Who should ‘own’ the Enterprise Architecture?

I recently had a discussion around who should own an organization’s Enterprise Architecture. It was spawned by an article titled “Busting CIO Myths” in CIO magazine1 where the author interviewed Jeanne Ross, director of MIT's Center for Information Systems Research and co-author of books on enterprise architecture, governance and IT value.

In the article Jeanne states that companies need to acknowledge that "architecture says everything about how the company is going to function, operate, and grow; the only person who can own that is the CEO". "If the CEO doesn't accept that role, there really can be no architecture."

The first question that came up when talking about ownership was whether you are talking about a person, role, or organization (there are pros and cons to each, but in general, I like to assign accountability to as few people as possible). After much thought and discussion, I came to the conclusion that we were answering the wrong question. Instead of talking about ownership we were talking about responsibility and accountability, and the answer varies depending on the particular role of the organization’s Enterprise Architecture and the activities of the enterprise architect(s).

Instead of looking at just who owns the architecture, think about what the person/role/organization should do. This is one possible scenario (thanks to Bob Covington):
  • The CEO should own the Enterprise Strategy which guides the business architecture.
  • The Business units should own the business processes and information which guide the business, application and information architectures.
  • The CIO should own the technology, IT Governance and the management of the application and information architectures/implementations.
  • The EA Governance Team owns the EA process.  If EA is done well, the governance team consists of both IT and the business.

While there are many more roles and responsibilities than listed here, it starts to provide a clearer understanding of ‘ownership’. Now back to Jeanne’s statement that the CEO should own the architecture. If you agree with the statement about what the architecture is (and I do agree), then ultimately the CEO does need to own it.

However, what we ended up with was not really ownership, but more statements around roles and responsibilities tied to aspects of the enterprise architecture. You can debate the semantics of ownership vs. responsibility and accountability, but in the end the important thing is to come to a clearer understanding that is easily communicated (and hopefully measured) around the question “Who owns the Enterprise Architecture”.

The next logical step . . . create a RACI matrix that details the findings . . . but that is a step that each organization needs to do on their own as it will vary based on current EA maturity, company culture, and a variety of other factors.

Who ‘owns’ the Enterprise Architecture in your organization?

1 CIO Magazine Article (Busting CIO Myths): http://www.cio.com/article/704943/Busting_CIO_Myths

Comments:

No one person owns "The Enterprise Architecture"

Everyone "owns" it although people like to talk in terms of ownership it is probably netter to talk in terms of accountability and responsibility.

The EA" is the architecture of the entire enterprise and since different parts of the enterprise are responsible and accountable for various parts of that enterprise, thus they are also accountable and responsible for various parts of "The EA"

EA is systemic. To think about it as a separate entity that can be "owned" by one person is counter-productive to get people to understand and adopt EA practices.

The CEO is Accountable for the EA. Everyone else in the organisation is Responsible.

Posted by Kevin Lee Smith on May 31, 2012 at 02:48 AM EDT #

Thanks, Michael - great summary of an important question.

I agree strongly with you on your points about roles and responsibilities. Yet that also brings us to an even more important and more challenging question: what do we mean by 'ownership'?

In a viable, thriving organisation, one of the key characteristics is that ownership is viewed primarily in terms of responsibilities, linked to an overall ethos of 'wholeness-responsibility', that everyone is ultimately responsible for the success of the whole.

In a dysfunctional organisation, one of the key characteristics is that ownership is viewed primarily in terms of possession and 'control', often linked to near-desperate turf-wars to define and defend the respective 'boundaries of control'.

RACI matrices can help a lot in a viable organisation, but in a dysfunctional organisation they will often only make things worse. The key architectural challenge in the latter case is to find some way to shift the 'control'-based mindset, before attempting to use RACI-matrices or other role/responsibility tools.

Posted by Tom Graves on May 31, 2012 at 08:59 AM EDT #

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