With technology fast becoming a deeply embedded element of most business functions, the role of architecture and architects continues to evolve. What was once confined to the IT department has branched out across organisations to not only impact a wide range of process, programme, and people aspects, but to also drive future business strategy.

So, as such a vital component in organisational success, how do you ensure that architecture has a real presence in the boardroom and is ultimately seen as a major contributor, rather than as a cost centre whose primary role is to keep the lights on?

Long-term strategy vs short-term execution

When we hear about enterprise architecture failing, it’s usually down to little buy-in from the C-suite or lack of sponsorship from those with a seat at the top table. There’s either miscommunication or a lack of understanding of what architecture really is and how it can help the business. We’ve all heard examples of CIOs and CTOs bringing in enterprise architecture thinking it will solve all problems.

Before even considering a Chief Architect hire, the leadership team must be clear on what can be achieved and how the role will benefit the organisation, with a realistic timeframe for delivery. The situation can be likened to the pattern of football club managers being hired, only to lose their jobs after a short spell of losses. They may have inherited a poor squad, or the owner has unrealistic expectations of what’s possible to achieve. In both cases, it’s the manager (or Chief Architect) who suffers, the organisation loses confidence and trust, and successful implementation falls out of reach – a vicious cycle.

Getting buy-in at board level

When it comes to interaction with the board, communicating value is key to getting buy-in. Especially with technical or lesser-understood business functions, the ability to demonstrate the positive impact of your team is an important skill. Think about:

  • Shifting mindsets – there’s always been an air of intimidation from the technology team, that they are the all-knowing experts of everything IT-related. This is obviously not the case, and the majority of Chief Architects we’ve spoken to have admitted to panicking anytime a shiny new technology is launched and the board demands to know how it can fix their problems (Chat GPT/AI anyone?). If you make yourself vulnerable and admit that you’re not the expert, but can find someone who is or develop your own knowledge, you’ll gain trust and reduce the ‘us and them’ divide.
  • Knowing your audience – numbers are the language of the C-suite. When engaging them, if you can evidence what you’re saying with specific, compelling metrics, they’re more likely to take note. Bear in mind that success is dependant on the stakeholders you’re engaging. For example, a CFO will be more interested in cost-saving and revenue increase numbers, but a CPO will have different drivers. Get to know your stakeholders, their motivations, and ultimately what helps them to succeed in their role, and then tailor your approach to it.
  • Alleviating pain points – it may be a business process that could be easily streamlined or upgrading legacy tech, but by uncovering your stakeholder pain points early on, you can find some immediate successes and easy wins. If you can help someone, you’ll get them on-side. Even if it’s not necessarily your area of expertise, gain trust by making things easier; it’ll quickly open doors and help develop stronger relationships. Consider the bigger picture – could mulitple people or branches of the business benefit from something you’re working on? Find and improve connecting functions, not only making efficiencies but bringing different elements of the business toether.
  • Being properly prepared – We hear so often that the challenge is getting into the boardroom in the first place, but once you do, do you have a clear plan? Being prepared is about having a business case fully worked out, knowing the answers to follow-up questions, and mapping out next steps. Be ready to make decisions and take accountability, but also think about suitable options for projects that require more stakeholders involvement. Be clear that architects aren’t just problem-solvers; they’re also idea-generators. Considering architecture at the ideation stage is vital with any new projects or initiatives. Ask some of your less-technical peers for feedback on how you communicate your technical points; peer review gives a different perspective to ensure your message hits the mark.

Balancing advancement with BAU

Whilst it’s true that digital transformation and technical innovation are key success drivers, there’s a need to balance new projects with the day-to-day. Without a solid architectural foundation, those development areas won’t have a stable footing to start out on. It’s easy to get caught up in the shiny and exciting stuff, but the engine needs to keep running.

Data can be helpful here – what’s working well? What efficiencies could be made? What small changes can help to support those efficiencies? Identify where minimal changes can have a big impact and showcase your team’s value in these areas whilst leaving space to carry out BAU tasks.

Sometimes, tech ideas come from less technically minded business functions. For example, the Product Team may ask for what they believe is a simple and straightforward update but is actually a complex undertaking. Manage expectations by collaborating with them and plotting the realistic scope of the project. If the alignment with overall business strategy isn’t apparent, or the effort outweighs the end result, where does the value lie

Building a tech culture

Culture may be the word of the moment, but it’s a key business focus for a reason. Building a tech culture is about embedding technology throughout your organisation, enabling your workforce to utilise tech tools, and using them to support growth and success.

Collaboration is a huge part of successful tech culture – there needs to be a mutual respect and understanding between different branches of your business to facilitate growth. For example, the Product Team can lead the creation of a business value case, but they must be aligned with the Architecture Team to understand the full scope and plan implementation.

Building trust is also important here. It takes time to establish your credibility and value, but each team needs to be able to rely on the other. There’s a common opinion that architects offer options, but rarely take a stance; as with the board, build trust by showing that you can make decisions and guide the narrative.

In any workplace, understanding people is at the heart of good culture. Take time to talk to people, find out what drives them, how they make decisions, what’s important in their day-to-day role. If you’re able to understand the vision of the people you working with, it’s easier to feed into and facilitate that together.

Reading list:

  • Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, by Martin Fowler
  • Empowered, by Marty Cagan and Chris Jones
  • Influence, by Robert Cialdini
  • Surrounded by Idiots, by Thomas Ericson