Architecture and Talent: a Path to Fostering the Right Skills and Expertise

May 1, 2019
Written by
Razvan Mitache
Razvan Mitache

Architecture and Talent: a Path to Fostering the Right Skills and Expertise

Talent is rare

Well, the right talent is, anyway. As new technologies make their way into the marketplace and their adoption becomes generalized, organizations are experiencing a personnel squeeze that poses a risk to both ongoing operations as well future plans. The newer (and more sophisticated) a technology, the scarcer the talent to support it, and ultimately the more difficult it is for an enterprise to ensure it doesn’t miss out in favor of the competition.

This isn’t new. Periods of technological upsurge are always followed by a shortage of professionals in booming fields, until the market has had some time to catch up. But it does feel somewhat more accentuated nowadays. If you’re a leading digital enterprise, having artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, process automation and growing cybersecurity threats pile up at your door simultaneously can be daunting. Oh, and let’s not forget about increased regulatory compliance. Google did, and it didn’t end well for them.

Just imagine you’re a CIO for a second. How do you make certain the organization is adequately staffed to be able to support ongoing projects but also integrate new initiatives when they pop up? Or, effectively keep track of skills availability and development? It’s not solely an HR problem; not when technology is at the core of this shift.

And it’s not only digital juggernauts that face these challenges, either. The entire marketplace is dealing with the faster overall rate of innovation and heightened customer expectation levels it has created. It’s why you’re seeing things like the Scottish Local Government mulling over AI, or hospitals developing platforms to consolidate patient data. These aren’t exactly traditional bastions of innovation. Yet they’re ‘getting with the program’, which goes to show that no company or field is safe from these market-wide developments. Securing the right know-how and expertise in this ‘high demand-low supply’ paradigm is increasingly problematic.

Considering, then, how pervasive and thorny the problem is, we think it makes sense to at least try to come up with a better way of going about employee hiring and staffing.

Skills management and EA

An ‘entry-level’ option would be to kickstart an EA-backed skills management practice. This means creating a database of vital skills, or a portfolio if you will, and then mapping out individual entries onto the existing enterprise architecture. It would be like looking at the enterprise through the lens of professional skills, treating them like architects do any other element in the architecture, e.g. technology infrastructure components, or applications.

Let’s explore a brief scenario to get a sense of what this would look like. Say an organization had a strategy to develop their business by pursuing a ‘premium security’ offering. Let’s imagine, for example, a bank that wants to brand itself as the safest option in the market. The way they plan to back this up is by deploying advanced AI-powered fraud detection software and instituting the most stringent authentication policy of any bank. Now, those are some goals that can be broken down to more bite-sized chunks, assessed for compliancy, have their technology requirements mapped out etc. just like any other initiative.

What a skills repository would enable the organization in this case, which would otherwise not be possible, is to accurately identify what skills are needed to successfully carry out the project. Architects would get a good understanding of what’s missing and then create a clear report for the HR department detailing the reasoning behind their recommendation to hire for, say, a Senior Product Manager with background in financial services.

In fact, if the EA team wanted to be really thorough, they might expand their analysis and try to identify skills gaps for proposed (and likely to be approved) expansions to their back-end of the stack. The future state architecture would be quite informative in this case. So what would this yield? Well, if two candidates were for all intents and purposes equal for the job at hand, but one of them was in addition proficient in a technology in which the bank was looking to invest more in the future, whereas the other candidate wasn’t – well, that would constitute a valuable tie breaker.

Alright, but what if we really thought big?


Think big.

People architecture

Granted, it has an odd ring to it, but a practice akin to what could be described as ‘people architecture’ might provide a solution to the challenges mentioned thus far. The premise? Applying architectural principles and methods to workforce management practices would harmonize HR operations with organizational goals and strategies.

What does that mean? The main gist of it is to consider human resources as intrinsic parts of the organization, much like other organizational components (e.g. business capabilities, infrastructure) and feature them in the architecture, which would allow architects to analyze and report on the dependencies between people and other architectural elements.

To make this happen would require an integration between the HR and EA departments. HR personnel and architects would collaborate to create a career progression framework, featuring a skills database, and this framework would then be connected to the actual architecture and all its components.

Now, this could take any number of shapes, but one way of going about it could be to feature key human capital management elements such as job definition, skills acquisition, compensation, professional development, work/life balance and recognition. Much like enterprise architecture, people architecture would be aligned to the organization’s goals, and share with EA common features like capability road maps, phase-gate process blueprints, as well as performance metrics.

