The keynotes at this month’s ASUG Best Practices: SAP Enterprise Architect conference combined to offer a mix of practical information, observations on the importance of the profession, and data on job opportunities. Major points of discussion included sustainability, as did defining the EA profession’s core competencies and strategic capabilities.

Leading off the virtual event, Chris Forde, Open Group Enterprise Architect Vice President and General Manager, outlined enterprise architects’ emerging and prominent roles in organizations.

“Enterprise architects are driving and leading digital transformations. They are changing business models,” Forde said. But, because of their importance, “there is a lot of competency demands on them, and a chronic shortage of people with these capabilities, globally. Organizations must develop a pipeline of professionals”, he added.

Forde, whose organization offers EA learning and development tools, and professional credentials, presented a lengthy EA competency list, noting that EAs combine business and technical acumen, IT knowledge, and soft skills. Enterprise architects must be adaptable, flexible, and realize they are change agents influencing business culture. Individuals can pursue a professional development plan or learn the role through “assignment, even accidentally.”

Cyber and Security Drive Demand

In addition to professional opportunities that can straddle business and technology interests and ever-growing initiatives, EA demand continues to soar because of larger industry trends, Forde said. These include cybercrime and security risk management, changes to operational or business backbones, and business structure shifts based on mergers and acquisitions.

“Enterprise architects are unicorns in terms of capabilities,” Forde said. “There are portfolios of roles for architects in most larger organizations. And what enterprise architects do in one organization may be radically different in another.”

On day two, Carla Kendrick, Principal Enterprise Architect, MITRE Corp., discussed using enterprise architecture to bridge the so-called “synergy gap,” a philosophical disconnect between business and IT organizations, which limits a company’s initiatives around digital transformation.

“It’s the dichotomy between seeing EA as a strategic enabler that connects business and IT rather than simply an instrument for implementing technological solutions,” Kendrick said, outlining the “quandary” this synergy gap can create.

EA: Represent Entire Organizations

Historically, EA has been primarily considered a technology-based occupation by senior leaders, business managers, application managers, solution engineers, and even certain EAs. But, recognizing EA as both an organizational and enterprise asset is the key to success in any forward-thinking organization.

“The role of the EA is inherent in its name: it’s the enterprise,” Kendrick said. “You are not there to represent the technology but the entire organization.”

In determining whether synergy gaps are undermining their work, Kendrick encouraged EAs in attendance to ask whether senior leaders in their organizations could be considered “systems thinkers” or “reductionist thinkers,” then distinguishing between the two. “A systems thinker understands the complex web of organizational interactions and interconnections, identifying leverage points to solve problems in the organization,” Kendrick said, describing these leaders as big-picture thinkers who think holistically.

“By contrast, the reductionist thinker studies systems by breaking them into separate, smaller elements for ease of analysis, using simple linear cause-effect relationships,” Kendrick added, describing these leaders as “primarily concerned with short-term problems and consequences.”

Help Advance Future State

Both styles of thought leadership can be an advantage for an organization. Still, systems thinkers are more likely to recognize the ability of EAs to influence strategic direction and provide enterprise-wide perspective while also providing IT architecture and influencing technical strategy. Ideally, EAs can help establish an organization’s future state and should have a seat at the decision-making table, providing recommendations on funding decisions for acquisitions, investment, and innovation during executive meetings, she noted.

“The initiative for digital transformation needs a champion, a chief integrator, who can see both the business and technical sides, as well as data domains, and think about the organization holistically,” she said. “What the enterprise architect does is think through the strategy on how digital transformation changes can influence an organization.”

Kendrick encouraged enterprise architects to connect with other disciplines within their organization and to do so by presenting specific artifacts that can support their work, from sharing business architecture artifacts with systems engineers to sharing services architecture artifacts with those concentrated in data management.

“You can leverage the architecture you’re creating across multiple disciplines,” Kendrick said. “You’re creating shared information, common terms that can exist in a lexicon. You’re creating more impactful and relevant analyses you can share not just with managers but with everyday process owners. And through your artifacts, you’re able to produce evidence in a relevant and timely fashion to support decisions in the organization.”

Sustainable Enterprise and Enterprise Architects

The third day saw Robin Whitaker, SAP Director of Business Architecture, and Jim Niemann, SAP Head of Enterprise Architecture, reflect on opportunities for constructing a sustainable enterprise with EA, as well as the competitive edge that SAP can give customers taking on this challenge.

“What we know to be true is that sustainability is a key strategic objective today,” Whitaker said. “It’s transforming the global economy.” She added that 79 percent of consumer choices are shifting toward sustainability interests, and 50 percent of professionally managed assets will be ESG-mandated by 2024. In addition, 90 percent of employees implied that ESG compliance improves job satisfaction, making it a high priority for companies focused on success both internally and externally.

“Only SAP can directly embed sustainability into the business process, so that an event that occurs in one place will trigger an immediate action in another place,” Whitaker said. “All the data is stored in the right place to trigger that action. Sustainability occurs when companies combine people, products, initiatives, processes, and data together on a single platform. That is our key differentiator.”

Niemann and Whitaker discussed SAP products, such as Sustainability Control Tower (SCT), Product Footprint Management (PFM), and Responsible Design and Production (RDP), also touching upon the SAP Sustainability Impact Lab as one avenue available to SAP users invested in sustainability.

Sustainability at Every Step

“Part of owning the business process end-to-end means building sustainability into every step along the way,” Niemann said, describing SAP’s efforts to drive sustainability and business value simultaneously.

Using the example of the automotive industry supply chain, Niemann stated that the supply chain’s end-to-end process begins with raw material extraction and continuess through parts processing, car manufacturing, and car maintenance and recycling. “Literally cradle to cradle,” Niemann said.

Calculating corporate emissions is made possible through SAP Sustainability Control Tower, which can serve as a “single source of truth” for emissions on all ESG key performance indicators, while Product Footprint Management can break that down further to specific product emissions. Meanwhile, RDP is focused on ‘extended producer responsibility obligations and helps producers keep track of these so they can manage the operational costs associated with downstream processing and gain better visibility of material flows overall.

Niemann asked EA attendees to evaluate their companies’ big picture in terms of whether they’re “chasing zero” and consider themselves essential to that objective. “Executives have made promises to the market, but they don’t know how they’re going to get it done,” he said. “In my mind, it’s the enterprise architects and business architects that are really going to be down at the core of what this is.”

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