Enterprise architects are those responsible for planning and delivering the IT capabilities for the business. This is key to digital transformation. However, in every business, their role is slightly different. I caught up with Ryan Kennedy (RK) and Adrian Mattioli (AM) from NedBank to talk about their work, and how it affects digital transformation at NedBank and elsewhere.
How do you see the enterprise architect role at Nedbank?
RK: I think the enterprise architect role is to provide structure and guidelines to project teams and to drive change. That creates business opportunity through technology innovation. Enterprise architects, therefore, need to be aware of the latest trends in the market and technologies. They then work with the business to draw on that knowledge and provide advice. In particular, they need to shape and translate business and IT strategy into achievable and sustainable technology solutions, taking ownership from the idea through to the delivery of benefits. Enterprise architecture is very much an enabler of digital transformation.
The enterprise architect role is to provide structure and guidelines to project teams and to drive change. That creates business opportunity through technology innovation.
How do you think the definition of digital transformation changes in different organizations – and does this affect the enterprise architect’s role?
RK: I think one of the most important aspects at the moment is the use of agile methodologies (such as SaFE) and the uptake of the DevOps approach. This makes everything faster – and that means that the architect really does need to be the bridge between IT and business.
AM: I think this has resulted in the architect role becoming much more of a team effort. You need a range of skills and expertise, especially now that we’re moving into cloud. That means that it takes more people to make sure it works.
What do you think are the most important skills for enterprise architects?
AM: I think the most important ones for me are the skills to look after networks and security. These are core to any cloud migration because you need them in place first. I also think that architects need to understand the applications that go into that network and security. Those are the biggest and most important parts of any application being deployed into cloud.
RK: However, you also need the soft skills, because the architect has to act as a bridge between IT and the business. Empathy and understanding are crucial, as is being able to listen well. We also look for people who are actively developing their skills all the time and embrace a continuous learning mindset. So there are both technology and people skills needs of equal importance.
How are new technologies having an impact on enterprise architecture?
RK: At the moment, transformation initiatives tend to be geared towards the cloud, which means a lot of new tools and architecture patterns are being trialed in enterprises. Some of these are disrupting the traditional architecture patterns for software in enterprises. For example, our traditional data and application integration patterns are seeing more requirements to support on-prem-to-cloud, cloud-to-on-prem or even cloud-to-cloud.
AM: We’re seeing a lot of both platform and software as a service, together with the use of Docker containers and Kubernetes for orchestration. These are enabling enterprises to scale up and down rapidly and making things much more flexible. I think this is going to make a huge difference in a more agile world where we need to respond faster and faster to changing business needs. It’s a real game-changer – but only if you have the network and security ready.
We talk about technology, but I think the enterprise architect’s role is almost as much about talking to different people and making things happen.
What about the ‘people’ aspects of transformation?
AM: This is huge. We talk about technology, but I think the enterprise architect’s role is almost as much about talking to different people and making things happen. For instance, just thinking about being able to add new technology. That’s great, but you need to be sure that your users won’t abuse it and just put garbage in and then expect it to just live forever. When you’re planning for digital transformation, you need to think about the migration, as well as the endpoint. You have to talk about the journey, and you need a clear road map. If you have that vision, then it’s easier to manage the journey. But you still have to be prepared for it to take a long time.
How hands-on do you think enterprise architects need to be?
AM: Well, it’s in the nature of the job that they have to be prepared to get their hands dirty sometimes! You need to know what your model is doing, even if you don’t actually do the building yourself. Without that, you can’t slot each model into your big picture for the enterprise or advise your business units appropriately. You also need to understand what each app does, so that you can provide good advice. This is where the enterprise architect and the engineering lead come together – and the business gains when they do. It smooths out the process.
RK: To add to this, from an enterprise architect point of view it’s very important that architects also have a deeper understanding of data strategy and data management. Data is underpinning everything. There’s also a big focus on being more client-centric across the enterprise, and so it becomes important for the architect to have a deeper understanding of how the applications in the architecture come together and impact the customer experience.