Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit: EA Role Evolves to Enable Ecosystems, Emerging Tech


on June 7, 2017

Last week, Mendix was at the Gartner Enterprise Architecture & Technology Innovation Summit in Orlando. As part of the booth team, I had many good conversations with Enterprise Architects and IT professionals about their challenges with respect to innovation and application development. I also had the opportunity to attend several keynotes and breakout sessions.

Below is a recap of the main themes:

Digital business platform emphasis shifts to ecosystems

Back in December, at the Gartner Application Strategies & Solutions Summit, Gartner unveiled its concept of the Digital Business Platform. These platforms are comprised of five elements: Customers (engage), Ecosystems (interact), Things (sense), Intelligence (decide), and IT Systems (run).

The Digital Business Platform was once again front and center at the Gartner EA Summit. This time around, though, there was much more emphasis on ecosystems—creating interconnected webs of customers, partners, suppliers, retailers, etc.

One example is the partnership between Amazon, DHL, and Audi. Imagine you order something from Amazon, but aren’t home when DHL delivers the package. DHL can either leave the package on your front steps, subject to weather or theft, or deliver it another day. Thanks to the partnership, there’s a third option: the DHL delivery man can receive a one-time code to open the trunk of your Audi car, where he can safely leave the Amazon package.

79% of top performing organizations participate in digital ecosystems.

This example illustrates how Digital Business Platforms combine data and software to create compelling digital experiences for both customers and employees. Gartner stressed that getting to this value requires that Digital Business Platforms be created quickly, iterated continuously, and powered by APIs. Fortunately, the effort is worth the reward, as 79 percent of top performing organizations participate in digital ecosystems.

From Enterprise Architect to Ecosystem Architect

Coinciding with the rise of Digital Business Platforms is an expansion and evolution of the EA function—from “Enterprise” Architect to a visionary “Ecosystem” Architect. This requires what Gartner called “outside out thinking” where the organization becomes part of a dynamic web that changes how you operate.

Moreover, defining and supporting ecosystems and Digital Business Platforms requires five specific personas converging into one EA role:

  1. Business strategist – EAs must see architecture as strategic and be able to test and learn in order to create and continually hone the vision for their organization.
  2. Innovator – EAs must function as innovators, tracking and evaluating a rapidly changing set of technologies to identify the business value for their organization.
  3. Designer – EAs must function as designers, linking creativity and innovation to develop useful services for customers, partners, and employees. Because it’s not possible to know all requirements upfront, their teams must be able to rapidly ideate, prototype, and iterate to determine which ideas deliver real value.
  4. Orchestrator – To create successful ecosystems, EAs must be orchestrators, providing a common language and facilitating collaboration across and beyond the organization.
  5. Navigator – Lastly, EAs must be navigators, with a clear sense of where the organization came from, where it is now, and where it wants to go. EAs must shape the roadmap and guide the journey, including the people, process, and technology changes required for successful innovation and transformation.

Emerging technologies on EA agendas

In addition to the evolving EA role and function, the Gartner Summit addressed several emerging technologies, offering insight into the potential value and key challenges to adoption. The following technologies stood out:

  • IoT – A key pillar of the Digital Business Platform, IoT was a prominent trend at the event. Interestingly, many of the topics discussed echoed our recent webinar (view on-demand), including key architectural considerations, how to bring multiple technologies together to create IoT solutions, and the skills gap based on the current technical complexity of IoT. One interesting evolution in the discussion was the notion of “collaborative things,” which are multiple intelligent things (e.g. drones) working together to perform some function.
  • Blockchain – Blockchain was a big technology trend highlighted at the event; and not surprising, since you can’t read a blog or publication these days without some mention of it. It seems collectively, we as an industry are waking up to the enterprise applications for blockchain. Ultimately, it can be a highly effective mechanism for adding trust in an untrusted environment. Use cases include supply chain optimization; asset tracking, provenance, and insurance; secure ID, voting, medical records; and more.
  • Conversational Systems – Another big theme was the Post-App Digital Mesh Experience, where Chatbots and Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) serve as conversational intermediaries with intelligent cloud services and applications. These technologies can deepen user engagement, especially in scenarios where navigating a traditional UI isn’t possible or ideal. Imagine a truck driver accessing details about his next scheduled stop using his device’s VPA. Or a junior underwriter for a commercial insurer using a conversational UI to ask questions like “What is the risk of having perishable inventory?” to quickly and accurately quote a policy.

There has never been a better time to be an Enterprise Architect

Overall, I found the themes of the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit to be evolutionary and reinforcing, rather than radically new. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as there is a lot to digest and operationalize when it comes to emerging technologies like IoT, blockchain, and AI.

The good news is that there’s never been a better time to be an Enterprise Architect. Because EAs possess the ability to identify the business opportunities of new technologies, they are uniquely positioned to help their organizations create Digital Business Platforms that deliver new forms of business value and competitive differentiation.