Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is Enterprise Architecture a Profession?

The Center for Advancement of Enterprise Architecture Profession (CAEAP) is in the process of developing an EA Professional Practice Guide that, among other things, will define what it mean to be an Enterprise Architect. Is Enterprise Architecture a profession, or does it have any reasonable chance of becoming a profession in the foreseeable future?

While I don't fully agree with the Wikipedia definition of Profession, I think it identifies a lot of characteristics commonly associated with professional status, and EA lacks many of these characteristics.

Here are three reasons why I don't think EA is (yet) a profession.

    1. Organizations claiming to represent enterprise architects have relatively few members.
    2. There are no meaningful sanctions against maverick or incompetent practitioners.
    3. Although some universities are starting to offer degrees in Enterprise Architecture, for the foreseeable future this qualification will only be held by a tiny fraction of practitioners, mostly at the inexperienced end.

There are some worthy goals on the CAEAP homepage, which I think accord with my view of what counts as a profession, but these are currently merely future aspirations. I acknowledge that CAEAP seems to be putting a fair amount of effort into this, but this doesn't justify some of its more extreme supporters trying to confuse AS-IS with TO-BE. I shall be prepared to regard EA as a profession and the CAEAP as a legitimate representative body if and when these goals are ever achieved. For the time being, I think it is more accurate to regard EA as an aspiring profession than an established one.

However, the present interest in CAEAP is almost entirely coming from enterprise architects themselves, rather than from the people they are providing services to, and I think this may be a major obstacle in the CAEAP's achieving its goals.

As I said in my previous post (Is Enterprise Architecture Dead?), the desire for professional status is not coming from the demand-side (CEOs wishing to distinguish genuine practitioners from charlatans) but from the supply-side (like teenagers wanting to be taken seriously). People who think EA is a waste of space are not going to be reassured by the existence of a cartel of people with expensive but vacuous certificates. Meanwhile the most experienced and able practitioners are getting on with the work, engaging with the business rather than worrying about preserving a label with such negative connotations.

Another major issue, in my view, is that of professional accountability. In healthcare, professional and ethical responsibility is clearly focused on the patient (as the "consumer" of healthcare services). In the legal profession, a lawyer represents a specific client and there are clear conflict-of-interest rules preventing a lawyer representing multiple parties in the same case. The CAEAP Value Map recognizes the need for "professional accountability" as well as "responsibility to multiple stakeholders and seek(ing) balance among potentially conflicting demands". But to which of these multiple stakeholders is the Enterprise Architect ultimately accountable, and who has the ultimate authority to resolve conflict?

I believe that CAEAP should be talking not just to EA practitioners but also to the consumers of EA services - whoever they might be - and I don't see any sign that they are doing this. (However, they are happy to accept sponsorship from vendors, who clearly have a commercial interest in influencing enterprise architects. This kind of sponsorship is perfectly acceptable for a trade body, but raises questions for an organization that wishes to establish itself as a proper profession. The Royal College of Midwives doesn't take backhanders from drug companies, does it?)

CLARIFICATION: Microsoft and IBM sponsored the CAEAP summit. @jpmorgenthal insists that this is a conference, distinct from the organization itself, and argues that the organization itself is not sponsored by vendors. That may be strictly true, but it is difficult to avoid the impression that sponsoring the conference significantly benefits the organization.

Jon Ayre challenges this point. "Consumers choose whether or not to consume. If EA doesn't provide right services consumer will reject it."

Of course, with some exceptions, professionals cannot force their services upon their clients. But there is still some external validation - a practice becomes a profession not because people inside the practice want it to be, but because people outside the profession have respect for it. Members of a profession may receive public or institutional funding for some of their activities, and may have a privileged status in legislation and regulation.

As far as I can see, all of CAEAP's directors and trustees are EA insiders. So where is the external voice? Who represents the stakeholders of EA?


Jon H Ayre said...

Have to agree Richard. EA is a specialisation within a profession and does not justify a qualification or certificate in its own right. To attempt to do so simply lessens its perceived value rather than increasing it.

The Enterprising Architect

Jon H Ayre said...

On the issue of professions taking sponsorship from commercial bodies I believe there is a process whereby drug companies can approach and influence GPs with regard to their products. The proposed intent is one of education of course, but there is a balance here that can lead to controversy. Such sponsorship in the field of EA is no different (IMO) to the approach in the medical profession. It carries the same conflict-of-interest issues and relies on the integrity of the professionals involved (in my example the doctors) to ensure that the benefit to the consumer is achieved without the supplier applying pressure on the decision being made.

The Enterprising Architect

Richard Veryard said...

There is an important difference between (i) individual professionals accepting sponsorship, gifts and hospitality from companies with a commercial interest, subject to the constraints laid down by their professional body, and (ii) the professional body itself taking money from commercial interests.

I understand that CAEAP needs to get some funding from somewhere, but I think they need to be scrupulous in how they handle such questions, and have a governance process that protects them from any suspicion of double-standards.

Adrian Grigoriu said...

To me, a profession has to be associated with a critical deliverable. The professional has to be able to deliver that.

Yet, EA is not well enough defined as a discipline to specify that, never mind profession.

Many enterprise have done and can do without EA, for now.
Many other roles in the enterprise are not associated with professions either.

And should EA be a profession taking into account that it is mainly "influencing" in the opinions of most rather than making decisions?