Enterprise Architect Recruitment Pivotal to Practice Success

Managing technology's growing complexities at today's colleges and universities continues to be a worrisome challenge; it seems to take more and more technology resources and planning to advance institutional strategy effectively. One solution is an enterprise architecture (EA) practice to understand how today's institution's technology pieces should optimally fit together and the required technology investments moving forward. The Enterprise Connection blog post Manage Today's IT Complexities with an Enterprise Architecture Practice offers three starting points to help an IT leader understand the possibilities when building an EA practice: (1) build your EA knowledge base; (2) understand your institution; and (3) formulate a practice strategy.

This understanding forms the basis for the next important step: staffing an EA practice. Hiring the right enterprise architect is pivotal to the practice's success, as this person brings the enterprise architecture to life, so to speak, by engaging with the institution community to transform architecture into action. This blog post explores four considerations in finding the best person to fill this crucial role.

1. Hire a Leader, not Necessarily a Practitioner

The initial inclination may be to hire a topnotch developer or technician as an enterprise architect, that stellar practitioner who can diagram intricate view models and frameworks of a targeted area.

But that might not be the best choice, for the enterprise architect role requires leadership skills. Effective enterprise architects need to direct EA development, understanding, and utilization across their respective institutions. "I'm an EA who actually dislikes artifacts. EA is not a practice where having a repository full of artifacts is a win," explained Jim Phelps, the director of enterprise architecture and strategy at the University of Washington. "I can have a wiki full of really beautiful drawings, but if my vice provosts are not using them to make decisions, then it doesn't matter. EA is about getting the right people to have the right conversation about the right problem."

For example, these enterprise architects bring significant leadership experience to their roles. Christopher Eagle, IT strategist and enterprise architect at the University of Michigan (U-M), is a former CIO at a midsized corporation who views his EA role as a strategic position that leverages his CIO skills. Louis King and his Yale University enterprise architect colleagues are experienced leaders of enterprise technology deployments at various colleges and universities.

2. Don't Overlook Soft Skills

The hard skills of technology and architecting are obviously important to the enterprise architect role, but don't underestimate the soft skills. The enterprise architect has to be personable, not nerdy — someone who can confidently communicate and engage with all of an institution's functional and academic units and their leaders. U-M's Eagle described the importance of soft skills in his job:

I work continually at building relationships. I never turn down a meeting where I can have rapport with colleagues — like sitting on a committee — so people know who I am and are willing to speak openly with me about their technology plans and challenges when the time comes. I can't stress enough that in order to build a successful EA practice, you need the take the pulse of the people who make the institution go and have a good rapport with them.

Interviews with enterprise architects draw a more complete picture of the importance of soft skills, identifying specific abilities and their implications for a successful EA practice. Table 1 consolidates these examples into a checklist to help evaluate enterprise architect candidates.

Table 1. Enterprise architect soft skills evaluation checklist

Soft Skill

Success Implications

Big Picture View

Understands technology's strategic importance for the institution — now and in five years

Understands technology trajectory implications: costs, change management, and return on value

Communication

Can carry an idea, exert influence, and gain buy-in

Can communicate convincingly why central IT can or cannot support certain strategies or projects

Emotional Intelligence

Understands intuitively if people are following or deeply questioning the suggestion at hand

Networking

Comfortably reaches out to institution leaders to gain understanding of their departments and their technology issues

Partnership

Builds common ground with institution leaders on mutually beneficial projects

Creates connections with other institutions' enterprise architects to understand broader higher education issues and best practices

Respect

Is respected by the campus community and can therefore guide the institution in new — and sometimes bold — directions

 

ECAR research supports this well-rounded approach. EA survey respondents rated the importance of 36 skills and expertise in order to succeed in higher education.1 At least half of the respondents rated 32 skills very or extremely important. Given that this list of skills and expertise covered a very broad swath (everything from communication to budgeting to leadership to business acumen), it's clear that the job of enterprise architect requires a particularly broad skill set, containing both technical and people skills.2

3. Backfill Technical Skills as Needed

After reading about the ideal enterprise architect, it almost seems that only a superhero can fill this position. Factor in the staffing shortages facing many IT organizations, and the task can become even more daunting. "We all have smart people that know how to do IT," stated Ron Kraemer, vice president and chief information and digital officer at the University of Notre Dame. "But in our world, it is a little harder to find a person with all the necessary people skills."

So what is an IT leader to do? The consensus is to avoid the temptation to start an EA practice with a technical person; rather, hire a lead person with strong soft skills and then backfill accordingly with staff who possess strong architecting skills. As Yale University's enterprise architect Louis King suggests, this strategy provides the added bonus of grooming future enterprise architects: "I would lean toward a candidate with less highly technical skills and more mission understanding who can talk to the vice presidents across the organization. Backfill with the technology staff and groom them to the enterprise architect position over a course of months and years."

If funding doesn't exist to hire formal technical staff, one tactic could be to create an institution enterprise architecture working group of IT department architects and others from around the campus to work on specific projects. While members can't work on EA issues full time, their experiences build campus-wide EA understanding and provide another EA development conduit.

4. Insider vs. Outsider

Another consideration is whether to hire from within the institution or bring in someone from the outside. Both approaches have their pros and cons. An insider would have the advantage of previously established relationships and understanding the institution's culture and politics. The case be made for an outsider to start with a clean slate and fresh perspective.

Obviously, the availability of internal candidates impacts this decision, but the EA practice development strategy can impact it too. Is the enterprise architect starting the practice from scratch or building on previous work? Does the IT leader have the time and bandwidth to help the incoming enterprise architect build her own institutional relationships and knowledge base over the next several months?

However an IT leader selects an enterprise architect, it is clear that the process should proceed mindfully. Kraemer, who built EA practices at Notre Dame and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, believes that "hiring an enterprise architect is fundamentally one of the most important decisions that you will make because you're empowering this person to make suggestions all the way through to setting architecture standards. It is a very high-visibility, empowered position."

Acknowledgments

EDUCAUSE wishes to thank for their time and insights into this blog post Christopher Eagle, IT Strategist and Enterprise Architect, University of Michigan; Louis King, Enterprise Architect, Yale University; Ron Kraemer, Vice President and Chief Information and Digital Officer, University of Notre Dame; and Jim Phelps, Director of Enterprise Architecture and Strategy, University of Washington. Note: Jim is chair of ITANA, the higher ed EA constituent group supported by EDUCAUSE and Internet2, and Chris and Louis are steering committee members.

Notes

  1. These results are derived from 26 respondents of an ECAR survey of 537 individuals with EA profiles in May 2016. The full survey results are presented in the ECAR report, “The Higher Education IT Workforce Professional Role: Enterprise Architect Survey 2016.
  2. Pomerantz, “The Higher Education IT Workforce,” 15.

Judith A. Pirani is an EDUCAUSE consultant and principal of Sheep Pond Associates.