Enterprise Architecture-What is it and why use it?

February 1, 2012

Enterprise Architecture-

What Is It and Why Use It?

I first heard of Enterprise Architects about 3 years ago when my company announced plans of creating a new department called Enterprise Architecture for a new initiative.

A quick search of Enterprise Architecture (EA) shows the definition as the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key requirements, principles and models that describe the enterprise’s future state and enable its evolution. (1)

Well that clears it up, right?

Some more digging provided the revelation that the scope of the enterprise architecture includes the people, processes, information and technology of the enterprise, and their relationships to one another and to the external environment. Enterprise architects compose holistic solutions that address the business challenges of the enterprise and support the governance needed to implement them. (1)

Well this just seems like more buzz word bingo doesn’t it? But what is EA and why would anyone, especially my company want to use it?

Simply put, the enterprise architecture is an intentional vision that defines how business processes should be integrated and where process standardization should be used.

Practitioners of EA call themselves enterprise architects. The practices of these individuals can be traced back roughly twenty years where organizations were spending more and more money building IT systems and yet finding it more and more difficult to keep those increasingly expensive IT systems in line with the business need. While the problems of more cost and less value have always been around, the problem has reached levels today that can only be described as that of crisis. Technology has increased drastically in cost while the ability to derive value from that cost has decreased.

Among the many EA methodologies there are two that are used quite frequently.

Those are:

  • The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architectures—although self-described as a framework, is actually more accurately defined as the act of dividing into ordered groups or categories. (2)

  • The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF)—although called a framework, is actually more accurately defined as a process. (2)

You may be asking why we even need something called Enterprise Architecture (EA) or either of the two methodologies mentioned above. Here are a few reasons:

· IT systems are too complex and expensive.

· Legacy IT systems are limiting the organization’s ability to respond to market conditions in a timely, cost effective manner.

· General distrust between the business and technology sides of the organization.

While the problems listed above are clear, unfortunately there are no silver bullets when it comes to using a single solution. Each of the two methodologies listed above are considered by many to not be a complete solution. Each has differing strengths and weaknesses and this has led some to believe in a blended methodology. This blended methodology chooses parts from each method listed and merging them according to each business’ individual needs. Ultimately the only way that the efforts of EA can succeed is dependent on the organization’s commitment to change. That commitment has to be driven by the highest level in the organization.

So, should you even care about enterprise architecture? That depends on your ability to see the value of managing a company’s system complexity while delivering solid business value. As systems become more complex they will require more planning and ultimately more architects.

According to John Zachman, in this environment, architecture must be thought of not as a way of reducing other costs but as a strategic information asset to be used to shape and re-shape the enterprise at will. (3)

Zachman also describes how architecture is used to achieve enterprise alignment and integration, to manage change, and to reduce “time to market”. These benefits, he says, justify the value of EA.

In my research of the benefits of Enterprise Architecture, I feel that one of the more compelling aspects is the ability to unify and integrate business processes across the enterprise. Analyzing a business from the enterprise perspective could identify duplicate processes in different parts of the organization. While you may not want to remove all duplicate processes, you should wish to have them work together by using common practices to carry them out. This has been seen as evidence in my company where the use of EA has helped reduce the number of duplicate systems by first completely documenting the systems used and then looking for redundancy. Another example from NORAD reduced individual processes from 370 to around 80.

In conclusion, I am glad that our company has at least decided to introduce the concept of EA to the organization. My hope is that it is more fully embraced and supported by senior management to the realization of improved business processes. Only then will it truly be a success.

Works Cited:

(1) Enterprise Architecture http://www.gartner.com/technology/it-glossary/enterprise-architecture.jsp

(2) A Comparison of the Top Four Enterprise-Architecture Methodologies http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb466232.aspx

(3) The Value of Enterprise Architecture by Tony Brown https://www.eacoe.org

By David George

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3 Responses to “Enterprise Architecture-What is it and why use it?”

  1. Bob Woolverton said

    The conclusion about the unification across the enterprise as the compelling story of Enterprise Architecture is consistent with deeper research into Zachman. You are right. Zachman reference goes so far as to say that the framework has been around for thousands of years (maybe not explicitly) and further that Zachman works with anything you might apply yourself to. That is a long way of saying that when EA is brought into a corporation, it needs to be a unifying vortex bringing business units and IT process together into a single focused endeavor.

  2. Helen Todd said

    Nice David,
    I like your take on the blended frameworks and the need for commitment from the top. It is interesting that in “Leading Change” our other assigned reading that they go through all of the steps needed for adopting change. I like that they point out, you can’t skip the steps.

  3. Robert Hanson said

    I echo Helen regarding “you can’t skip the steps” that is imperative to the success of EA

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