Enterprise Architects: Masters of Soft Power

Colleges and universities are the original learning organizations. By their very nature, institutions of higher education foster learning and mastery. The irony, however, is that while institutions of higher education excel at promoting learning for individuals and for disciplines, they are often less efficient at promoting learning within the organization itself. Yet institutions of higher education are undergoing profound change, which makes institutional learning more important than ever. Technology is increasingly integrated into all operations at an institution, and the nature of technology is constant change. Strategic programs and projects central to the business of the institution are increasingly based on enterprise-scale technology. An institution of higher education is a complex sociotechnical system where effecting change requires an enterprise-level perspective.

Enter the enterprise architect. According to Paul Erickson, the assistant director for enterprise architecture at the University of Nebraska, the goal of enterprise architecture is "to meet the future needs of the institution" by balancing "academic rigor, student life, business, and the complicated realities of IT" at the institution. Three main schools of thought consider how this can be accomplished, focusing on the enterprise-wide IT platform, the enterprise as a sociocultural system, and the environment in which the enterprise operates. In higher education, as in many types of organizations, the emphasis is often on the first as a way of enabling the second and third. The enterprise architect is therefore tasked with "translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change."

This is easier said than done. How can the enterprise architect effect meaningful enterprise change, especially in light of the fact that many are flying solo or with little backup? According to the recent ECAR survey of EAs, most enterprise architects have five or fewer reports.

The answer to how enterprise architects effect change is deceptively simple: influence. About half of EAs report to the CIO, but this reporting line is deliberately loose, with EAs having a great many dotted-line reporting relationships with other institutional leaders. These dotted-line relationships enable EAs to have input into governance and decision making across a range of strategic programs and projects.

The picture that emerges here of the role of the enterprise architect on campus is complex: a direct line to the CIO, interaction with other institutional leadership, and a voice in strategic projects, yet little direct interaction above the level of the CIO and, for the most part, few or no staff. EAs may therefore be the poster children for wielding soft power in the Joseph Nye sense of leadership, through creating shared objectives and framing the issues. This form of leadership rests largely on credibility — and indeed, credibility is one of the skills that EAs rate as most important to their success.

Enterprise architects rate as critical to their success a great many soft power skills: the ability to build relationships, promote collaboration, engage in strategic planning, and shape strategic perspective. And ultimately, it is this strategic vision that enables the enterprise architect to identify and deploy — or to convince others to deploy — solutions across the institution. One respondent to the ECAR EA survey wrote that "the enterprise architect is responsible for architecting the enterprise, not providing solutions architectures for enterprise systems." Architecting the enterprise requires nothing less than the strategic vision, the relationships, the collaboration, and the credibility to catalyze learning in the learning organization.

For more information

For more on the role of the Enterprise Architect in higher education, read the ECAR report IT Leadership in Higher Education, 2016: The Enterprise Architect, one of four leadership reports in the EDUCAUSE IT Workforce in Higher Education, 2016, research series. Reports on the chief information officer, chief information security officer, and chief data officer are being published in 2017.

This IT workforce research and all ECAR publications will be available to individuals at EDUCAUSE member organizations beginning July 1, 2017, under the new, all-in-one membership.


Jeffrey Pomerantz is a senior research analyst for EDUCAUSE.

© 2017 Jeffrey Pomerantz. This EDUCAUSE Review blog is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.