EA is the Bane of the Autocratic CIO

I was browsing through Gartner the other day looking for EA metrics and I stumbled across this fantastic tidbit:

A strong CIO who firmly controls organization-wide IT issues and who establishes clear strategies for moving IT forward will be greatly aided by EA. Such a CIO will find that enterprise architecture provides the information he or she needs for important policy decisions, helps establish the organizational structures for processes that enforce those policies, and defines the metrics by which those policies are measured.

And unfortunately I saw the wisdom of this quote as through the back side of a mirror.  What happens to the EA function when such a CIO is not your CIO?

The king is dead, long live the king

For EA to work at all, there needs to be strong buy-in, or strong vision (or both) and so focussing on the ideal environment of a strong, organization-wide, strategic CIO is probably not practical. Instead, my experience reflects something more like:

A weak CIO who clings to an IT autocracy where most constituents have already revolted will be threatened by EA. Such a CIO will find that enterprise architecture encourages change that further erodes the autocracy, collaboratively coordinates decentralization effectively removing control, and carefully exposes the lack of delivery through a detailed measurement of established metrics.

Fear is such a frighteningly powerful force.  What is undeniably seen as value for the organization, even demanded by the organization, is seen as threatening by the individual tasked with sponsoring the program in the first place.  In order to do what the organization has asked, i.e. change, the king has to give up his carefully wrought kingdom, surrender the reigns of control and sponsor a paradigm shift into a decentralized, cooperative environment. (ok, I’ll admit that that perspective is a bias, but one I hold dearly and carry to all facets of my life)

###EA tends to be highly ‘political’ But despite the seeming anachronism of an change-phobic autocrat establishing an EA program, one must recognize that a CIO is fundamentally a political animal.  Consequently, as Tom Graves casually pointed out, ‘enterprise-architecture tends to be highly political’.  We live in a world where the king is throwing money at change because he recognizes that the kingdom need to evolve or perish.  The feudal lords charged with maintaining order are seeing their lands and profits threatened by the winds of change, and do everything in their power to stop it.  And poor EA who wear their lord’s colours and yet answers, as citizen and sworn-sword, to their king are not sure whom to fight. (can you tell I’ve been reading Game of Thrones, et al?).

In the world of architects, everything is an abstraction.  Its what we do.  In my world, money is usually an abstraction for change.  Where there is a will to change, money is found.  Where there isn’t, the budget is always too lean.  So how do we interpret the reverse, there is money, but no appetite for change?  

###Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead I haven’t come to an answer that doesn’t lead down a path to war.  At this point, as an enterprise architect, I feel my best option is to act on behalf of the business, and not the business of IT or the politics of stagnation.  The best we can hope for, as an EA shop, is to provide the business with value and to demonstrate that the new world is not just different, but better.  Failing that, that the autocrats find it uninhabitable and just move along.


Jon Holt

A coach, an entrepreneur, and a no-bull advisor in growing small businesses through the use of practical strategy, light-weight governance and sitting back and thinking about running your business, regardless of what you do.

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