You may not have noticed them creeping up on you but suddenly there are enterprise architects everywhere playing big roles in the information management of companies around the globe.

Some trends in the CIO world are decisive: they come in with a bang because there's a big-bang product announcement (Windows 7 or NetBooks, for example), catastrophic business event (Enron, the banking implosion), a legal change (Sarbanes-Oxley, FRCP) or some other clear stimulus. Other trends just wend their way into the consciousness and the rise of the enterprise architect falls very much into this latter category.

What's an eneterprise architect? Wikipedia has a pretty good stab at defining the role. It says that EAs "work with stakeholders, both leadership and subject matter experts, to build a holistic view of the organisation's strategy, processes, information, and information technology assets. The role of the Enterprise Architect is to take this knowledge and ensure that the business and IT are in alignment. The enterprise architect links the business mission, strategy, and processes of an organisation to its IT strategy, and documents this using multiple architectural models or views that show how the current and future needs of an organisation will be met in an efficient, sustainable, agile, and adaptable manner."

My definiton is smaller: "EAs try to sort out the mess of underlying code that organisations have amassed by variable business strategies, mergers and demergers, re-orgs and a merry-go-round of managers."

They are the SWAT team sent in when the systems have gone wonky and nobody can even remember what the original plan was, where the servers were located and how many software licences were bought. They have to reunite .Net and Java, client/server and software as a service. They are Maggie Thatcher saying "where there is discord may we bring harmony". They are Kim and Aggie dealing with a teenager's bedroom. In short, they are the great hope for CIOs everywhere, even if they might sometimes serve to undermine CTOs.

What is interesting is that enteprrise architects seem to have retained their positions of eminence despite the short-termism caused by current macro-economic conditions, as noted here by Transport for London CIO Phil Pavitt among others. That's a good sign that this business might be maturing -- a little anyway.