In practice, you could link it to new technologies, business capabilities, the organization’s objectives and strategy, as well as the existing culture and performance philosophies. What’s more, since it would follow a rigorous, systematic approach, a so-called people architecture would deliver benefits such as transparency, flexibility and scalability – in fact, the larger the organization the greater the gains of having such a structure in place. And just a remark on the culture bit – having competences consolidated in one place and tied to roles and expected performance would also come in handy during the recruitment process because competences have been proven to be better predictors for success than skills.

Take a look at this career progression framework that Monzo in the UK put together. It’s systematic; it’s adequately tiered to reflect career progression and help establish differentiators for seniority and pay purposes; it’s comprehensive, following several lines of business, e.g. Design, Engineering, Operations; it’s clear. It works. Now imagine something similar to this, with well-defined roles, skills, compensation and all the rest of it tying into the bigger organizational picture. Having roles explicitly connected to business capabilities or key technology they support with their expertise. We believe it would be very well received both with HR professionals and employees.

On the one hand, HR would be able to better pursue organizational results and deliver employee satisfaction by using EA as a motivational tool offering clear answers and paths with which to incentivize personnel. On the other hand, employees themselves would benefit by:

  • having clear intracompany development paths, which would also attract young talent;
  • knowing exactly what is required to become eligible for a promotion;
  • having an honest and transparent relationship with their employer and working in an environment that provides equal opportunity to all;
  • being able to better themselves by easily identifying certifications, accreditations etc. necessary to grow within their specific field.

Being able to create risk assessments based on the availability of certain vital skills and eliminating single points of failure by having corporate knowledge keepers share their ‘secrets’ with others via workshops or seminars. This is often done with technology lifecycle assessments to enable a structured decommissioning process. A people architecture might bring a certain element of control to HR processes and help minimize disruption and unnecessary costs; maybe even support business continuity.

Is this feasible? We certainly believe so. Employees are an indispensable component of an organization’s value stream – just think of the ‘people, process, technology’ adage. They’re key to the success of digital transformation initiatives, especially in the role of leaders/evangelists introducing cutting-edge practices and technologies. The bottom line is, IT portfolio management and business process management are well-established practices. So why not try a similar approach to human resources?

Moreover, consider the broad-scope enterprise architecture that we know today. Take TOGAF, perhaps the most widely used EA framework. Apart from IT infrastructure and the applications running on it, it also takes into account the business use of the data, the business itself, and the larger context in which it operates.

Externally, it concerns itself with customers’ needs and expectations. Internally, it addresses the needs of stakeholders in the TOGAF ADM – e.g. in the Business Architecture, Organization Development, as well as the Stakeholder and Change Management components. So, in a sense, it already accounts for people, albeit in a limited manner. With the groundwork already laid for this development, and with the help of a capable EA management suite it could not only be done, but done well.

The benefits of a people architecture

Naturally, building a people architecture practice would take some time, and only reach maturity in a few years. This is especially true for very large enterprises. Nonetheless, establishing a strong foundation would take considerably less time, and the benefits should become obvious immediately. People, at least in theory, should embrace a program that would essentially be a net benefit to them. Here are some of the expected benefits:

  • Supporting a hiring policy that’s aligned with the organizational goals
  • Eliminating/minimizing skills gaps
  • Consistent job titles
  • Clear career paths and incentive plans
  • Up-to-date job descriptions and evaluations

Of course, not all organizations are ready to have a go at this sort of initiative. After all, EA maturity levels differ wildly from one enterprise to another, as does the degree to which they can benefit from such unlocked efficiencies. Yet, if at all possible, it may be well worth a try. Especially since it wouldn’t have to be a massive undertaking.

If an enterprise-wide initiative proves too ambitious, then scale it down to a size you’re comfortable with. For instance, deploy this program exclusively to (a certain category of) IT human capital resources. That way, you ensure that key employees (people with rare/vital skills and experience, or around whom important expansions/projects revolve) are managed properly and that their importance and contribution to the overall performance of the enterprise is well understood.


In a competitive labor market defined by accelerating rates of technological innovation, finding and securing the right personnel can be a challenging experience. As the business world is turning to technology more and more in order to drive differentiation and growth, the right combination of skills and expertise will become increasingly scarcer. To mitigate against the disruptions caused by this shortage in premium human capital, organizations can develop an architectural approach towards staffing and employees’ skills. This would bring clarity and certitude to an area that has so far proved a bit too elusive to be effectively tied to the success of the company in a systematic, easily recognizable and repeatable way.

We hope you enjoyed today’s blog post. If you did, be sure to check out our other posts too! Also, if you’d like to learn more about Planning and Roadmapping or how to Improve Cyber Security with EA, please download our free white papers now!