward a digital shift, of course everyone has to take webinars and keep up on industry trends, but to keep the Open Certified Architect certification, we ask you to do that otherwise you are no longer conforming to the conformance requirements.

@theopengroup #ogPARIS

by-the-open-groupDr. Peter Beijer is Chief Technologist in Hewlett Packard Enterprise, leading the Architecture Capability for Enterprise Services in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Recognized pioneer in HPE’s Solution Architecture Blueprinting methodology and core contributor to the development of the architecture profession. He is Chair of the Open CA Specification Authority.  Dr. Beijer received a doctorate (Ph.D) from the University of Amsterdam.