This past summer, Forrester conducted a series of in-depth interviews of architects to further our understanding of their roles:  how they saw the role in the context of their organizations, how they are evaluated by senior management, their key success imperatives and their information needs.  We undertook this not just as research to publish, but also to inform how we support individuals in the EA role.

The most interesting realization from these interviews is how architects segment themselves based on the expectations of the larger organization:  how focused they are at a project or strategy scope, and how oriented they are towards business or technology.

Architects, and the architect function are project-focused when their most important value was to project success or technology selection.  When defining, communicating and guiding strategy was the expectation, architects are more strategy-focused.  Similarly, in some organizations, architects are viewed as technology experts or direction-setters, while in other organizations, they are more closely associated with business-oriented planning.  When you combine these two dimensions of scope and orientation, you get four types of enterprise architecture functions – which we labeled as “the Archetypes of EA”.


This is similar to the “Archetypes of IT” which Forrester described in 2006 in a series of reports: the ‘Solid Utility’, ‘Trusted Supplier’ and ‘Partner Player’ archetypes.  The significance of these IT archetypes is that they are based on the expectations of IT by the larger business organization – not on how IT chose to view itself.  IT is successful only in the context of these expectations.  An IT organization can’t be a ‘Partner Player’ if business expects only a ‘Solid Utility’ – and if business expects a ‘Partner Player’ – IT better execute as a partner or risk marginalization (and probably getting a new CIO).

What’s the significance of these EA archetypes?
First, a lot of EA thought – by analyst firms, other thought leaders and practitioners, is that EA teams must be excellent at all of these quadrants – and it’s the fault of the EA team if they aren’t being strategic or business-focused enough.  The reality is EA teams need to be excellent at the archetype that reflects the IT and business expectations – and they can never be excellent at those archetypes where the larger organization doesn’t want or value their contribution.
Second, for EA teams who wish to contribute more in the strategy and/or business quadrants, they have to change expectations along with changing their practices.  EA teams will be successful at influencing business and IT strategy when the CIO and some business peers start looking for their input.  Changing expectations is a different task from learning strategy mapping or similar techniques.
Third, this archetype model is a great tool for fostering discussion with IT and business leaders.  As one reader of our first report said: ‘this is better than a maturity model because I can ask what the firm needs, instead of just talking about how good we are in an area’.     

We on the EA team at Forrester are also using this model to sharpen our role focus:

  • We’re deepening our research into Business and Information Architectures, and how firms can use them to address issues in strategy, alignment and change.
  • We in the EA team are expanding our focus on best practices for technology strategy and roadmaps.  This complements the coverage of other teams in Forrester on individual technology areas as part of their role focus.
  • Our coverage on the EA function, organization and value will be addressing the steps EA leaders can take to re-set business and IT expectations, and re-position their teams.

Tell me what you think –  Do you agree that this archetype view is valid and useful? Or is there a better model?  Do you have recommendations for our research focus?