Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do Consulting Enterprise Architects provide value and meet the expectations of organisations?

There is a fascinating conversation thread in the Enterprise Architecture forum on Linkedin. It started with Michael asking "Do the consultancies (including Gartner, KPMG, DeLoitte, ...) actually meet the expectations of organisations or is there a gap between the value they claim to add and what they deliver?"

The answers are varied: those on the sell side (respondents from sourcing firms) are weighing in to say they do provide value while those on the buy side are musing on the real value. The question is all the more important given the current state of stagnant growth and sluggish growth in economy. One can perhaps look for answers in two section of the market

  • The heating up of tech hiring in Silicon Valley. The recent IPO’s are certainly adding to the buzz in the e-commerce world.

  • Hiring by technology outsourcing firms. With a slow but steady growth in outsourcing, technology consulting and sourcing firms continue to add to local jobs (though evidence on this count is purely empirical)

The role and job description of Enterprise Architect at these two ends of the technology spectrum are as distinct as their areas of focus. Silicon Valley technology firms, fueled by venture capital funding and IPO dreams focus on cutting edge solutions and adoption of emerging technologies and tools. EA’s here are really hands-on Über techies, tech leads and solution managers rolled into one. On the other hand Outsourcing firms focus on providing technology services and solutions – not always cutting edge solutions – to businesses and enterprises focused on automation of processes and deriving ROI from their existing investments. Here, the role of EA may be a bit more text-bookish: integrating business, data, information and technology architectures to meet strategic goals.

Back to Michael’s linkedIn question: the role of a consultant, or in this case a consulting enterprise architect would depend on the nature of problem s/he is hired to consult on. In the silicon-valley-firm example, the EA-hired-gun would probably be staff-augmenting the already sharp technologists. “Meeting the expectations” here would mean helping develop and take solutions to market at the speed in which the client needs it to be done.

On the other hand, EA-consultants in Corporate-America, typical clients of consulting firms, focus on bringing their breadth of consulting and problem solving experience to weigh in on the challenge being faced by the client. Lots of times such consulting is about the ability to quickly identify the problem and applying a solution pattern. The solution patterns could be custom-solutions or the ones the consultant or his firm has seen successfully applied to solve similar problems for other clients. "Meeting (or exceeding) the expectations" in this instance is dependent on quickly identifying the root cause of the problem and being able to generate consensus on the problem statement with distinct groups of client stakeholders: including the hiring manger and his other internal stakeholders. If the problem statement is wrong or wrongly identified, the solution will obviously fail.

In my years in consulting, I have worked with some sharp and business savvy Enterprise Architects and IT executives who are open to out-of-box thinking and solutions. I have also encountered a fair share of executives who engage external conlustants to validate their own thinking while strongly holding on to their NIH views. You don’t need a consultant to tell you who benefitted from my engagements. :-)

A few interesting links