When thinking of the role of an enterprise architect, I came up with the idea of comparing the enterprise architect with the role of a sherpa. In government, a sherpa is a person who represents a head of state or government and prepares international summits, especially the G8 summit. Sherpas meet before the official summits to analyse and prepare the decisions or agreements. This reduces the effort required at the official meetings considerably.
In addition, the sherpas are generally responsible for elaborating on concepts and explaining them to the corresponding head of state or government. That means that they are responsible for the briefing of, and knowledge transfer to, the head of state or government so that this person is prepared for an official meeting.
The term sherpa refers to the Nepalese ethnic group, the Sherpa people, who guide and support expeditions in the Himalayas. In government, the term refers to the fact that sherpas pave the way for the official meetings and agreements. You could also think of the sherpas as bearing the brunt of work in preparation of the summits. The sherpas are assumed to be quite influential but in general they do not have the authority to make final decisions or agreements.
The role of the enterprise architect is very similar to the role of a sherpa in government. Enterprise architects work towards official meetings where architectural decisions are taken. This might be a meeting of the architecture board or any other governance body in charge of architectural decisions. In preparation of these meetings they elaborate on architectural options and any deliverables and artifacts that are required to evaluate these options. All architectural options should be analysed and evaluated upfront to the official meeting so that these meetings can be conducted efficiently. In opposition to the government domain, the architectural options should be evaluated objectively, based on clearly defined metrics/KPIs, i.e. architectural decisions shouldn’t be taken for purely political reasons (cp. ‘No Politics, Just Great Architecture‘).
Analogous to the role of the sherpa, the enterprise architect is responsible for the briefing and knowledge transfer to the stakeholder so that this person is able to make decisions within the official meeting. Depending on the stakeholder’s character and knowledge on architectural topics, this could require much effort and sometimes constrains the options you are able to discuss within the official meeting. In this spirit the enterprise architect paves the way for the official meetings and decisions. He/She bears the brunt of work in preparation of these meetings.
In summary, the role of the enterprise architect and sherpa are very similar. They take a back seat and focus on methodology, concepts, options, knowledge and facts. Both strive for an efficient and effective decision process and are intensively concerned with the exchange of knowledge prior to an official decision meeting. Therefore, they are quite influential but do not make decisions on their own. Nevertheless, enterprise architects should be objective in any case whereas sherpas often act with a hidden political agenda that is driven by individual or personal interest.