Location, Location, Location – Where Should an EA Team Report?

At the recent Troux Worldwide Conference in Austin I moderated two panels, one on Top Performing EA Teams and the other on EA Leadership. We had many questions submitted by audience members and were unable to answer them all. In the next few weeks Tim and I will be offering our perspectives on some of the questions the panels didn’t have time for and share thoughts on a few they did. “Where should an EA team report?” was one of the latter.

It seems that many EA teams we talk to ask about reporting structure, either as reinforcement that they are in the right place now, or as justification for reorganization if they are not. If I had to answer, without knowledge of an organization’s specific circumstances, I would say something like “given the latest trends in enterprise architecture towards stronger business architecture, the EA Team should ideally report directly to the CEO or executive committee in some form of a strategy function”. This gives the team the imprimatur of executive authority, strong visibility, and broad reach across business and IT concerns – truly the “enterprise” perspective.

But that answer isn’t realistic in most current organizations. First, we’d have to establish that the team is really doing true “Enterprise” architecture vs. IT architecture. A good discussion on what we mean by this is included in Tim’s blog entry from last year on The Transformational View of EA. Transformational EA specifies business architecture that is owned, driven, developed and maintained by business people as opposed to their IT proxies. It is coordinated in partnership with IT architecture-oriented EA’s focusing on the IT and systems-oriented perspectives. Until that happens it is unlikely that an EA Team will reside at the level of my answer above. If it has happened already, they have probably been moved up to that level or are already well on their way.

The question most EA teams should ask would be “What is the best place for EA to report in MY organization and how do I get there?” The first part of that is a much more straight-forward question to answer. For a Team working on IT architecture the best place to report is directly to the CIO as part of an Office of the CIO, along with the PMO, IT Strategy Group (if not already the EA group), and other CIO functions. This positions the EA team organizationally on par with operations/infrastructure, security/compliance, and development/support.

Many EA teams find themselves deeper in an infrastructure group doing technical architecture or as part of development support organization. Is that bad? Not necessarily. It is the starting place for many EA Teams. It’s only bad if the scope and scale of the team’s reach is constrained by it. I have seen cases where the EA team administratively reports into a supportive infrastructure director (or development director) who recognizes the value of EA, their role, and gives them license to practice something closer to holistic, forward-looking, business-driven EA. After all, good EA teams are not self-contained. They are highly dependent on engaging a virtual community of stakeholders and contributors from across the organization. Where the team reports, provided again that the leader is supportive, is less important than what it does and how it reaches out to influence others.

So, the bottom line answer to the question of where an EA team should report cannot be from a purist perspective but instead should be based on a combination of practical realities along with the vision and aspiration of the team to drive value. Whenever I hear the “where SHOULD we report” question I prefer, instead, to deflect it and work with the team to answer the question “how can they drive maximum value”. If they can’t do it where they are then we determine, realistically, “where COULD they report”, and “what will it take to get there?”