IT organizations, along with the rest of their businesses, will continue to face pressure to cut staff. This raises a tough question: who should stay and who should go? Most people would agree that even cuts across the board, while seemingly fairer, are likely not the optimal solution to the problem. The most recent issue of CIO Magazine has an article making “The Case for Enterprise Architects”. Ms. Nash is on target, albeit focused in on one role or group within the organization. The Enterprise Architect (EA) role is a particularly interesting one to consider, since it can be difficult to justify and relatively easy to get by without in the very short term.

Ms. Nash does a good job explaining what an EA does and why the role is more important than ever, so I won’t rehash it. Skeptical readers can go read the article. Basically, EAs are the critical link between business and IT, a link that is imperative during a time when making the right decisions about technology is more critical than ever. So generally, I agree that leadership should carefully consider the implications before pink-slipping an EA. That comes with a huge caveat. While the good EAs are arguably the most critical resources in the IT organization, in practice, I come across few good EAs. Many architects give the role a bad name: those who are really developers on steroids who needed a better title to get into a higher pay grade, those who are so removed from reality up in their ivory tower that they don’t even know how to deliver projects anymore, and those whose egos have grown so large that they must use their technology knowledge to scare superiors and subordinates into getting whatever they want. We’ve all met those types and they need to go. First.

But, if we go with the assumption that an IT organization has a quality Enterprise Architecture group, Ms. Nash makes a great case for the EAs, but doesn’t address who should get the pink slips. It is hard to swallow, but most IT organizations have fat to trim and can look at this as an opportunity to critically assess the value they are bringing to their business. I recommend stepping through the different types of value provided by an IT organization and considering the necessity of each resource associated.

  1. Start with basic needs. Who is required to keep the business up and running at the service levels absolutely required? The second part of the question is key: what levels are absolutely required? With cost cuts, the internal business customers may no longer enjoy 24×7 support or speedy resolution to non-critical requests. These resources should be cut to the point of being a little uncomfortable. And it may make sense to consider outsourcing more if these utility needs are still internal to the IT organization.
  2. Next, look at the critical projects that must be delivered. Apologies to all my developer friends, but application development or project delivery is often the area that can afford the biggest cuts. Start by going through the project list with the business sponsors and determining what must be done in the next year. Then review the resources required and cut the rest. In the long term, this is generally the easiest skill-set to ramp up quickly through hiring or bringing in external resources. Long term, this can be a great opportunity to improve the talent pool.
  3. Then, review the resources that do architecture and planning, including the EAs. Make sure to retain those who can help make tough decisions around technology and help implement technology more cost effectively for the short and long term. If those people do not exist, the role may need to be hired.
  4. Finally, review the people who support the organization and assess whether their role is adding value in the short term. Sometimes these roles can be eliminated, combined or outsourced.

Layoffs are always hard, but if the decisions are made with consideration to short and long term needs, the organization will absorb the change easier and move forward stronger than before.