The question about where EA (Enterprise Architecture) stands as a function in an organization often leads to passionate debates, particularly when it comes to understanding the potential links between the EA function and "The Business", and what tangible business value EA can deliver.
First of, a quick definition – not a debate – of EA: Enterprise Architecture aims at architecting the enterprise assets and planning their evolution, so as to optimize their adequacy to the enterprise objectives and constraints. In doing so, EA is an instrument of the enterprise operational excellence.
Over the past 3-4 years, market analysts, EA tool vendors and mature EA practitioners have moved the barycenter of EA from architecting what the business wants and how IT (information technology) supports it, to managing, meaning roadmapping and optimizing (Application Portfolio Management, Capability Planning,...) the deployed assets, including costs and risks concerns.
This change in purpose for EA has resulted into passionate debates: should the EA function be – or stay – under the responsibility of the CIO or should it be closer to "The Business" in the organizations? But well… is this question worth so passionate discussions – let alone the definition of EA?
In my opinion, this debate is somehow useless. As if CIOs were admittedly totally disconnected from "The Business" challenges! In my opinion, CIOs are not confined to technical, infrastructure and IT operations decisions: they do take a critical part in the economy, in the business challenges and in the overall success of a company. The CIO role is even more strongly business oriented since the rising cloud and SaaS models supposedly deprive them from managing assets, while in reality they challenge their financial and business competences. They require them to innovate in the way they contract with providers to outsource what they were in charge of before.
Therefore, EA is not less likely to deliver business value when placed under the responsibility of the CIO. The only difference may be that the architecting part of EA tends to be also delegated to the cloud and SaaS providers, while the business-oriented management part is actually reinforced.
Another viewpoint is that the business has been [almost] completely digitalized for quite a while now! As a consequence, the separation between “Business” and IT has become totally meaningless. “Business” and IT are as integrated as “business” and legal, as “business” and purchasing, as “business” and HR, etc. Business execution requires digital information, and often entirely relies on it, e.g. telecom or banking. The management of businesses relying on actual hardware, biological, manufacturing material is almost totally digital or will be eventually.
CIOs are “Business” people, at least as much as business process owners. They need the same management tools to support the business transformation decisions and the operational excellence part of their role. Like business process owners, CIOs do contribute to the company’s competitive advantage. No question about that.
To conclude with a question, it may be interesting to wonder whether CIOs do have the management tools they need for the type of assets they manage, and whether it is the responsibility of EA to provide them. Well, another reason to tighten the links between the CIO and the EA team?