A client recently requested a presentation on the future of enterprise architecture. I always enjoy these types of topics, partly because they give me some latitude to think creatively but also because they make me think about things that don’t come up that often in my day-to-day problem set. In the presentation I covered a lot ground about the current state of EA, trends affecting EA’s future, and what EAs should focus on to ensure future success. Business architecture played heavily in my view. But the bottom line can be summarized in five scenarios. Here are the five scenarios I came up with and my take on each.

Scenario 1: EA disappears as a unique function. I think this scenario is inevitable in the long run (but here I am talking about 20 to 30 years) as we move to purchased applications (“there’s an app for that”) and Moore’s law continues to drive down the cost of hardware to the point where  performance/capacity/reliability/etc. issues all but disappear. But in the near term (let’s call it 10 years) I think this is a highly unlikely outcome. Because, even though EAs struggle to demonstrate value, the promise of EA value among CIOs remains strong.

Scenario 2: As EA becomes more business and enterprise in focus, it moves “in total” to the business.This seems to me to be the least likely of all the possible outcomes for EA. Business architecture (BA) might move to the business (see scenario 5) but I can’t imagine the technology side of EA moving into the business as long as there is an IT organization. First of all no sane CIO would support the move. But more importantly, who in the business would have a better perspective of what (technology based) EA needs to be than the CIO? Some architects seem to believe that putting EA in the business would give them magical powers of influence – but it won’t. Business goals and incentives are the main drivers and they will remain the same.

Scenario 3: EA remains in IT, largely focused on technology architecture.This seems to be the most likely outcome for small to medium sized IT organizations. In this option business architecture will be developed primarily as input into the technical architecture. The key to success here will be for EAs to evolve from technology planners to true IT strategists.

Scenario 4: EA remains in IT but becomes more business focused.This model will be prevalent in medium to large IT organizations where IT has developed a strong partnership with the business. Here, EAs will be welcome at the business planning table and will be well regarded by business and IT for their ability to match business needs with IT capabilities. The business architecture focus here will be business-IT alignment. EA’s resources will be about evenly split between BA and technology initiatives. Successful architects will be very business savvy but keep their technology roots.

Scenario 5: EA splits into multiple groups.This is the most likely 10-year outlook for most large IT organizations. EA will split into three distinct and separate groups: infrastructure, applications and information, and business. Here’s why. Infrastructure is rapidly closing in on the utility model. The cloud movement will force existing I&O managers to create a more “cloud-like” approach. Instant and configurable provisioning will become the norm. Application developers will no longer need to be concerned with the infrastructure architecture. It just works. Infrastructure EAs will move into I&O and become even more technologically focused.

As business architecture gains momentum, business leaders will take notice and seek to move or replicate the BA function in the business. Many BAs will jump at the chance to move and encourage this model – with or without the CIO’s blessing. Look for business schools to add business architecture to their curriculums. When that happens, business architecture’s move into the business will accelerate rapidly.

Being squeezed from the top and bottom, traditional EAs will focus more on applications and information. As SaaS and purchased applications become the dominant solutions delivery model, EAs' focus on information will increase.

Have a different scenario? Let’s hear it!